Americans are big on supersizing -- and it shows. Although it's easy to see what we're doing to ourselves, it's not so apparent that we're doing the same thing to our boats. They come from the builder lean and ready to roar, but it's not long before we're bulking them up. From fishing tackle and watertoys to tools and electronics to those the-more-the-merrier passenger loads, our boats are getting heavier. And, if you believe the pundits, they're suffering from it just like us: giving up performance and becoming a danger to themselves.
But maybe it's not so bad. Sure, everyone talks about how weight is detrimental to boats, but we wanted to see if this is truly the case. So we got a boat, grabbed our test gear, and started packing on the pounds in search of answers. And while there were times where weight obviously had its ill effects, the results we got weren't always what you'd expect.
The Numbers Game
Like the suggested weight-for-your-height chart on a doctor's wall, we started with a similar guideline: the Coast Guard's maximum capacity label.
Next time you go aboard, look for the black and yellow capacity plate prominently displayed in the cockpit. If your boat is 20' or shorter, it's required to have one by the Coast Guard. If your boat is shorter than 26', the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) requires one to achieve certification. A plate will usually read like this: "8 PERSONS OR 1200 POUNDS." A confusing description that some may interpret as a hard-and-fast passenger number limit, and others an overall weight limit. In general, you should not exceed either the maximum weight capacity or the total number of passengers.
For decades boaters have been using these numbers as a safe guideline when taking on crew and gear. But now, those digits are being called into question -- and it's because of us.
Coast Guard capacity limits were last standardized more than 60 years ago, when the average boater was assumed to weigh 140 pounds. Sadly, in today's America, that estimate is way too low. The result is that we may be piling more pounds into our boats than they were designed to handle (see "Walking Ballast" on page 4 of this article).
In our tests the weight we added was dead-on accurate. But be aware that when you go out with your beefy buddies, the plate that says the boat is safe for eight people may need to be adjusted down to six.