Safe vessel loading and stability

Overloading your vessel is dangerous, reducing its stability and seaworthiness.

Overloading your boat may reduce freeboard – how high the side of your boat sits above water – making your boat less able to resist waves, and more likely to be swamped and capsize.

Stability is different depending on what type of vessel you are operating. Unless otherwise specified by the manufacturer, the maximum number of people that can be carried in a recreational vessel is represented in the table below.

Note that maximum carrying capacity applies for good conditions. A reduction in the maximum number of persons should be made if planning to operate in adverse conditions or on the open sea.

Length of vessel Maximum passengers
Less than 3 m Two people
3 m to less than 3.5 m Three people
3.5 m to less than 4.5 m Four people
4.5 m to less than 5 m Five people
5 m to less than 5.5 m Six people
5.5 m to less than 6 m Seven people

If your vessel is over 6 metres in length it will most likely have an Australian Builders Plate that specifies the maximum person loading. If it doesn’t, refer to the manufacturer's recommendation or contact us for guidance.

Calculating passenger numbers

  • Weight of a person is assumed to be 80 kg per person, with an additional allowance of 10 kg per person for personal gear.
  • A reduction in the number of persons should be made when equipment and supplies exceed total weight allocated.


  • A child up to and including one year of age is not counted
  • Each child over one year and under 12 years is counted as 0.5 a person.

Paddle craft

On recreational vessels with individual cockpits (for example, decked canoes or kayaks), the number of persons carried on the vessel must not exceed the number of individual cockpits, irrespective of the age of the person.

Reduced stability

Here is an example of how carrying more people impacts the stability of a small boat.

Minimal load

One person on a boat

Can heel (tilt) to 30 degrees and resist waves 300 mm high.

Light load

Two people on a boat

Can heel slightly less.

Maximum load

Three people on a boat

Can heel less before swamping.


Four people on a boat

Can take no heel before swamping, cannot resist any wave.

Learn about vessel buoyancy.

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