The Block Island Times

Ferry capacity gets leaner as passengers get larger

By Judy Tierney | Dec 02, 2012

If you squeezed into a bench seat on one of the crowded ferries at the height of the season last summer, it probably didn’t seem like there were fewer passengers on board than in the past.

However, new Coast Guard regulations that came into effect in December 2011 reset the average weight companies must use to calculate capacity on passenger vessels. Now, they must estimate 185 pounds per person. That’s a 25-pound increase from the figure of 160 pounds that the Coast Guard had used since l960.

According to Interstate Navigation’s Vessel Operations Manager Christian Myers, “This is a major milestone for the industry. The average was 140 pounds forty years ago.” He suggested the Coast Guard may have looked at marine casualties and then adjusted the weights.

Myers said Interstate Navigation adjusted their numbers so the company would have a comfortable margin. They schedule enough boats in the summer so they are not running at capacity. “If we were full all the time, it would have been a bigger deal,” he said.

The Coast Guard ruling does not apply to recreational vessels. The new average American weight does not impact New England Airlines either. Owner Bill Bendokas says they do not use an average weight, but instead, have always weighed each passenger individually when calculating total capacity for a flight.

Statistics on obesity that the Coast Guard is using may have been gleaned from studies done by a branch of the Centers of Disease Control. In 2010, they released a report stating their finding that 35 percent of Americans are overweight.

Scientists calculate obesity using the Body Mass Ratio (BMI), the ratio of weight in kilograms over height in squared meters. A BMI of 30 or over is categorized as obesity. This translates to 174 pounds or over for a person 5’4” and 203 pounds for a person who is 5’9”.

A recent Scientific American article (Mark Fishetti, October, 2012) addressed this trend and calculated that the average Body Mass Index (BMI) of Americans had increased by 5 since l960.

In state-by-state figures reported there, Rhode Islanders were just below the national average at 26 percent, but in 1995, only 15.2 percent of us were overweight, also almost exactly the national average of 15.9 percent.

As you reach for your second helping of mashed potatoes with gravy on Christmas Day, think of this.

Looking ahead, the prospects are brighter: government researchers think the increases in weight are leveling off.


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