Several factors can compromise the safety of a boat and its passengers. Thus, it’s important for boat operators to be aware of such situations and to be able to adapt to them. Knowing how many people your boat can handle and how much weight it can carry is essential before setting out on the water. Besides being a safety concern, this is also the law.
Federal Law requires all powerboats under twenty feet to carry this information as a Capacity Plate.
Overloading the boat with passengers and equipment is dangerous, so operators should always check the gross load capacity recommendations. Watercraft dip under water or capsize if loaded with too much weight. According to US Coast Guard statistics, capsizing is a leading cause of boating fatalities.
Law requires manufacturers to put a capacity label on monohull boats under 20 feet long built after October 31, 1972. Although Federal Laws don’t prohibit boaters from exceeding the capacity plate, state laws do. Hence, it’s essential to know and understand your state’s laws.
The boat capacity plate recommends maximum weight limits for watercraft less than 20 feet in length. However, boaters should modify these limits in bad weather or when the weight can’t be evenly distributed. Plus, they should always use their best judgment when making load decisions.
A boat capacity label isn’t required on kayaks, canoes, sailboats, or inflatables. However, for boats without boat capacity plates like them, the US Coast Guard recommends using this formula to figure out how many passengers can be carried safely:
Safe Number of Passengers = boat length (ft.) × boat width (ft.) ÷ 15.
Note that this formula only works in good weather and is a basic guideline. Reduce the number of passengers if you’re carrying heavy equipment.
For small, flat-bottomed boats without capacity plates, you can figure out the largest safe engine size following the formula as recommended by the US Coast Guard:
Maximum Horsepower Calculation: Max HP = (boat length (ft.) – 15) x 2.
It’s hazardous to overload or overpower your boat! An oversized engine will make your boat sit too low in the stern, making it much more likely to be swamped by its wake or from another boat. Also, an overpowered boat is difficult to control.
Overloading your boat is another case. Having too many people or too many supplies on your boat also makes it easier for it to swamp. Even if you’re within the maximum weight limit, distribute the weight evenly, and focus on the middle of the boat. Doing this will keep your boat upright in the water and prevent capsizing. Putting less weight on your boat when going out in bad weather would be best. A heavy boat is challenging to control in higher waves and is more likely to get swamped. So always follow the weight guidelines and check the weather conditions prior.