The Coast Guard had a little Christmas present for passenger vessel operators, and while it wasn’t a stocking full of coal, it did contain some lumps.
The long-awaited final weight rule published in mid-December means that passenger-carrying vessels subject to stability regulations must be reassessed to see just how much of a load they should handle. The cost of stability tests and the prospect of reduced passenger capacities will likely affect operators’ bottom lines.
The recalculations were necessary thanks to the extra pounds Americans have put on over the last 40 years. The average passenger weight must now be figured at 185 lbs. rather than the previous 160 lbs. (Or 140 lbs. for vessels operating in protected waters that carry a mix of men, women and children.)
The rule takes effect March 14, 2011. Vessel owners will have until Dec. 1, 2011, to adjust their operations. The industry suggested a five-year phase-in period. No dice, the Coast Guard said.
The Coast Guard said it appreciated the fact that charters, ticket prices and business plans have long lead times. Not all vessels will require new stability tests, just updates or revisions of stability letters or certificates of inspection. Furthermore, the Coast Guard said, it gave fair warning of the weight changes back in 2006, so operators should have had plenty of time to prepare.
But the Coast Guard left some wiggle room saying it realizes the time for all vessels to comply likely will exceed the approximately one year compliance period, “and documentation will be completed as available resources permit.”
How much of a disruption the new rule will have on passenger vessel operations remains to be seen. But it’s fairly certain that naval architects and the Coast Guard will have their hands full given the estimated 6,073 subchapter H, K or T passenger vessels affected.