PORTLAND, Maine — Ferries that taxi residents of the Casco Bay islands to and from the mainland are among the many Maine boats now allowed to carry fewer people — at least temporarily — due to the increasing weight of the passengers.
This month, the U.S. Coast Guard is implementing a long-expected increase in its assumed average weight per person, from a general standard of 160 pounds to 185 pounds.
The Federal Aviation Administration reportedly takes for granted that passengers on airplanes weigh between 190 and 195 pounds apiece, in comparison.
The change has been in the works since the tragic sinking of the 40-foot tour boat Ethan Allen in New York’s Lake George more than six years ago that killed 20 people and convinced federal regulators to rethink assumptions about how much stress each passenger places on vessels.
Nicholas Mavodones, a Portland city councilor and operations manager for Casco Bay Lines, a ferry operation servicing the bay’s island communities, said the company’s two largest boats will temporarily lower their capacities to comply with the new heftier passenger assumptions.
The Machigonne II and Aucocisco III, which each previously had a capacity of 399 people, will for the time being be capped at 344 and 305 passengers, respectively. Mavodones said that during the winter season, when ridership drops off significantly, “we’ll never come close to those numbers.”
In the meantime, the company’s naval architects have drawn up 70- to 80-page documents for each ship featuring complicated calculations about the respective vessels’ structural abilities to carry many more of the newly re-weighed commuters.
Mavodones said the boats always have been sturdy enough to carry nearly 400 185-pound passengers, but now Casco Bay Lines must submit the documentation to prove it. Similar paperwork is being submitted for the Maquoit, while two of the company’s older, smaller boats will be evaluated by naval engineers in April, after Casco Bay Lines has started its next fiscal year.
“I suspect when those recalculations are reviewed by the Coast Guard, we’ll be re-authorized for capacities back at our previous levels, if not very close to them,” he said.
Kathy Frappier — who co-owns with her husband Portland Discovery Land & Sea Tours, providing excursion trips to area lighthouses and Eagle Island — said the change in Coast Guard assumptions won’t affect her vessels.
Frappier said the largest of the company’s three boats previously had an official capacity of 134 passengers, but she said Portland Discovery allows only about 100 people on board anyway to make sure they all have leg room.
“We’ve always limited our passengers based on comfort levels,” she said. “We’ve always had a really big buffer, so it hasn’t really affected us.”