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Boat Capacities

Before you can load your family and friends onto your boat, you have to understand the number of people and amount of weight you can safely take. This amount is called the gross load capacity of your boat. If you load more on your boat than it was designed to handle, the boat may become unstable. And no matter how hot the weather is, you don't want your boat to capsize. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, capsizing and falls overboard are the most reported types of fatal accidents and account for over half of all boating fatalities. You need to be especially careful when loading small boats that are less than 16 feet in length.

Your boat should have a capacity plate that tells you how many persons or pounds you can have on the boat. Manufacturers typically assume the weight of each person to be 150 pounds, so if you are taking small children or heavier adults, you need to adjust the number of people you can take. The capacity plate will also tell you the horsepower recommendations.

Sample capacity plates

Usually, you can see the capacity plate in the steering or helm area. Never remove or alter the capacity plate on your boat.

Typical location of the capacity plate

Boats over 26 feet long are not required to have a capacity plate. If your boat does not have a capacity plate, you can figure out how many people can safely board your boat with a simple calculation:

Boat length (ft) x boat width (ft) = no. of people

For example, if your boat is 30 feet long and 10 feet wide, the equation is:

30 ft x 10 ft = 20 people

How much you can load on your boat also depends on the design of the boat: its hull volume, hull dimension, and the weight of the engine, among other things. The number of seats on the boat does not necessarily indicate how many people can safely ride in the boat.

Even though federal laws do not prohibit exceeding the maximum capacities listed on your boat's capacity plate, many state laws do.

The load recommendations that come with your boat assume good weather conditions. If there's any chance the weather will be less than ideal, don't load your boat to capacity.

Once you get everyone and everything loaded onto your boat, make sure the load is balanced throughout the boat. And remember, if you allow people to move around on the boat, their moving positions will change the balance of the boat, which may make the boat more difficult to maneuver.

PWCs or other boats without capacity plates should reference the owner's manual and state laws.


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