Add 45 pounds per passenger, says Coast Guard - Soundings Online

Add 45 pounds per passenger, says Coast Guard

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In the wake of the October 2005 tour boat disaster on Lake George, N.Y., in which 20 customers drowned, and another accident in 2004 that claimed five lives in Baltimore, the Coast Guard says it is studying regulations for 2007 that would cut the passenger capacity on many tour boats.

In the wake of the October 2005 tour boat disaster on Lake George, N.Y., in which 20 customers drowned, and another accident in 2004 that claimed five lives in Baltimore, the Coast

Read the other story in this package: NTSB: Tour boat was overloaded

Guard says it is studying regulations for 2007 that would cut the passenger capacity on many tour boats. But in a strongly worded “notice,” the agency urges the industry to adopt “prudent” measures on its own.

The problem is simple: Americans, over the decades, have gained weight.

For years the Coast Guard has calculated the passenger capacity of boats smaller than 65 feet by determining the safe weight they can carry and remain stable, then dividing that weight by an assumed average passenger weight of 140 pounds or 160 pounds, depending on the vessel. Ethan Allen, the Dyer 40 that capsized on Lake George Oct. 2, 2005, with 49 passengers and crew aboard, had been certified in the 1960s to carry 50 passengers.

“The NTSB [National Transportation Safety Board] has indicated that overloading due to increased passenger weight was a potential contributing cause of the accident,” the Coast Guard says in its notice. The Warren County, N.Y., sheriff, who issued a report on the tragedy, says the average weight of the mostly elderly passengers aboard Ethan Allen was 190 to 200 pounds.

The Coast Guard “recommends that, for the purposes of this notice, the assumed weight per person should be 185 pounds for a mix of men and women.” The agency continues: “Owners and operators of all pontoon vessels and small passenger vessels not more than 65 feet in length should voluntarily restrict the maximum number of passengers permitted on board” by one of three methods:

• divide the total allowed weight by 185

• recalculate capacity to a number equal to 140 (or 160) divided by 185, multiplied by the current capacity

• weigh prospective customers and their effects at the dock before boarding

The Coast Guard also notes that, over time, modifications to tour boats in some cases can add weight and change the stability characteristics of the vessels but that often the passenger capacity of such boats isn’t reconsidered following alterations. Ethan Allen had been fitted with a wooden and Plexiglas canopy, replacing a pipe and canvas structure, in the years before the accident.

“The Coast Guard identified vessel weight growth, particularly on pontoon vessels, as a significant factor impacting stability,” the notice states. “A vessel must be kept in the same physical condition as when its stability letter was issued in order to remain in compliance with Federal regulations. Vessel operators are required to receive … approval on all vessel alterations for this reason. If a vessel becomes heavier and the operating load of passengers is not similarly reduced, the possibility exists that operation beyond the vessel’s regulatory stability limits will occur.”