Under Federal Law Which Type of Boat Must Have a Capacity Plate?

under federal law which type of boat must have a capacity plate

If there weren’t any laws to govern the wild world of boating, then the waters would be a sloshing death trap. Fortunately, legislators have come up with a vast number of regulations and laws that keep waters safe and make boating more enjoyable for all of those who do it.

While some laws are pretty popular and well-known, others aren’t quite as prominent. For instance, did you know that some boats need a capacity plate? It’s true. But not all boats need to have one in place. So under federal law which type of boat must have a capacity plate? Find out here.

What Type of Boat Needs a Capacity Plate?

According to the quizlet on Boat Ed, the type of boat that needs a capacity plate would be single-hull boats that are less than 20 feet in length. The plate should be displayed somewhere near the operators position or on the boat’s transom.

As its name suggests, a capacity plate is kind of like a license plate, but instead tells people how much weight a watercraft can accommodate at any single time. The small metal plate contains other information as well, including the maximum number of adult persons the watercraft can carry, maximum gross load, maximum engine size, and maximum horsepower.

What is the Importance of a Capacity Plate?

The capacity plate serves the purpose of a reminder for the boat operator, and provides a basis for regulators to determine if you’re following the law. Remember, it’s not a federal offense to exceed the numbers on the capacity plate, but individual states can impose penalties and fines on operators who don’t abide by capacities listed on the plate.

But that doesn’t mean that the information listed on the plate is as good as final. On the contrary, the capacity plate’s numbers are estimates that you can use to determine how many people you can accommodate in good weather.

As weather deteriorates, the capacity listed might need to be adjusted. In poor weather conditions, you might have to further reduce the weight on your watercraft especially since you might overwork your motor in challenging and harsh waters.

Remember, the weight listed includes everything you have on board including passengers, gear, and motors. So make sure you calculate the weights before you board so you don’t end up violating the law.

Who is Exempted?

The law of capacity plates came into effect some time in 1973. And since it isn’t applied retrospectively, boats that were manufactured before then don’t need a capacity plate. However it’s unlikely that you’re sailing around with a boat that’s over half a decade old.

Another distinction is that if you built your own boat, there won’t be a need for a capacity plate either. That’s mainly because you probably wouldn’t know it’s capacity in the first place. The same goes for sailboats, canoes, kayaks, and inflatable boats. These vessels will not need a capacity plate.

Are Seats and Plates Always the Same?

No, the information on the plates will not always be the same as the available seats on the boat. For instance, a vessel might have enough seats to accommodate more people than that listed on the plates. In this case, the plates will always be the number to follow.

It doesn’t really matter if there are more seats on board to accommodate more people. If the capacity plates tell you that you’ve reached the maximum allocation, then those seats are as good as occupied.

What Happens If You Don’t Follow the Capacity?

There are lots of reasons why law enforcement officials want you to follow your capacity plates. Boats have limits, and although they might seem pretty robust, there’s only so much a boat can take before it meets an accident. Some of the things that can go wrong by overloading your boat include:


Putting too much weight on board means that your boat sits lower in the water. When waves and wakes come into your way, your boat can be easily overcome by water, swamping the deck and risking a sink.


Again, more weight means a greater risk of capsizing. When your boat is too low in the water, it becomes more susceptible to the movement and motions of strong waves. One strong wave could easily toss your boat over.


The weight capacity also prevents water from getting where it shouldn’t be. For instance, a boat that has its bow too low into the surface of the water can risk flooding the engine and causing damage to the internal parts.

Know Your Boat’s Limits

Under federal law which type of boat must have a capacity plate? It’s the smaller ones with a single hull. Sure, the capacity plate might not seem like it’s too important. But these plates provide pivotal information that you can use to save yourself and your passengers from potential danger while riding the waves.

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