Boat Capacity Plate: Do I Need a Decal for a Canoe?

Boat Capacity Plate

If you’ve ever wondered whether your canoe needs a boat capacity plate, or just what a boat capacity plate is, you’re in the right place.

What does a boat capacity plate indicate? A boat capacity plate indicates the max weight in persons, motor and gear that a motorized vessel can hold. It also includes the model, serial number and manufacturer of the vessel. Exceeding the limits on a boat capacity plate can cause dangerous instability and/or citations from law enforcement.

In this article, we’ll go into more detail about boat capacity plate regulations and learn the following information:

  • Which boats have to have a boat capacity plate and why
  • The details in different types of capacity plates
  • Whether your canoe needs a capacity plate
  • How you can replace your boat’s capacity plate if it’s missing

Amazon and Affiliate Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means we will earn a commission (at no extra cost to you) on the products or services you purchase using the links.

What Does a Boat’s Capacity Plate Indicate?

In 1971 the U.S. Coast Guard created the Federal Boat Safety Act. One of its main provisions was that boats less than 20 feet powered with an inboard, outboard, or stern drive engine manufactured after November 1, 1972, must display a boat capacity plate that defines the maximum safe load limits for that vessel.

This boat’s capacity plate indicates the:

  • Maximum amount of weight the vessel can legally carry
  • Maximum number of persons that can be on the boat
  • Maximum horsepower rating for any motor attached to the vessel
  • And often times the Manufacturer, Model and Serial Number

Manually-propelled sailboats, canoes, kayaks and inflatable boats are exempt from this standard. However, states do have statutes prohibiting carrying people and gear in excess of a boat’s stated capacity, or the installation of a motor that exceeds the recommended horsepower limit.

Maximum Weight Limit

A boat’s maximum weight limit rating on the boat plate is arguably the most important restriction on the boat capacity plate. Exceeding the maximum overall weight capacity limit may:

  • Cause boat instability
  • Make the boat ride too low in the water
  • And even cause a boat to capsize and/or sink

Simply put, don’t go over your boat’s maximum weight capacity rating.

The maximum weight limit on any vessel includes, persons, gear, and the motor’s combined total weight. Boating supplies, such as food, water, fishing gear, and flotation devices, all count toward the maximum weight rating on a boat capacity plate.

Number of Persons a Boat’s Allowed to Transport

An interesting note about the maximum persons rating on a boat capacity plate. Legally you can’t go over the maximum persons rating on the boat capacity plate, but practically, you may have to reduce the number of people you allow on your boat.

Let me explain…

The boat capacity plate includes the maximum number of “persons” that can legally be on the boat at any given time. However, if that number of people causes the “overall” weight or the “maximum persons” weight limit to be more than it’s rated for, then you’d have to reduce gear and cargo weight or reduce the number of people on the boat.

Maximum Horsepower Rating

A boat’s capacity plate also states a maximum horsepower rating for the vessel. This number is the largest horsepower engine that’s allowed to be attached to and propel the boat.

The reason for this is to make sure that the boat isn’t overpowered for its manufactured materials, construction techniques and intended use.

For example, sure you can put a 10 horsepower outboard trolling motor on a squareback canoe, but the weight of the engine and it’s power will:

  • Cause the stern of the boat to ride dangerously low in the water
  • Propel the small boat far faster than it should or is designed to go
  • Cause undue stress on a transom engineered to hold a much lighter engine

NOTE: The majority of motorized canoes can still be paddled, even while the motor is attached. In addition, most canoes have weight capacity limits that include the engine’s weight.

For this reason you won’t find large, heavy horsepower ratings on most canoe capacity plates.

That being said, The details of just how much horsepower you can put on a square stern canoe will be found on its capacity plate.

Model, Serial Number and Manufacturer

A boat’s capacity plate also include the model number and manufacturer of the boat. And sometimes the boat’s serial number is also included.

Although this information isn’t the primary information on a boat’s capacity plate, it helps establish proof that the plate belongs to a particular boat and the serial number ties the boat to its registered owner.

NOTE: Even if the capacity plate has everything listed correctly on it, it doesn’t get the job done if it’s not within sight of the boat operator.

Boat Capacity Decal Types

Boat Capacity Decal
Boat Capacity Decal – “Old” vs “New”

Most modern power boats have the “new” style boat capacity decal on them. It’s yellow and black and made from a metallic “sticker”-type decal material just like your boat’s registration sticker.

But often, especially if you’re dealing with an older aluminum canoe or small fishing boat, you’ll come across an “Old” style boat capacity decal. This is an aluminum-plated “decal” that is usually gray, red, and maybe contains some black lettering.

