Whether you’re sailing for a day, a week, or a lifetime, you cannot plan a safe expedition without knowing the weight capacity of your vessel. This max amount of recommended weight tells you how much or how little to pack and bring. If you’ve never bothered to think about weight capacity before, you may wonder, how much weight can a sailboat carry?
The max weight recommended for a sailboat varies depending on the size of the boat. For example, if your sailboat was less than 20 feet long, then it’s capacity would be somewhere in the ballpark of 1,050 pounds. Bigger boats can hold much more weight.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about the weight capacity of your sailboat. From the average weight capacities of all different sizes of sailboats to how to calculate your own, you’ll be sailing safe and smart in no time.
Let’s get started!
The Average Weight Capacity a Sailboat Can Carry
Average Weight Capacity of a 20-Footer
In the intro, we talked about how a boat that’s not quite 20 feet could hold a little more than 1,000 pounds. What if you have a 20-foot sailboat with a width of about 7 feet? That boat should be able to carry roughly 1,350 pounds.
Average Weight Capacity of a 25-Footer
If you own a slightly bigger boat, such as one that’s 25 feet long, then you can anticipate an increase in the weight capacity for this vessel. If the width was 8 feet, then the max weight jumps to about 1,950 pounds.
Average Weight Capacity of a 32-Footer
When you bought your sailboat, you decided right off the bat that you needed a bigger one. You’re now in the 30-foot club. In fact, your boat is even bigger than that, as it’s 32 feet long. If the width is also 11 feet, that boosts your average weight capacity to around 3,600 pounds.
Average Weight Capacity of a 40-Footer
Few sailboats are 40 feet, but yours is one of them and you couldn’t be prouder. If your boat is 13 feet wide as well, then you can expect some of the mightiest weight capacities of all, about 5,250 pounds total.
Now, the above weights are averages and thus not guaranteed for every sailboat meeting the same lengths and widths. They do act as a good guidepost in which you can begin setting expectations for your own boat, though.
How to Determine the Passenger Capacity of Your Boat
Rather than relying exclusively on averages, for the rest of this article, we’re going to give you real formulas for calculating the weight capacity of your own sailboat.
When it comes to determining that capacity, you have to know what contributes to the weight. There’s the boat itself, for one. Any gear and equipment you lug onto the boat, from life-saving, mandatory items like life vests to coolers and jugs of water also add to the overall permissible weight.
One of the biggest and weightiest factors? Your passengers. Yes, that’s right, there’s you and every other person you bring onboard with you. You all weigh something, and determining that something is quite important.
To glean the weight capacity of your boat, first you have to calculate the max number of passengers you could have on deck. This is also called the passenger capacity. The formula for this is to take your boat’s width in feet and multiply that by your boat length, also in feet.
Then, you take that multiplied number, which will be quite high, and divide it by 15. Some boat owners advise you to divide the boat width and length by 18 for bigger boats, but we’ll stick with dividing by 15 for the sake of this article.
Let’s say that you had a sailboat that measured 6 feet in width and 18 feet in length. You would multiply 6 by 18 and get 108. Next, you take 108 and divide that by 15. That gives you 7.2, which means you can bring about 7 people on your sailboat at that size.
We’ll do it again for a bigger boat. Using the measurements we presented in the section above, now your sailboat is 40 feet long and 13 feet wide. Once again, you take 40 and multiply it by 13. That gives you 520. Now, you take 520 and divide it by 15. That leaves you with 34.6, or 35 passengers max that can come aboard your boat.
How to Calculate the Weight Capacity of Your Boat
Okay, so you know roughly how many passengers you can include in your boating adventures according to the length and width of your sailboat. How does that translate into the overall allowable weight, aka the weight capacity?
Like we said, you can’t determine the weight capacity without knowing how many passengers can fit on the boat. That’s why we started with the passenger capacity first. Now that you have that information calculated, it’s time to work it into a formula for the sailboat weight capacity.
