Many factors can jeopardize the safety of a vessel and its passengers. Boat operators should be aware of such situations and must be able to adapt to changing conditions. One major component of responsible boating is to ensure that the boat is loaded appropriately in regards to its maximum weight capacities.
The objective of this section is to enable boat operators to avoid capsizing situations by following the boat capacity limits and maintaining proper distribution of weight in the boat.
Gross Load Capacity Recommendations
For maximum safety, operators should always ensure that they are aware of and follow the boat’s gross load capacity recommendations when loading the vessel with passengers and equipment. Overloading a boat with equipment and people is very dangerous. Too much weight will make a watercraft unstable and it may dip under water or cause the boat to capsize. U.S. Coast Guard accident statistics have pointed to capsizing as a leading cause of fatal boating accidents.
Manufacturers are required by law to affix a capacity label on all mono-hull boats that measure less than 20 feet in length and that are built after October 31, 1972. Though federal laws do not prohibit boaters from exceeding the recommended boat capacity listed on the capacity plate, state laws may. It is important to know and understand your state’s laws regarding gross load capacity recommendations.
The boat capacity plate affixed on the vessel provides recommended maximum safe weight limits for watercraft that are less than 20 feet in length. These limits should be modified for bad weather or when the weight cannot be evenly distributed, and boaters should always take into account all conditions and use their best judgment when making load decisions.
Kayaks, canoes, sailboats and inflatables are exempt from the requirement and usually will not be fitted with a boat capacity label. If your boat or watercraft is not required to be affixed with a boat capacity plate, the U.S. Coast Guard recommends the following formula to determine how many passengers can be carried safely on your watercraft:
Safe Number of Passengers = L x W/ 15
It is important to understand that this formula is effective in good weather and is a basic guideline. Any equipment that is onboard will decrease the amount of space available for passengers.
Maintaining Weight Distribution of Passengers and Load
Overloading one side of a boat with equipment and people is very dangerous. Too much weight will make a side of the watercraft unstable and it may dip under water or allow small waves to crash onboard. Boaters should ensure that all weight on the boat is as evenly-distributed as possible.
In addition to gross load capacity recommendations, the boat capacity plate will oftentimes also include maximum safe horsepower information as a guide for selecting an engine for the boat. As with the load recommendations, federal laws do not prohibit boaters from exceeding the recommended horsepower listed on the capacity plate, but some state laws may. It is important to know and understand your state’s laws regarding recommended horsepower and engine size.