It’s helpful to understand that though there are visual differences in these two boat capacity decals, they contain largely the same information.

Boat Capacity Plate Location

A boat capacity plate is normally located in one of two places.

  • The transom is the most common place to find a capacity plate on a small vessel. The transom area is the vertical rear portion of the boat, the stern where you’d mount an engine. If you’ve ever seen the make and model of a boat, it was likely found near the transom. It’s the most common place to find the logos for most boats.
  • Another place to find the capacity plate is near the operator’s position or seat. The operator’s position is the location on the boat where the boat driver sits. The boat driver is supposed to be able to see the capacity plate while driving the boat, which is why many companies choose to place the plate near the driver’s seat, close to the throttle controls.

While it’s not too common, the capacity plate may be found at other locations on a boat.

You might find it near the front or back, as well as on the side of the seats. because, as mentioned earlier, as long as the capacity plate is within view of the operator, it’s within the requirements of most boating regulations.

Which Type of Boat Must Have a Capacity Plate?

Any motorized monohull boat under 20 feet has to have a capacity plate under federal law. In addition, to be certified by the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA), boats less than 26 feet must also have a capacity plate.

Since the NMMA is a trade organization that certifies boats and trailers, its members ensure that most boats, even ones over 26′, have a capacity plate.

Interestingly enough, non-motorized boats, such as sailboats, canoes, and kayaks, and inflatable boats under 20 feet, aren’t required to have capacity plates. Because, in general, sailboats, canoes, kayaks and inflatable boats are exempted from boat capacity plate regulations.

If you have a non-motorized canoe or kayak, and you’re worried about exceeding the weight limit, the manufacturer publishes information on how much weight a canoe can hold.

But a boat capacity plate that states the max weight limits on a canoe or kayak isn’t a requirement of the US Coast Guard.


There’s always an exception, isn’t there.

Motorized Canoes With a Square Stern Are Sold With a Capacity Plate

Motorized canoes with a square stern, designed to have an engine mounted on the transom, require and come with a capacity plate installed by the manufacturer.

Boat Capacity Plate Example – Sun Dolphin 140 Canoe

Sun Dolphin 140 - SS Square stern canoe
Sun Dolphin 140 SS – Square Stern Canoe

For example, this is the boat capacity plate for a Sun Dolphin 140 SS – Square Stern. It’s a square stern 14′ canoe capable of mounting a trolling motor on it.

Here’s how to read the boat capacity plate for this Sun Dolphin 140 Square Stern (SS) Canoe.

What does a Boat's Capacity Plate Indicate?
Sun Dolphin 140 Boat Capacity Plate
  • Maximum Number of Persons – 3
  • Maximum Weight of Those People – 680 lbs.
  • Maximum Overall Weight of persons, motor and gear – 765 lbs.
  • Maximum Horsepower engine that can be Attached to the canoe – 2 HP
  • Manufacturer – KL Outdoor, Muskegon, MI 49444
  • Model Number – SD 140

So, for example, if you wanted to put three, 250 pound people in this Sun Dolphin canoe, technically at 750 lbs. you’d be below the Maximum Overall Weight limit on the boat capacity plate, but you’d exceed the Maximum Persons weight limit of 680 lbs.

So, only 2 of those people would be allowed to go on that “3”-person boat at the same time.

Boat Capacity Plate Is Missing? Here’s What to Do

If you determine that your boat, vessel, or canoe requires a capacity plate but it doesn’t have one, follow this step-by-step process:

  1. If you find that your boat capacity plate is missing, check every possible location. If it’s missing when you buy it, then look at the rear, front, and anywhere near the operation’s position. On the other hand, if you lose your boat’s capacity plate, head to the next step.
  2. Figure out who manufactured the boat and what year it was produced. The manufacturer of the boat will determine the appearance of the capacity plate, and you’ll also be able to figure out where the plate should be located.
  3. Contact the manufacturer if you can’t find the plate where it’s supposed to be. In most cases, the manufacturer will be able to provide you with a new capacity plate. You’ll also be able to ask where the plate should be on the make and model of your boat.
  4. Once you receive the capacity plate, affix it to the hull in the correct place. There should be holes or stains on the boat wherever the plate was originally placed. It’s illegal for a company to manufacture a boat without a capacity plate if it requires one, so it has to go somewhere on the boat!

Note: Before you install the capacity plate and after you’ve received it from the correct manufacturer, make sure that all of the ratings are accurate. The plate should have the correct weight limits, horsepower rating, manufacturer name, model number, and serial number. All of these details should come in your owner’s manual to verify that they’re correct.