This time, you want to take the number of passengers as determined before and multiply it by 150. Why 150, you ask? BoatEd and many other professional boating resources list 150 pounds as the average weight of a passenger.
To show you how you can use passenger capacity to get your sailboat’s weight capacity, let’s use the two boat examples we did in the last section. Once again, you have a boat that’s 6 feet wide and 18 feet long. Through the above calculations for passenger capacity, you determined you can bring 7 people with you.
Now, you’d want to take 7 and multiply it by 150. That gives you 1,050 pounds, or the same weight capacity we quoted in the intro.
Getting back to the bigger boat that’s 13 feet wide and 40 feet long, you calculated that you can have up to 35 fellow passengers onboard. You take that number and multiply it by 150 and you get 5,250, which stands for 5,250 pounds.
Now, there are a few things to remember here. Your boat’s weight capacity, while it takes passenger capacity into account, does not just count the passenger weight. It includes the weight of everything on your boat, such as gear and equipment. Just because you could bring 35 passengers doesn’t mean you should. Doing so would leave you no room for any gear.
Further, remember the weight we assigned to your passengers. We’re assuming each is 150 pounds. In reality, maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. If you have lighter-weight passengers, then you could probably squeeze one or two more on the boat than what you calculated. If you know for a fact that your passengers weigh more than 150 pounds though, then you’re going to want to limit how many you bring.
What Is a Capacity Plate and How Does It Factor into Things?
That was a lot of math in the last two sections. While it’s good to know formulas for the passenger capacity and boat weight capacity, it’s not always necessary for you to do these calculations yourself. Some boats will have what’s known as a capacity plate on them that does the math for you.
What is a capacity plate? It’s a plate that comes attached to some boats that provides all the weight information you need to know about your boat. Yes, that’s right, no calculating the passenger capacity or the sailboat’s weight capacity. It’s all laid right out in front of you.
Here’s an example of a capacity plate. It’s for a pontoon boat, but the same layout applies to any vessel.
As you can see, the capacity plate clearly tells you this particular boat can only safely carry 14 passengers or 2,030 pounds of people. The overall capacity is 2,520 pounds if you count the weight of the gear, the motor, and the 14 allowed passengers.
If your boat is under 20 feet long and only has one hull, then federal law dictates a capacity plate must be present. That said, exceptions do exist depending on the type of boat. For instance, sailboats and personal watercrafts need no capacity plate, even if they’re less than 20 feet wide.
This means a capacity plate on a sailboat is a little uncommon. That said, should your boat have one, you’ll find it at the transom or from the position of the operator. If it’s not in either of those two locations, it won’t be anywhere else.
It’s not the end of the world if your sailboat doesn’t come with a capacity plate. While they’re useful, you can also calculate all the information on the capacity plate using the formulas we showed you earlier in this article.
The Risks of Carrying More Than Maximum Capacity
Okay, so either due to the capacity plate or the formulas, you now know exactly how many recommended passengers you should have on your sailboat as well as the boat’s max weight capacity.
Those are just guidelines, right? It’s okay if you bring 5 extra people when the passenger capacity is 10. It’s just a few more people, even if you now have 15 passengers on deck. That should be okay, you think. Or not?
Definitely “or not.” The passenger and weight capacities are not solely guidelines. They’re restrictions you must follow. If you fail to, you risk any of these issues plaguing your next sailing voyage.
While it’s not explicitly illegal to go over the weight capacity of your boat, many states do consider it a violation. Here’s an overview of the violation penalties for many US states if you get caught without a lifejacket so you can get a feel for how seriously states view boating violations. As you can see, the fines vary from $25 to more than $500. Some states even consider foregoing a lifejacket a misdemeanor. This is a criminal act, and although not a serious one, it’s still not something you want on your record.
