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What Is the Best Way to Avoid Overloading Your Boat? – Boating Tips

Written by J. Harvey / Fact checked by S. Numbers

what is the best way to avoid overloading your boat

Overloading your boat can be a dangerous matter that may lead to accidents. Since you won’t want to risk running into this sort of situation, you may be asking what is the best way to avoid overloading your boat.

Asking this question is a step in the right direction, but there are several things you have to understand in order to sufficiently address this important subject. In this guide, we will talk about boat overloading and certain details every boat owner needs to be aware of for their safety.

In short, boaters should stick to the weight limit of their vessels, use the recommended boat engine, and distribute cargo and passengers’ weight properly.

What is Boat Overload?

Boat overload refers to when a boat exceeds its maximum capacity. While the term “overloading” seems self-explanatory, there are different aspects that we need to understand about boat overload.

When talking about overloading a boat, the first thing that comes to mind is loading too much on the boat, more than what it is capable of carrying. However, there is another type of boat overload, having an engine that is too powerful or too big.

When equipping a boat with an engine that is too powerful, it becomes more difficult to steer and control the boat. The biggest problem with boat overload is that the boat loses control. It’s easy to imagine a boat capsizing because of having too much load. So, you can read this guide to know the best way to float if your small craft capsizes here!

In addition, boat overloading affects all boats. It doesn’t matter if you have a smaller boat or a big one. They are all impacted by being overloaded.

What Happens When a Boat is Overloaded?


If you put a toy boat on the water and it is loaded with something heavy, it will sink. Some people may end up thinking that as long as a boat is not capsizing, there is not much of a problem. This is wrong.

The biggest problem with boat overload, whichever kind it is, is the loss of control. But control is a tricky thing. It’s not whether you have it or not that’s important. What’s important is how much control you have.

When a boat is overloaded, you lose some degree of control. In many accidents involving overloaded boats, it was not until the time of the accident that the loss of control became evident. If the boat’s ability to steer at a certain speed is reduced, its capability to evade danger becomes compromised, which may result in an accident such as a collision.

The same thing applies to a boat with a motor that is too big. It may not steer in an expected manner, leaving whoever is maneuvering the boat guessing. When in an emergency situation, it is always best to have as much control of the boat as possible, and overloading compromises this control.

Other effects of boat overload include reduction in speed, increased risk of flooding, and increased risk of flipping over due to the unbalanced distribution of weight.

Ways to Avoid Boat Overload

To prevent overloading, the best way is to ensure that everything about the boat is within its maximum capacity. This refers to the overall weight it carries, the number of passengers on board, and the motor it is outfitted with.

To manage the boat’s capacity, it is essential that we know what that capacity is. There are several ways to know what a boat is capable of, but a very simple way is to look at the boat’s capacity plate.

The Capacity Plate

The US Coast Guard and other boating regulation bodies issue capacity plates to boats. In the USCG’s case, these plates are issued to boats that are no longer than 20 feet. On the capacity plate, you will find different parameters of the boat’s capacity and its limits.

These parameters include the maximum passenger capacity, the maximum weight that the boat is capable of carrying, and even the capacity of the engine that should be used for the vessel.

By referring to the capacity plates, we find out about the boat’s weight limit very easily. It should be noted that the maximum weight includes the weight of the boat’s gears and engine, along with the maximum number of passengers.

Calculate your boat’s capacity

With the boat’s capacity plate, we learn about the boat’s capabilities in an instant. However, not all boats have a capacity plate. What can be done to find out a boat’s capacity? We calculate it. Below is the formula used to calculate the number of passengers allowed on a boat.

Passenger Capacity = Length of the boat (ft.) x width of the boat (ft.) / 15

However, the formula above using the boat’s length and width only works for single-hull vessels. Boats such as pontoons and those with more than one hull must use a different formula and method for calculation. For example, let’s also look at how to calculate a pontoon boat’s capacity below.

