Boat Load Capacity and Capacity Plates

JohnFranco Joyce

The 2005 Ethan Allen disaster in the waters of Lake George in upstate New York set out a new demand for creating strict and clear boat load capacity regulations. The disaster left 20 people dead after the boat capsized. An investigation was done regarding the reason for the boat's capsize. The National Transportation Safety Group concluded the boat capsized due to insufficient stability. In other words, the 47 people aboard was far over the boat's capacity. In reality, the boat could only handle 14 passengers. In reality, the US Coast Guard had incorrectly certified the ship to carry 48 passengers along with two crew members. Yet, this certification by the US Coast Guard came under 1966 testing standards. The boat's captain, along with the tour company titled Shoreline Cruises, were indicted on charges of criminal negligence.

Loading and capacity

The terms loading and capacity in the boating world refer to weight made up by passengers, fuel and onboard gear. Do not count the seats in your boat in order to figure out how many passengers can hop aboard. Rather, look for the capacity plate. The capacity plate will inform you how many can board the boat. The U.S. Coast Guard Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971 requires all inboard, outboard or stern drive engines under 20 feet long and manufactured prior to November 1, 1972 must clearly have a capacity plate in an obvious sight. If you are found to have exceeded the capacity limits, your insurance policy could very well be voided.

A big boy vessel exceeding 20 feet does not need to display the same kind of boat capacity plate. Yet, if a boat exceeds 26 feet that meets the American Boat and Yacht Council standards does need to display a capacity plate. The weight capacity, too, needs to be displayed. Recently, it was adjusted as a result of the rise in the average weight of an individual within the United States. The average American now has an average weight of 185 pounds. These numbers are radically different from when 1960's passenger-carrying regulations were implemented.

In no circumstance should the capacity plate ever be manipulated or toyed with.

Outboard powered

Lists the maximum amount of individuals allowed to board as well as the maximum weight consisting of individuals, gear and the motor. Moreover, the maximum horsepower is listed.

Inboard or stern drive powered

Lists the maximum amount of passengers allowed to board as well as the maximum weight in regards to persons and gears.

Manually propelled boats

The maximum amount of passengers is listed in pounds and the maximum weight is listed in reference.


When checking limits and capacity plates, apply these numbers to good weather conditions. For example, if 8 passengers are allowed to board your boat and the water is very rocky, maybe scale that number back to five or six.

Keep the distribution of persons even. For example, do not have six people sitting on one side and two on the other. Just to play it safe, it is better to keep the weight as even as possible on each side. Moreover, limit human movement when in high speeds.