As of Dec. 1, the Coast Guard's calculated vessel capacity has changed, based on an assumed higher average weight of passengers.
Since 1960, the Coast Guard has calculated vessels’ capacity using an assumed average weight per person of 160 pounds. An amended federal rule that took effect this month recalibrated the average weight of a passenger at 185, a 25-pound jump.
Recreational boats and cruise ships are not affected by the change.
“The U.S. Coast Guard feels the U.S. people have gotten fatter over time,” Capt. Ed Sparrow, owner of a Miami-based charter yacht called Holiday of Magic, told The Miami Herald. Its legal capacity has shrunk from 49 to 35 passengers.
The revamped weight standard applies to all passengers, regardless of gender, and was based on a 2004 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found the average man 20 to 75 years of age weighs 191 pounds, up from 166 pounds in 1960. For women, the tally went from 140 to 164.
The call for change stemmed from two boating tragedies. In March 2004, a pontoon water taxi called Lady D overturned in Baltimore Harbor with 25 aboard. Five people died; four were severely injured.
In October 2005, a monachal called Ethan Allen sunk in 70 feet of water on Lake George in New York while carrying 49 passengers. Twenty elderly people died.
In both cases the vessels were carrying the proper number of passengers, but an excessive amount of weight.