What is Beaching or Intentional Grounding & Why Do Ships Do It?

by | Last updated Nov 24, 2023 | Jobs and Tips, Maritime Safety, Shipboard Operations | 0 comments

Imagine you are out to sea in a merchant vessel. The weather is fine and the tide is low. While enjoying the breeze, cruise, and booze, you notice that your draft is increasing!

You scrambled the crew and after a few inspections, you discovered a hole in the side of the hull. You try pumping it out but no matter what, more water is coming in than you can discharge.

The good part is you are a few miles away from the nearest shore. If you keep on with your voyage, you may well lose the ship since it is already sinking.

What would you do?

Would you abandon your boat or attempt to save it from going under the deep?

Beach your Ship

One of the sane things to do in this scenario is to find the nearest shallow waters and run your ship in there. This process is called beaching. Many boatmen and seafarers use this technique to save their vessels.

You can do a lot while beached.

First, you can assess the situation and try a quick repair. Second, you can pump out the water so you can be ready to sail again. 

Lastly, you call your company and inform them of your findings including asking for suggestions regarding the best strategy to refloat your vessel.

It will depend on many factors such as the tidal conditions, sea bottom, sea condition, current weather forecast, the vessel’s condition, and the part of the ship that’s touching the sea bed.

Small boats beached on the shore.
Small boats beached on the shore.

What is Beaching?

Beaching is a deliberate act of driving a vessel into the beach or shallow waters and thus grounding her intentionally.

That’s right. Grounding is accidental while beaching is a willful maneuver.

Like the soft and sandy beach we have at home, these merchant ships also prefer to beach on soft, sandy, and even muddy grounds or shores.

What is the purpose of beaching?

When you hear news about a ship beaching on a certain shore, this is because of a real emergency. As a seafarer myself, I understand how the crew acted and felt.

Beaching is the last and immediate solution to keep the vessel from sinking.

The ship may not make it if sailed to the nearest port or safe haven in that condition. That’s why they decided on that method.

Driving a ship near the shore could be disastrous, especially to marine life and the danger of pollution. However, a constructive total loss of a vessel due to sinking is far more catastrophic.

Besides, marine insurance will cover some of the expenses for repairs after conducting their investigations.

Thus, Master Mariners must choose which one is the lesser evil.

There are four reasons why seafarers beach a vessel.

  1. Saving the ship from sinking due to hull damage (like our example above).
  2. Saving her cargo like in the case of MSC Napoli.
  3. Conducting hull repairs on the damaged part so she can re-float (same example above).
  4. Delivering the vessel to the scrap yard for ship-breaking or recycling.
Seatrout running aground
Seatrout running aground.

Origin

Most of our nautical terms originated during the time of sails and galleons. Beaching is one of them.

Have you tried visiting a seashore and seeing small boats on the dry land instead of floating on the waters? If you are like me who lives near the sea, this is a common sight.

Some fishermen carry their boats from the waters up to the beach after fishing. Of course, these are small and they do it with two or three men.

This is how beaching began.

During that time, a beach was not a sexy, fun, or luxurious place.

Dictionaries define beaching as pulling or forcing a boat, out of the water onto the land.

Not only ships but also sea animals like whales beach up ashore.

When the era of galleons came, they continued to practice beaching to careen a ship. Careening means turning the ship to clean the hull.

At other times, they also bream a vessel which means burning off weeds and barnacles to clean a ship’s bottom.

Now that ships have become bigger and heavier, we can’t beach them to dry land. Driving them up to shallow waters is enough to save them.

Tips before beaching a vessel

  1. Before beaching a vessel, the most important factor to consider is the composition of the sea bottom. Sandy and muddy are the best. You don’t wanna a beach when the seabed is rocky.
  2. Consider the wind and current.
  3. What’s the shape of your hull?
  4. Are there huge surfs forming? Consider the prevailing weather and other meteorological conditions.
  5. Check the tide.
  6. Fill in the ballast tanks as safely as the vessel can take.
  7. Prepare the engines.
  8. Inform the whole crew to brace for impact.

Notable beaching of a vessel

In January 2007, MSC Napoli conducted a deliberate beaching off the South Coast of England.

The ship lost its watertight integrity and was heavily damaged because of a severe storm. Fearing that the ship may sink anytime soon, the Captain ordered an abandon ship in rough weather.

The derelict remained floating and was towed by tugboats. After careful investigation that she wouldn’t hold on much longer, they decided to beach the ship in the Lyme Bay area.

They lost several containers but saved the majority of the cargo and fuel. It was a success in some aspects but was a lengthy period of salvage.

Tips before beaching a vessel

  1. Before beaching a vessel, the most important factor to consider is the composition of the sea bottom. Sandy and muddy are the best. You don’t wanna a beach when the seabed is rocky.
  2. Consider the wind and current.
  3. What’s the shape of your hull?
  4. Are there huge surfs forming?
  5. Check the tide.
  6. Fill in the ballast tanks as safely as the vessel can take.
  7. Prepare engines.
  8. Inform the whole crew to brace for impact.

Notable beaching of a vessel

In January 2007, MSC Napoli conducted a deliberate beaching off the South Coast of England.

The ship lost its watertight integrity and was heavily damaged because of a severe storm. Fearing that the ship may sink anytime soon, the captain ordered an abandon ship in rough weather.

The derelict remained floating and was towed by tugboats. After careful investigation that she wouldn’t hold on much longer, they decided to beach the ship in the Lyme Bay area.

They lost several containers but saved the majority of the cargo and fuel. It was a success in some aspects but was a lengthy period of salvage.

Ships beached into scrapyard
Ships beached into scrapyard.

Into the scrap yards

One method of ship disposal is to send it to the scrapyard. Pakistan and India are home to the ship’s final resting places.

The final act of these vessels is beaching the shores of Aliaga, Chittagong, Gadani, etc.

Shipowners sell these vessels to ready scrap buyers. Many parts of these vessels are then recycled. They are refined and sold back to the market.

However, scrapping vessels is an issue nowadays due to environmental concerns.

May the winds be in your favor.

Gibi

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