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Capsized water taxi may have been overloaded

A possible contributing factor to the capsize of a Baltimore water shuttle that killed five people last March in the Inner Harbor may have been that the pontoon boat was overloaded by 700 pounds when it was blasted by sudden high winds.

In a mid-December report, the National Transportation Safety Board asked the Coast Guard to “take immediate action” to ensure that 270 other commercial pontoon boats operating nationally update their passenger weight averages. A final report is due in six months that could suggest more safety procedures.

Government reports show that the average weight of Americans has increased in the past 40 years. The Coast Guard reportedly used a 1960 estimate of an average person’s weight of 140 pounds when it certified the stability of the 36-foot Baltimore pontoon boat with an 8-foot beam. In 2002 the mean body weight of men was 191 pounds, 164 pounds for women. The suggested average weight today is 174 pounds. The Baltimore boat was tested as safe for 3,500 pounds, though it actually carried 4,200 pounds.

Fourteen men, eight women and three children were aboard Seaport Taxi’s “Lady D” when it capsized in a storm front, hit broadside by a 50-mph gust as the captain tried to return to shore. One young girl remains in a coma.

A lawsuit against the Baltimore-based Living Classrooms Foundation, which owned Seaport Taxi, was settled in October for an undisclosed amount, and the shuttle ceased operation soon after.