Boating accidents kill or injure over 4,000 people every year. Attorneys are often asked to investigate the circumstances surrounding boating accidents to determine who, if anyone, is liable for causing it. Boating accidents can be caused by operator error or inattention, overloading, the environment, other boats or hazards in the water, and even the manufacturer of the boat itself. Safe boating practices can prevent most boating accidents. However, there are hidden dangers associated with operating a boat that many boat operators do not know about. One of those dangers is assuming the occupancy rating of a boat equals the safe seating spaces on a boat. This is often not the case, and it can lead to people sitting in dangerous places on a boat without even knowing it.
The capacity plate on a boat, usually located near the steering column, sets out the maximum number of passengers and the maximum weight capacity for the boat. The number in biggest type-font is the occupancy rating, or the number of people who can safely be in the boat.
The American Boat and Yacht Council publishes regulations that boat manufacturers are supposed to adhere to. For a number of years, the regulations used a weight formula for coming up with the number of passengers to put on the capacity plate. Weight is a very important factor in boat safety; you do not want to overload a boat. But, it is not the only important factor. Safe seating is also important. And what the boating industry did not seem to understand was that most users would take the number on the capacity plate to also mean the number of safe places to sit in the boat.
For example, a boat could be rated for eight people based on the weight formula and have an “8” on the capacity plate but actually only have three places designed as safe seats. With an “8” on the capacity plate, people would often assume it was safe to sit on the deck of the boat or in back of the boat or other places that posed a serious risk for being thrown overboard without even knowing they were sitting some place unsafe. This has led to accidents that have caused serious injury and death.
The ABYC changed their regulations recently to say that the capacity plate number has to be the lesser of the number from the weight formula or the number of safe seats in the boat. Unfortunately, many manufacturers have continued to ignore this standard because consumers will often buy a boat based on the capacity plate number. In other words, boat manufacturers know that buyers will decide which boat to buy based on how many people it can carry. So a fishing boat that only has three seats is marketable to a family man as a multi-purpose boat when it has a “4” on the capacity plate (the customer will guess, often wrongly, where the other person should sit), but not when it only has a “3” on it. This is dangerous. Customers need to be told both the safe weight and the number of safe seats in a boat when purchasing it.
The personal injury attorneys at Jinks, Crow & Dickson, P.C., are experienced in evaluating and pursuing boating accident claims. We are able to evaluate boating accident cases completely, from operator error, to hazards in the water, to defects in boat design and warnings. Please be careful when boating. Familiarize yourself with your boat and surroundings, and remember to not rely on the capacity plate to tell you the number of safe places there are to sit in a boat.