The captain wanted to keep the ship from sinking when it encountered trouble in the Intracoastal Waterway in an isolated, rural area of Virginia Beach, along the Atlantic Coast, officials said.
The Coast Guard received a report about the ship at about 6 a.m. CBS affiliate WTKR-TV in Norfolk, Va., reports a rescue helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City responded with dewatering pumps.
It wasn't clear why the ship began taking on water.
Two 41-foot Coast Guard boats picked up the ship's passengers and crew and took them to a ferry landing about 2 miles away, Petty Officer Christopher Evanson said. The Virginia Beach police and fire departments helped with the rescue, which was completed about 11:15 a.m., he said.
Earlier, Evanson described the situation as serious but said no one's life was at risk. Passengers ate breakfast as they awaited rescue, he said.
The boat was stuck in the mud in water about 9 feet deep and was stable, Evanson said. It was only about 100 feet from shore, but the area is a wooded swamp, he said.
"You can't just take passengers into the woods. You take them to the closest safe haven," he said.
The boat, the Spirit of Nantucket, was on a 10-day cruise from Alexandria, Va., to Charleston, S.C.
It is owned by Cruise West, a small cruise line based in Seattle. The vessel eased onto a mud shoal while damage was being assessed, the company said in a statement.
Cruise West made arrangements to take the passengers to a hotel.
The boat is 207 feet long, can accommodate 102 guests and has an 8-foot draft, making it suited for cruising shallow waterways, according to Cruise West's Web site.