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Bloat changes weight on boats

Wed., April 27, 2011, midnight

LOS ANGELES – There was a time when Americans were as sleek as clipper ships but now, according to the Coast Guard, we’re as tubby as tugs.

For the first time since the 1960s, the agency has increased its estimate of average passenger weight – a standard used by ferries and charter boats to help determine how many people they can carry.

To no one’s surprise, those who go down to the sea in ships are less Olive Oyl and more Wimpy. Using calculations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Coast Guard figures that the typical passenger weighs in, with clothing, at 185 pounds – 25 pounds more than a generation ago.

“People have just gotten heavier,” said Coast Guard spokeswoman Lisa Novak.

Meanwhile, the things that haul them have gotten less safe as they take on weight they weren’t designed to bear. Buses are tested as if a typical rider weighed 150 pounds, leading the Federal Transit Administration to propose a jump to 175. Prompted by a 2003 plane crash in North Carolina, the FAA has supersized its estimate of passenger weight, from 170 to about 190.

In 2004, a water taxi called the Lady D flipped over in Baltimore Harbor, killing five passengers. That incident triggered a years-long Coast Guard study focusing on outdated estimates of passenger weight.

The new boat rule, which became final last month and takes effect in December, will reduce capacity only on commercial vessels and, because of various design factors, not on all of them.


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