As waistlines expand, boat capacity shrinks

December 2011 News

When a paddlewheel dinner boat called the Crystal Queen sailed its maiden voyage in waters off the coast of Atlantic City in the early 1990s, the Coast Guard certified 153 passengers and crew members as a safe load.

Today, that same boat - which was renamed Island Time and will begin cruising the waters off Key Largo on New Year's Eve - is permitted to carry only 134 people.

The 78-footer didn't shrink. Americans got bigger around the waistline.

"The U.S. Coast Guard feels the U.S. people have gotten fatter over time," said Capt. Ed Sparrow, owner of a Miami-based charter yacht called Holiday of Magic. Its legal capacity has shrunk from 49 to 35 passengers.

Since 1960, the Coast Guard has calculated vessels' capacity using an assumed average weight per person of 160 pounds. That was seven years before McDonald's rolled out the Big Mac.

On Dec. 1 of this year, an amended federal rule took effect that recalibrated the average weight of a passenger at 185, a 25-pound jump.

Generally speaking, most cruise ships are not affected by the new rule because they are registered outside the United States. Your recreational boat also gets a pass.

But for commercial vessels sailing under the U.S. flag, the new standard applies.

Many folks - big-bellied cruisers included - think the new standard is long overdue.

"Oh, God, yeah. I'm 251 with sandals," David Kushner of Chenango Bridge, N.Y., said as he boarded the Key Largo Princess glass-bottom boat last week for a sunset cruise with his wife of 43 years.


The revamped weight standard applies to all passengers, regardless of gender, and was based on a 2004 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found the average male, 20-75 years of age, weighs in at 191 pounds, up from 166 pounds in 1960. For women, the tally went from 140 to 164.

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