It’s unlikely that exceeding weight capacity on your sailboat would be counted as a misdemeanor like skipping a lifejacket is. More than likely, you’d get fined. Still, why waste potentially several hundred dollars of your hard-earned money when you don’t have to? Just bring the recommended number of passengers and you’ll be okay.
Even if you get in no legal trouble, there are still some pretty convincing reasons to stick to the weight limit you calculated for your sailboat. One of these is performance.
A major selling point to owning a sailboat rather than a big, lumbering pontoon is that the former glides gracefully through the water. You can get a pretty good speed, too, if the wind is in your favor.
Whether you prefer to ride at a leisurely pace or you’re a lover of racing boats, speed and performance matter to you. Both can be impacted when you overload your sailboat with people and stuff.
To understand why, imagine riding a bicycle. It’s a nice, warm day, and the breeze feels great (you may remember from a prior blog post that the wind generated from these types of activities is known as apparent wind). You can go as fast as you want with nothing impeding that.
Now, think again about riding a bicycle, but you’re wearing a 10-pound backpack. Suddenly, you feel unable to do your best. Pedaling up a hill is like torture, and even when you coast downhill, it feels like all the weight is holding you back. You can’t reach max speed, and doing anything is difficult.
That’s how it is on your overweight sailboat as well. Making turns and other maneuvers is like moving through quicksand. Your speed is incredibly stunted, and you may even generate more drag on the water as you move at a seemingly glacial pace. This won’t get any better until you trim the excess weight off.
Higher Risk of Capsizing
Capsizing happens more regularly on sailboats than other vessels. A self-righting sailboat will sort of pick itself back up, dust itself off, and allow you to continue sailing again quickly, but one that doesn’t self-right is a pain to deal with.
Just because you’re more prone to capsizing on a sailboat doesn’t mean every time it happens, it’s excusable. A capsizing situation is always a dangerous one. If you’re in frigid waters and everyone is spilled into the drink, then time becomes of the essence. You need to get yourself and your passengers rescued ASAP, as everyone’s lives are at risk.
The same is true if a passenger is lacking a lifejacket (even though you should always have one for every passenger on your boat). Plus, you have to think that in certain capsizing situations, people can get knocked unconscious or become shocked from the water temperature and be unable to swim. Some types of lifejackets will keep the person’s head out of the water, but not all.
Even if your passengers are alive and accounted for, there’s still the matter that your sailboat could be seriously ruined from a particularly bad capsizing incident. Don’t put yourself in a potentially dangerous situation voluntarily. Lessen the weight so you’re not at such a high risk of capsizing.
Tips for Making Your Boat Lighter
Okay, so you want your sailboat to shed some pounds, but how do you even go about doing that? To wrap up, we present a handful of tips for lightening up your sailboat.
- Stick to the recommended passenger capacity: Yes, this one is common sense, and we may have been harping on it a little. That’s only because it’s so important. It’s okay to bring one, maybe two extra passengers with you, but once you get to four and five or even six and seven, it’s too much.
- Don’t exceed the sailboat weight capacity: Besides passengers, you also have to think about the gear and equipment you bring and how that will contribute to the overall weight capacity.
- Leave the non-essentials at home: A lifejacket? Always. A jug of potable water? Definitely. A portable grill if you’re only boating for a few hours? That you can afford to skip. Have a cookout before or after the boat ride instead!
- Distribute weight: Okay, so this isn’t really about lightening your load, but it’s still a good tip. Even if you’re at capacity or under, you still don’t want all your passengers clustered into one area or your stuff all piled in the same corner. Distribute the weight about as evenly as you can for a smoother sailing experience.
The passenger capacity and weight capacity of your sailboat are not merely guidelines, but rather, enforceable recommendations about how much weight is safe. Your sailboat may have a capacity plate that tells you all this pertinent information. If not, you can calculate it relatively easily using two formulas.
The next time you go out to use your sailboat, make sure you know how much weight it can hold, including the weight of passengers. Wish you all the best and happy sailing!