After a grounding it is important to stay calm and not panic, but assess the situation and take rational action. If possible, seek help from owners/managers, cf. ”Assistance” below. The temptation of trying to immediately refloat a vessel after grounding should be avoided unless the vessel and crew is in imminent danger.

In General 

Refloating attempts should be based on a thorough salvage plan and take place in a controlled manner. The Master should not attempt to refloat the vessel unless he is confident that it will be successful and that the safety of his crew is maintained. A failed re-floating attempt may cause additional damage to the vessel, and lessen the chances of subsequent success.  

Items to Consider

Crew safety is the top priority. The crew should be mustered as per standard procedure. This also applies for notifications to relevant authorities and the owner. Establish communications.

The items below should be considered in a grounding situation. As stated above, all of them are not relevant in all situations. 

Damage Assessment

Obtain an overview of the situation and make a damage assessment. It is a common mistake to underestimate the damages. Remember, you have the highest likelihood of success if you prepare for the WORST-CASE SCENARIO. When time allows, sounding of tanks should be conducted in order to establish if any of the tanks have been breached. 

Stabilise the Vessel

Stabilise the vessel to avoid further damages and stop the vessel from drifting further aground. The use of ballast tanks and anchors are the most common means. Shifting of cargo may also be considered. Bending moment and shear stresses should be calculated in order to avoid inflicting damage to the vessel.

Vessel Position on the Seabed

How does the vessel rest on the seabed? How deep is the water is around the vessel? Take sounding around the vessel. It is recommended to make a sketch of the results. Special attention should be drawn to whether the propeller and rudder are free from any obstructions. It should be self-explanatory that there is great risk involved in trying to refloat using own engines without having investigated the above. 

Try to obtain information about the seabed composition – is it made up of sand, mud or rocks?


What actions are possible to avoid contaminating the environment? Consider transferring bunkers and cargo from exposed areas. Notify authorities of any spills.


After a grounding the Master may quickly find himself in a very pressured situation. Unless the threat is imminent, it is strongly recommended that the Owners and/or insurers are contacted prior to allowing external assistance. 

Owners and insurers will consider employing a Salvage Master and naval architect in a grounding situation. Your ship may also have membership in an emergency response service that will be mobilised. They will assist with the necessary calculations regarding buoyancy, damage stability, stresses etc. in order to increase the chance of success. 

For U.S. waters, refer to U.S. regulations.

Environmental Considerations:

  • Tidal range
  • Current
  • Weather forecast
  • Sea state
  • Swell