|FYI — March 2005|
|By Brad Dunn|
In January the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that the agency redefine average passenger weight as 174 pounds, up from 140 pounds, the standard set in 1960. The proposal came after five people died in a water taxi accident last year in Baltimore. The 36-foot boat was carrying a legal number of passengers when she capsized, but their combined weight was 700 pounds heavier than the 45-year-old guidelines anticipated.
If the feds recalculate boat capacities, what impact will beefier boaters have on the recreational industry?
“Though I certainly understand where the NTSB is coming from, I think most boaters are in better shape than average Americans,” says Monita Fontaine, vice president of government relations at the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). “Most boaters swim, fish, and get plenty of exercise just taking care of their boats.”
Overweight Americans are not affecting the naval architecture at Hunt Yachts, the custom boatbuilder in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts—at least not yet, says Peter Van Lancker, the company’s vice president of operations. “I mean, we do get customers who find their helm chairs a little narrow and request larger ones. But we’re not seeing the boats themselves change,” Van Lancker explains. “Let’s face it, people with money buy boats, and people with money also like to eat. But, then again, I’m 6'4" and weigh 250 pounds; if I can get around comfortably, I think most boaters can.”
Thomas Marhevko, the NMMA’s vice president of engineering standards, agrees that weight has become a growing issue but says the problem is onboard equipment, not people. “The tragedy in Baltimore may mean it’s time to review passenger capacities,” Marhevko says. “But I think we should give a lot more consideration to the weight of boating accessories, like TVs, stereos, electronics, [air conditioning], even engines, which are getting dramatically heavier every year and putting a strain on boats that may not have been designed for them.”
Regardless of how the recreational market responds, you can expect to see fewer passengers aboard state- and city-run boats.
This article originally appeared in the February 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.