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How Much Ballast is Safe?

You know those yellow stickers on the boats that say something like “16 Persons or 2350 lbs?” One of the most common questions we get is, “Is ballast factored into those numbers?” or, in other words, “How many people is the boat rated for when the ballast is FULL?” This is an important question – probably more so than you might expect.

First, let’s talk about those ratings and where they come from – bear with me, this will all come together here soon. Most people think that those ratings are established by the Coast Guard,; however once a boat goes over 19 feet, the Coast Guard no longer gives specific ratings for capacity. The capacity ratings are, in most cases, established by a body referred to as the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). The NMMA is a governing body that ensures that boats built by participating manufacturers are up to certain safety standards, one of which being capacity ratings. They calculate the capacity ratings using many factors, including boat size, depth, materials, flotation, etc. to determine what is a safe amount of weight to put into a particular boat.

Now, above, I said that those ratings are established by the NMMA “in MOST cases,”, and it is important to point out that some manufacturers’ capacity ratings do NOT adhere to these standards. There are a few boat companies that choose not to be a part of the NMMA and do not build boats using their safety standards or to NMMA requirements. Those manufacturers who are non-NMMA certified are held to no standard; their marketing departments get to choose what capacity rating they want on each model. Also, these companies don’t have anyone verifying the amount of ballast that the tanks hold and can publish any number they choose – but that’s a topic for another day.

So who cares? Well… you should; you REALLY should – and I’m going to tell you why. The NMMA requires that all factory installed ballast be included in capacity ratings, meaning boat companies have to base their capacity with all ballast that is installed and included from the factory before establishing that number. While many manufacturers such as Centurion, Supreme and Nautique have all ballast fully installed from the factory, we recently found out that some manufacturers ship boats with the plumbing installed at the factory but the actual ballast bags are purchased by and installed by the dealer. This means that this additional ballast which is often times sold as “factory” ballast is in addition to the capacity rating on the boat. Those dealer-installed bags that weigh 1,800 lbs just took your 16 person capacity boat to a NMMA certified 6 person capacity boat.

The capacity plates are there to let you know what is a safe amount of weight to put in a particular boat. So, you may ask, “Why does Boat Company A have dealers install the ballast?” Well, there are a couple reasons. First, that a company can claim both higher ballast numbers and larger capacity for marketing, and, second, that the liability of “over-weighting” your boat passes from the manufacturer to the dealer and the boat owner.

Just let that sink in for a minute; it is a big deal.

If your brand new surf boat ends up on the bottom of the lake, you could be responsible, since you might have (unknowingly) put more ballast in it than it was safely weighted to carry. Your “negligence” could cause your insurance to deny a claim or, more importantly, put your family in danger.

This is why Centurion and Supreme boats have smaller capacities than some other brands, because 100% of ALL ballast going into the boat is factored into capacity. Being up-front about capacities says something about the companies and about how their boats are built. When you consider what goes into a Ri237 that allows it to pack 16 people PLUS 5,100 lbs. of ballast, it says something about the quality that goes into the boats themselves. Definitely something to think about.

Chase the endless wave and stay safe doing it, my friends

1 Comment

  • Drew| April 12, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    You probably just saved my life. And convinced me to look at Supremes in the future (would love Centurion but I’m not a millionaire yet).
    Thank you for posting this! Can I follow you on instagram!? my account is @drewdietze

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