Bigger waistlines, could pinch bottom line for boats

New passenger capacity

The party boat American Spirit is seen here earlier in July with a full vessel of passengers.

Tina Harbuck | The Log
Published: Friday, December 14, 2012 at 05:10 PM.

Captains operating charter, scuba diving and snorkeling, or dolphin cruise boats now have to comply with a federal regulation that bases passenger capacity on the statistic that an average fare now weighs 185 pounds rather than 160.

The result is lower maximum passenger capacity for vessels small to big and, maybe, less profit for the businesses.

Party boat American Spirit owned by Capt. Jim Westbrook saw its “stability” rating drop by almost 18 percent. Originally legally able to carry 304 people, the vessel is now temporarily licensed – a final stability letter is pending – to allow 250 passengers.

Though American Spirit is currently used as a party boat licensed to carry fewer than 250 fishermen because the weight of their gear and other conditions have to be considered to minimize the risk of capsizing, Westbrook said the new maximum capacity was expensive to determine and could affect his bottom line if he had to re-purpose the boat, or sell it.

“It lost a substantial amount of capacity,” he said. “I don’t know what the future of my vessel will be. … You want to maintain the largest stability letter possible.”

Westbrook had engineers test American Spirit’s stability in Panama City. The cost was $15,000.

Party boat Destiny’s passenger capacity was recalibrated using another option, a math formula.

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