THE ADVOCATE BoatU.S. CONSUMER PROTECTION BUREAU BY CAROLINE AJOOTIAN
WEIGHT AND SEA
Portlier passengers have led to new rules from the Coast Guard.
Could curvy cruisers be the next to get whipped into shape?
THE AVERAGE AMERICAN has put on a considerable number of pounds in the past 40 years, so many that the U.S. Coast Guard
recently adjusted the federal safety
regulations governing the number of
passengers that may be carried aboard
commercial vessels, such as tour boats,
water taxis, and ferries, meaning they’re
allowed to carry fewer people than
before. The Coast Guard is concerned
about what might happen if heavy
passengers all move to one side, for
example, when a ferry docks or an excursion boat moves in to view a migrating
pod of whales. Will federal weight capacity regulations for recreational vessels
change as well?
“We don’t see a need to follow this line of action for recreational boats at this time,” said
Phil Cappel, chief of the Coast Guard’s Recreational Boating Product Assurance Branch. He
explained that the “recreational boat persons” capacity equation is based on a family of four
— with an average weight per occupant of 165 pounds, and takes into account the variety of
different boat types and hull configurations.
“As with all of our safety regulations, they’re reactive and not proactive,” Cappel
explained, “which means we need to have proof that heavier boaters are increasing the num-
ber of accidents, injuries, or deaths before we can move forward with regulatory action. We
have not seen any proof to that effect in our accident data.”
Recreational monohull boats up to 20 feet in length are required to have capacity labels
indicating what’s safe to carry in terms of engine horsepower, cargo (including gear and
engines), and passengers. Hull displacement — the mass of water a hull displaces when
floating — is the basis for all weight capacity calculations. “Persons” capacity information
includes both the number of passengers who may be carried safely, as well as the total weight
of those passengers. It’s the most prominent information listed on the capacity label, because
people are considered to be the “live load,” meaning they can move around inside the boat,
affecting stability. Overloading a boat reduces freeboard and increases instability and the risk
of swamping in rough weather.
Vessels of more than 20 feet aren’t required to have labels, although boats up to 26
feet built to the American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) standards adopted by the National
Illustration: Marcus Floro
Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA)
do. An estimated 94 percent of recreational
boats sold in the U.S. are built by 145 companies, all of which are members of NMMA
and are required to follow the organization’s
boat and yacht certification guidelines.
The weight capacity ratings for commercial passenger vessels, which are governed by
a completely separate set of federal regulations than for recreational boats, were adjusted in response to a report by the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
showing that the average weight of an individual in the United States has increased to
185 pounds, up significantly since the pas-senger-carrying regulations went into effect
in the 1960s, when the average American
weighed 160 pounds.
“We realize that there is not always a
family of four aboard a recreational boat and
that the average weight of Americans has
increased,” Cappel said. “Recreational boats
have a safety factor built into the capacity calculations and can carry much more weight
00 | BoatU.S. Magazine OCTOBER | NOVEMBER 2011
PASS THE CHIPS! THE AVERAGE AMERICAN MALE, AGE 40-49, WEIGHS 27 POUNDS MORE THAN HE DID IN
1960. THE AVERAGE AMERICAN FEMALE, AGE 40-49, WEIGHS 25. 5 POUNDS MORE THAN SHE DID IN 1960.