Choosing the correct boating capacity

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 27, 2003

This past weekend I was on Coast Guard business on the beautiful island of St Croix in the Virgin Islands. St Croix is an incredible place to visit, especially when you have some time to enjoy the sun, sand and water sports. Unfortunately our travel party’s schedule was so tightly scripted that we saw too much of the inside of meeting rooms and zero time enjoying the pure simplistic beauty that St. Croix provides.

While we were taking off from St Croix I glanced out my window seat and saw a situation that concerned me. A small boat was heading out to Buck Island, which is a natural refuge with excellent snorkeling just north of Christiansted. The boat was only about 18 feet long, with a small motor. What concerned me was the number of people onboard. It was obviously overcrowded. As the plane continued to climb my concern grew – there were young children aboard who were not in personal flotation devices.

This situation, even on a very calm balmy day, illustrates a very serious issue. People need to understand the capacity of their recreational boat and stick to it.

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Regardless of what style or type of vessel concerned, there is one important consideration that should be made before signing on the dotted line. Does the vessel you want to purchase have the capacity needed to support the intended use?

Think about it. How often have you seen a recreational boat that is overloaded with too many people or too much gear? This type of situation is a search and rescue case, or worst, waiting to happen.

The reason is simple. Boats loaded beyond their capacity will more easily swamp or capsize. They are more difficult to control and do not handle rough weather as well as boats that follow capacity designs.

As you look for a new or used vessel consider these two key thoughts: First, current federal law requires that all single-hull boats, 20-feet in length or less, have a capacity plate. This type of plate provides information, including the number of people, or the overall weight the vessel is designed to hold. The same plate provides information on the builder and its compliance with Coast Guard standards (This does not apply to either a personal watercraft or sailboat).

Second, the capacity plate is normally found on the vessel’s transom. If the vessel is smaller than 20-feet, you need to follow a rule of thumb recommended by the Virginia State Department of Game and Inland Fisheries:

a. The number of people = boat length (ft) x boat width (ft) divided by 15. For example, from the state’s &uot;Boat Virginia&uot;, &uot;for a boat 18 feet long by 6 feet wide, the number of persons onboard (weighing approximately 150 lbs. each) is 18 times 6 divided by 15, or 108 divided by 15 = seven/150lbs. The &uot;answer&uot; is a total person weight of 1050 lbs.

What about vessels that have outboards?

Look again at the capacity plate and you will see a recommended maximum horsepower rating for the boat. Your boat’s motor should never exceed this rating. A vessel being powered that is over capacity for the available horsepower can not only cause stability problems but also ruin the outboard itself.

Some simple ideas, however if they’re ignored, the opportunities to swamp or capsize your boat increase. You buy a vessel, for the most part, to stay in it, not land outside it (unless you jump in on purpose to water ski!). So, read the capacity, check your owner’s manual, and don’t overload your vessel.

Until next week, Boat Safe…Boat Smart, and use sunblock!