In Cozumel I saw the ferry boats going leaving the pier and I thought about the new Coast Guard regulation concerning weight. The following article made me think more about the importance of passenger weight.
This article is from the New York Times SEATTLE — In this season of expanding waistlines, even the Coast Guard has been forced to monitor midsections: specifically, the drafts of passenger vessels burdened with transporting an increasingly heavy population.
Times Topic: Obesity: The Big Picture
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The Coast Guard in December formally put into effect rules requiring certain passenger vessels to comply with its new Assumed Average Weight per Person. That new weight, 185 pounds, is a full 25 pounds more than the previous average, 160, a figure put in place about half a century ago — after French fries were invented but before billions and billions had been served.
“Are people bigger now?” said Mark Cedergreen, who began running a charter sport fishing boat out of Westport, Wash., in the 1970s, when the salmon population was healthier and people apparently were, too. “Yes.”
And so vessel operators across the country have faced a reckoning: shed weight, and potentially revenue, by reducing the number of passengers they carry, or find a way to keep squeezing people on without falling out of compliance with the Coast Guard.
Many bigger boats, including the fleet operated by the Washington State Ferries here, have avoided real practical change by simply revising their vessels’ capacity downward. For example, the ferry boat Wenatchee, previously capable of holding 2,000 people, is now said to hold about 1,700. But while the Wenatchee’s vehicle hold sometimes fills, its passenger decks virtually never reach capacity. It is one of the largest ferries in the world. So the chance that the lowered capacity will ever mean turning away passengers is very low.
(“Some fine examples of what we’re talking about just went down the stairs,” said William H. Matchett, a retired English professor at the University of Washington, lifting an eye from Henry James’s “The Golden Bowl” to nod toward some formidable passengers on the Wenatchee recently. “But this is a big boat.”)
Some larger private boats have also avoided real impact. In Savannah, Ga., ferries that cross the Savannah River had to reduce capacity on paper but expect no real impact because they rarely are full. In New York, the World Yacht and Circle Line cruises, which depart from Piers 81 and 83 in Midtown Manhattan, deliberately operate at about 50 percent of capacity, about 300 people, to make for a roomier, more pleasant experience, said Jason Hackett, a spokesman.
The same has been true for the popular Argosy Cruises that operate in the many waterways around Seattle. Argosy had to reduce capacity on four of its boats, said Maureen Black, a spokeswoman for the company, but still had plenty of room to accommodate its usual customer base. Ms. Black also noted that some other details of Argosy boats would allow for bigger bodies.
“Chairs are armless,” she said.
Not every boat can handle extra pounds so easily. The Coast Guard inspects about 6,000 passenger vessels across the country, and many owners of smaller boats have been scrambling to comply. Rather than concede any capacity, many have chosen to undergo new stability tests to try to prove that they can meet the new weight rules and still maintain the same number of passengers.
For boats under 65 feet long, the Coast Guard oversees what it calls a simplified stability test, in which owners simulate full capacity by loading 55-gallon drums of water in various locations on board. The test also requires moving all of the drums to one side in an attempt to simulate what might happen in the event of strong waves, a wildlife sighting — or perhaps a rush to watch a fisherman battle a huge tuna.
Some say the test bears little resemblance to real conditions.
“What we’re finding out is that the test that was designed in the ivory tower of Washington, D.C., doesn’t work in reality, in real water,” said Mr. Cedergreen, of the Westport Charterboat Association.
While most of the boats in the Westport fleet operate well below capacity so there is plenty of space for casting and catching, some say the new Coast Guard rules will hurt their bottom line in other ways.
Dave McGowen, who has led charters on his 50-foot boat Ms. Magoo for 30 years, said his capacity had been reduced to 26 passengers from 30 under the new rules. Mr. McGowen, who is 59, said that he hoped to sell his boat to another charter operator within the next few years, but that the new rules would reduce the number of potential buyers. He estimated that his boat would lose more than $100,000 in resale value. “A buyer wants more capacity so they can make more income,” he said.
Lt. Cmdr. David Webb, an inspector with the Coast Guard Office of Vessel Activities in Washington, noted that while the new capacity rules were only now taking effect, the Coast Guard had been promoting the 185-pound average weight since at least 2006. Changing the weight capacity had been under discussion for several years before that, but momentum increased quickly after 20 people died on a crowded tour boat on Lake George in New York in 2005.
Commander Webb said the Coast Guard had arrived at the new weight figure by averaging the average male weight (194.7 pounds) and female weight (164.7 pounds), as calculated by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, then adding a few pounds for clothing and personal items.
Boat operators are not typically required to weigh passengers, but Commander Webb emphasized that they could not simply trust that the weights of passengers on a given trip indeed averaged 185 pounds or less. While a group of, say, 100 schoolchildren on a tour of Puget Sound might come in well under a boat’s overall capacity, 100 other people could weigh much more.
“Their obligation is really not to exceed overall capacity,” Commander Webb said. “If they’re going to load the college football team on, they have to give that some consideration.”
I did not edit the article because I felt that it would take away from the significance of the report.