Alcohol and Boats don’t mix!

Red Cross statistics: Boating and Alcohol

  • 37% of boaters in Canada admit to consuming alcohol every time they boat.
  • 66% report they drink alcohol sometimes when boating.
  • Alcohol is a factor in over 40% of recreational boating fatalities.

The Red Cross claims that up to 200 Canadians will drown this year as a result of boating-related incidents, and 25% of those will have alcohol in their blood. Many other incidents involving even serious injuries are not reported.

Drinking and boating (in just about anything that floats) carries the same penalties as drinking and driving a car. Your driver’s licence can be suspended for one year up to a lifetime depending on whether it is a first, second or subsequent offence. The laws are enforced by local, provincial and federal police who carry alcohol-screening devices on the water.

You can be charged with Impaired Operation of a Vessel under the Criminal Code of Canada if your blood alcohol level exceeds .08 (80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood). If you are convicted, a judge can suspend your boating privileges. Upon conviction, a person is liable of the following:

1st offence – a minimum fine of $600

2nd offence – imprisonment for not less than 14 days

3rd & subsequent offence – sentence varies with province

In all provinces of Canada, operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol is illegal. In some provinces, no one on board can consume alcoholic beverages while the boat is being operated. In Ontario, you can’t even transport alcohol unless the boat is classed as a “home” (see below). There are differences between provinces, but all require alcohol on board to be packaged and out of reach.

In Ontario, when you visit shore or even on your own boat, provincial law says you must not “display alcohol to the public”. That might include a bottle of alcohol sitting in your boat’s cockpit. Alcohol consumed at a picnic table on a dock or ashore is usually illegal.

Under Ontario Bill 209, drunk boaters will be subject to the same suspension penalties that now apply to vehicle drivers. The Highway Traffic Act applies to “anyone operating or having the care or control of a vessel”. Anyone found operating a boat while impaired can face an on-the-spot vehicle drivers licence suspension, with additional suspension if convicted.

Under what circumstances is it illegal to transport alcohol?

It is illegal to transport beverage alcohol in a motor vehicle, a motorized snow vehicle or a boat unless the beverage alcohol is in a container that is unopened and the seal unbroken, or unless the beverage alcohol is packaged in baggage that is fastened closed or is not otherwise readily available to anyone in the vehicle. In a boat, the beverage alcohol must be stored in a closed compartment. (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario)

What boats may carry alcohol in Ontario?

A boat with permanent sleeping accommodations and permanent cooking and sanitary facilities, other than a boat used to carry passengers for hire, is considered to be a private place while the boat is at anchor or is secured to the dock or land. (Sec.3/7 Read Ontario Liquor Licence Act for more.)

For current information about the laws and regulations affecting boaters, see the Government Directory for the Office of Boating Safety and the Province of Ontario. You may also ask the Provincial Police who enforce the laws and regulations.

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