Staying under the limits listed on a boat’s capacity plate is an important part of safe boating. On motorized boats less than 20 feet in length, the capacity plate should be visible from the steering area. The purpose of this plate is to tell the boat operator how much total weight, what horsepower, and how many persons (and total weight of persons) the boat can safely carry.
When capacity exceeds the limit, the boat sits lower in the water. Distance from the waterline to the upper deck level of the boat is known as freeboard. With less freeboard, the boat is much more susceptible to swamping and capsizing.
Capacity consists of three parts: the maximum number of persons on board and their weight, maximum horsepower rating, and the total maximum weight of persons, motor, and gear. You cannot exceed any of those categories. When it comes to the maximum persons on board, there is no distinction between children and adults. An infant counts as a person, regardless of weight. And even if you are under the limit for number of persons, you cannot be over the limit for weight of persons.
Considering the weight of gear on the boat is important. A boat could unknowingly be over the weight capacity with the gear and equipment without exceeding the other limits.
Not all boats have capacity plates. Federal law requires the manufacturer to put a capacity plate on motorized, single-hull boats under 20 feet in length. If a capacity plate is not present, and no information is available in the owner's manual or from the manufacturer, an estimate of the boat’s person capacity can be determined using this equation:
(Boat Length x Boat Width) ÷ 15.
This will give you an approximate number of persons that the vessel can safely hold. It will not, however, tell you the maximum horsepower or maximum weight. You will have to pay attention to the freeboard and how the boat handles in the water.
Awareness of the danger is key: If the boat looks overloaded, it most likely is and creates a dangerous situation. Waves and wakes can add to the danger of swamping, so be sure to load the boat evenly.
Following capacity limits and using good judgment is just part of safe boating on Ohio’s waterways.