Boat Capacity Plate Replacement

Getting a US Coast Guard capacity plate replacement isn’t nearly as frustrating as you might think.

As I mentioned above, getting a boat capacity plate replacement is often as easy as calling your boat’s manufacturer. They’ll have everything you need to get your boat back to the standard of the US Coast Guard and local law enforcement.

If you want a replacement capacity plate and the manufacturer went out of business, or you know all the details for your capacity plate and simply need a replacement for a worn out or unreadable one…

Both Amazon and eBay have replacement boat capacity plate listings that can help get you both new, vinyl sticker style, and old aluminum canoe capacity plates.

Should You Buy a Boat Without a Capacity Plate?

Is it a good idea to buy a boat without a capacity plate? Consider the following three risks if you buy a boat without a capacity plate:

  • A boat that’s missing a capacity plate could be hard to register – Many states require vessel inspection to register them and without a capacity plate you may not be able to do that.
  • You risk overloading your vessel – Capacity plates are required by law because they promote safe boating practices. If you don’t know how many people should be in your boat or how much weight it can hold, then you might risk the possibility of it capsizing or sinking.
  • Increased wear and tear – Too much weight can also increase wear and tear on your vessel. Cracks and other damage can accumulate faster, making the boat unsafe.
  • You’ll eventually get caught – If you get caught without a capacity plate on your boat, you could get fined or at minimum removed from the water where you’re boating, neither of which is fun.
  • You might have trouble reselling the boat. Most people don’t want to buy a boat without a capacity plate since they’ll have to replace the plate themselves in order to operate it legally. In addition, if you want to sell the boat later, you’ll have to go through the process of getting a replacement plate before you can do it legally.

What Happens if You Don’t Have a Capacity Plate?

If you don’t have a capacity plate:

  • If you get caught, you can get fined or have your boating privileges taken away.
  • You’ll need to get a replacement capacity plate by contacting the manufacturer, as mentioned above. This route is the best course of action since you’ll avoid all of the unwanted trouble. Getting a new plate ships out in a matter of days, so a little bit of patience goes a long way.


Owning a boat comes with a responsibilities. You don’t have to be an expert to start boating, but you need to know the laws to prevent yourself from getting fined or banned from an area.

Capacity plates are an essential part of safe boating. If your boat fits the aforementioned requirements, you’ll need to follow the regulations and requirements of the US Coast Guard and/or law enforcement.

Here are the most common questions about capacity plates on boats, along with their answers:

Can I Remove the Capacity Plate From My Boat?

You can technically remove the capacity plate from your boat if you wanted to, but there’d be no point. Unless you intend to move it to another legal location on the boat, you’ll just end up causing more problems down the road. If you’re set on relocating it, contact the manufacturer to ask about which locations it can be placed.

Will I Lose My Boating License Without a Capacity Plate?

Although you may have heard stories about people having their boats taken away or losing their licenses, a missing capacity plate usually isn’t the cause.

If you’ve committed multiple boating offenses, then you might be in trouble. But, in general, under normal circumstances, you’ll probably be told to remove your boat from the water until you replace your capacity plate.

Does My Boat Need a Capacity Plate?

If your boat has a motor, monohull, and it’s under 20 feet long, then it needs a capacity plate.

But even if your boat doesn’t require a capacity plate, you may want to have one for safety reasons. Here’s how to roughly calculate your boat’s capacity.

Rough Boat Capacity Formula

Boat length in ft. x Boat width in ft. / 15 = Number of people allowed on the boat.

So a 16′ canoe that 36″ wide would be 16×3/15 = 3.2 people or 3 people.

Boat Capacity Plate Wrap-up

There’s a lot to learn about capacity plates. The most important takeaway is that they’re required for most boats under 20 feet. It’s hard to find a boat that doesn’t require a capacity plate since bigger boats have more requirements.

Here’s a quick recap of the post, but first a quick video from Ace Boaters about what’s on the boat capacity plate:

  • Any boat that’s motorized and less than 20 feet with a single hull needs to have a capacity plate.
  • Capacity plates show the weight limit, maximum number of persons, manufacturer, model number, and serial number of the boat.
  • Square-stern canoes, which are designed to mount a motor on a canoe, usually come with and require a capacity plate.
  • If your capacity plate is missing, you can contact the manufacturer to ask for a replacement or find a replacement on Amazon or eBay..


I'm Steve, the research and technology workhorse behind Paddle Camp. I do tons of research on all our family's paddling gear before I buy or recommend anything. I grew up canoeing with my dad and brother. A few years ago I bought paddle boards for my daughters, myself, and my wife. Ever since then, we plan most of our vacations around kayaking, canoeing, or paddle boarding.

Related Articles