Thursday, July 5, 2007

Softly I Ground, Inch by Inch....

In keeping with the law of unintended consequences, the expression Soft Aground has entered the lexicon of general maritime phraseology. I'm not sure who first coined the term Soft Aground, or when it was first used. Perhaps that phrase has been around for ages, used as a way of saying "I'm aground, but remain otherwise undamaged." But I don't think the term ever had any clearly defined meaning until the towing and assistance industry came along.

BOAT/US membership will cover a "soft ungrounding", which generally means an otherwise undamaged vessel that only needs one towboat, one towline, and very little likely hood for further damage to all the boats, personnel, and environment involved.

SeaTow members will get a free "ungrounding assistance" if 5 conditions are met, one of which is that the grounded vessel must "is surrounded by water on all sides". Of all the conditions and criteria I ever heard or read about what constitutes a soft aground, that one should be included in every one's definition.

A few weeks ago, I heard a USCG SAR controller ask a mariner "are you hard or soft aground?" on channel 16. I have searched the USCG Communications Watchstander Qualifications Guide, and I can't find the words "soft aground" anywhere. Why is a SAR Watchstander even asking that? A guy calls Mayday and reports he is aground, you ask if he is taking on water, in the surf, breaking up on rocks, just stuck in soft mud, what is the tide doing, and damage to vessel.....but "are you hard or soft aground?". What actions would the USCG take if the answer is "soft aground"? How are those actions different than a hard aground response?

Which brings me to today's story: a GoodSam was reporting to the CG a sail boat aground in the Great Salt Pond. The GoodSam said the vessel looked like it was "very soft aground"....when I got over there 5 minutes later, I find a 27' sailboat laying over on her side, with about one foot of water under her full keel. I asked the GoodSam, "You call that soft aground?", and he replied,
"It looks like pretty soft sand. There are no big rocks on that beach..."

So now the CG is taking this radio report from 12 miles away. Assuming they speak to the owner (who is on the mainland also) first, are they going to tell him his boat is "Soft Aground"? And if he contacts me for service, am I guilty of bait & switch because I tell him its NOT soft aground after the United States Coast Guard told him it was?

Slowly I Turn....