Weight gain means fewer can ride ferries

SAVANNAH, Ga. — The gumdrop-covered, icing-drenched gingerbread houses at Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa drew swarms of elementary school pupils to Hutchinson Island this month, but sweets are clearly still primarily for eating, not decoration.

That became apparent recently when the U.S. Coast Guard updated its weight guidelines for water-vessel safety. The average American’s weight has increased to 185 pounds, up from 165 in the 1960s, according to the standards that went into effect Dec. 1.

As a result of expanded waistlines, the carrying capacity of two free Savannah Belles Ferry riverboats had to be reduced from 100 to 86 passengers. Capacity on the larger Florence Martus dropped from 149 to 129.

Passenger Betty Conner said the 19 East Broad Elementary prekindergarten pupils who had walked onboard Thursday morning did not appear to be a threat to the boat’s stability.

“The average weight just dropped real low,” Connor said.

Jimmy Gunby, the director of marine operations, characterized the capacity reduction as a minor inconvenience. The only time the riverboats really max out is when there are big groups in town, he said. Then marine operations just puts out additional boats, he said.

Also, a new ferry is being built according to the new specifications that will be able to accommodate 149 passengers when it arrives in the spring.

The last time all three free ferries reached capacity was during last month’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon, when thousands of runners converged for registration at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center.

“We carried 11,000 people that day, so it was a big day,” Gunby said.

River Street Riverboat Co.’s owner, Jonathan Claughton, said the new guidelines have reduced the capacity of the Savannah River Queen by 75 and the Georgia Queen by 125 but that the business’s bottom line should not be significantly affected.

Toronto resident Beverly Allen, who was contemplating the riverboat company’s schedule with her daughter, Katherine Yager, said America’s weight gain is bad for more than river traffic.

“We do a lot of walking,” Allen said. “People should do more of that.”

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