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The Coast Guard in 1971 was mandated by Congress to provide safety standards for recreational boats under 20 ft. with enforcement mechanisms to insure conformance.
The standards developed by the Coast Guard include display of a Coast Guard plate providing capacity, safe loading, safe powering and flotation standards for monohull boats.
These standards are voluntary for boat manufactures. If a manufacturer chooses they can self certify by certifying they meet Coast Guard standards.The most common route is for a manufacturer to present their products to an approved testing facility for evaluation. The testing facility then follows the testing procedures developed by the Coast Guard to provide a final product rating for each boat the manufacturer wants to market and sell.
The first step is to measure the length, width of the boat to calculate the maximum recommended power.
Next they weigh the boat to be tested. This figure will be used to insure later models are the same weight and this weight will be subtracted during the final capacity certification.
The first test is one of capacity. The testing boat is floated in a pool and weight is added to the boat until water enters the boat swamping the test boat. The weights are then recorded and using the formula guidelines the weight of the boat is subtracted from the weight used to swamp the boat. That figure is divided by 5 and that figure becomes the boats rated weight capacity.
The boat while swamped is again weighted to the capacity of a fully loaded boat using the submerged weight of occupants and gear. The boat must float in a stable condition leaving the hull sides above the water several inches
The next test is a swamped stability. The boat is weighted on one side to the rated capacity to determine the amount of list the boat exhibits. The passing limit is 15 degrees. The rigid inflatable boats tested had a 2 degree list.
Many years ago the Coast Guard put inflatable boats into a category that did not require certification. The original "inflatable" that earned the "no certification required" has changed considerably over the years. I believe these new RIB Inflatable boats deserve to be included in the current Coast Guard certification program to insure ratings are based on proven standards. The apparent arbitrary capacity rating by each manufacturer of inflatable boats creates a safety issue. As an example if a manufacturer overrates a boat and it ends up overloaded because of that rating and becomes swamped or worse yet suffers a puncture to a tube you have no way of knowing what to expect next.
I also believe an additional performance test be done on inflatables by deflating a tube as could occur unexpectedly. Then tested in swamped condition for flotation and stability. That would provide the consumer with more knowledge to be a safer boat user. As of this writing no inflatable boats are Coast Guard Certified.
Inflatables are rated for capacity with no documentation.
To our knowledge, no inflatable boat has ever been subjected to tests when the tubes are not fully inflated.