Pontoon tube circular area = π

where: r = radius of the pontoon tube

Pontoon tube volume = circular area of the pontoon tube x length of the pontoon tube

Water buoyancy = pontoon tube volume (in cubic feet) x weight of water (per cu ft)

Using the formula above will yield the total weight capacity that a pontoon boat can carry. Subtract the weight of everything on the boat from the water buoyancy result, including the engine’s weight, and you will get the maximum weight capacity of passengers it can carry.

For calculations and estimates, 150lbs is used as the average adult passenger weight.

As you can see, calculating the capacity of non-standard boats can be complicated. If, like me, you’re not confident about your math, it would be a better idea to look up passenger capacity charts online. Better yet, contact your pontoon boat’s manufacturer for this important information.

The right engine

As mentioned earlier, boats have a motor that is just right for them, depending on their size and length. Keeping to the recommended engine horsepower of the boat allows it full control, especially when it comes to steering. Overpowering a boat may seem cool to some people but it can be dangerous.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to determine this engine figure on our own. For this, it is much better to contact the boat’s manufacturer for more info or seek a professional opinion. This is not something that anyone would want to risk as the consequences can be great.

Related: Best Way to Avoid Running Aground

How to Manage Heavy Loads


Since a boat is a vessel made to carry people or things on the water, there may come a time when each boat may have to carry a heavier load. Whether it’s a one-time thing or something occasional, carrying heavy cargo brings with it a certain degree of risk, even if you are within your boat’s maximum weight capacity.

As mentioned earlier, it’s all a matter of control and how much of it you have. A heavy load will still impact the boat’s control even if it’s within limits. But there are ways to reduce the risks that come with carrying heavy loads.

Maintain good weight distribution

It is of utmost importance to keep the boat’s stability. To do this, it is important that the weight of the boat is kept centered — this involves distributing the weight properly. If you put more weight on one side, it will cause the boat to lean toward one side and tip over.

It also helps to put heavier cargo at the center of the boat. This will allow the entire boat to carry the heavy load and maintain its stability. Make sure to keep these heavy items in place since any shift in weight will make it more difficult for the boat to maintain its balance and stability.

Distributing passenger seating is another good way to keep the boat’s balance. Try to distribute seats evenly for each side of the boat. Professionally installed seating will have considered this anyway, but keep this in mind if you’re planning on installing seating yourself.

Keep to the weight limit

Once you know the limitations of your boat, make sure to never exceed them. There are always going to be instances where it will be more convenient to bend this rule, but remember the consequences. The boat may lean toward one side every now and then, but keeping to weight limits will keep it manageable.

What’s one more passenger? Extra passengers can mean an accident that may result in death. Be strict about adhering to the boat’s capacity and always put safety first. This applies to extra passengers and cargo.

Safety Tips

Since we’re talking about boat overload and safety, it’s a good idea to have a reminder of safety measures for every boat. While these are always important, they become even more essential when managing the risks associated with carrying heavy loads.

1. Have the necessary life-saving gear and equipment

Life jackets and other flotation devices are extremely important to have. They are indispensable in emergency situations, not to mention they are required by federal law. It will never be a bad thing to have them on hand.

Any first-aid and emergency gear and equipment should be kept aboard and should always be accounted for.

2. Plan your route

Planning your route is important because knowing what to expect will help you deal with problems that may come up. Knowing where you will be passing through will also help identify which problems you may have to face and allow you to prepare in advance.

3. Check weather conditions

Checking for bad weather is something useful for any activity. For boats, it can be life-saving even for activities such as fishing. Any boat should only set sail with a heavy load on days with calm weather. It’s also a good idea to check water conditions.

Avoiding bad weather conditions when carrying heavier loads is essential and something all boaters would do well never to skip. Mild winds are fine, but it’s better to know exactly what a boat will have to deal with and plan accordingly.

If you see signs of bad weather ahead, it would be a good idea to head back to shore. Checking the weather may be tedious but it’s better than dealing with boating mishaps due to neglect.


Heavy loads and boats are not a good combination, so make sure to keep our advice in mind to keep your boat and passengers safe from the dangers of boat overload. Now you no longer have to ask what is the best way to avoid overloading your boat.

We hope you found this short guide useful. If you did, please share it with other people so they can be informed as well. Please leave your comments below as we’d love to hear your thoughts.

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