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U.S. Coast Guard Issues Voluntary Guidelines to Increase Passenger Weight Standards

New York, May 04, 2006

The U.S. Coast Guard recently issued a Federal Register notice seeking public comment on measures that would raise the passenger weight standard used to test the stability of small vessel boats to accurately reflect the average weight of today’s population.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average weight of both men and women has increased nearly twenty-five pounds since the early 1960s when the current regulations were established. The assumed passenger weight allowance—currently set at 160 pounds per passenger, or 140 pounds if the vessel is carrying a mix of men, women, and children over protected waters—is used to evaluate the stability of small passenger vessels. Overloaded conditions increase a boat’s center of gravity and the degree to which a boat heels against the wind, while reducing the distance between the boat deck and the water’s surface.

In recognition of the pressing need to address public safety during the upcoming boating season, the Coast Guard has issued voluntary guidelines for owners and operators of small passenger vessels to re-evaluate the passenger capacity for vessels based on an updated average weight allowance of 185 pounds. The Coast Guard is in the process of preparing a rule that would formally amend regulations. The rule will apply to all passenger vessel boats and pontoon vessels less than 65 feet in length, which account for nearly 7,000 boats nationwide.

The Coast Guard’s recommendations stem from studies following a 2004 incident in which an overloaded pontoon vessel capsized in Baltimore Harbor, resulting in several fatalities and injuries. Separate investigations launched by the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the 1960s assumed weight allowance was obsolete, and compromised the validity of vessel stability proof tests.

Interested persons may submit comments regarding the measures (docket number USCG-2005 22732) to Comments must be submitted by Friday, May 26, 2006. All comments received will be posted online for public review.

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