Just like drunk driving, boating under the influence is a serious offense under Canadian law. Not only is it illegal, drinking while driving a boat makes you a danger to yourself and others. In fact, more than half of all boating accidents in Canada are linked to the consumption of alcohol.
While the legal consequences may vary from province to province, operating a pleasure craft while under the influence of alcohol is against the law and dangerous everywhere in Canada. Don’t wait to have an accident, get fined or have your licence taken away! Keep reading to find out what you can and can’t do when it comes to taking a ‘booze cruise’.
It is illegal to drink and drive any vehicle in Canada. A boat is a vehicle, just like a car.
According to section 320.14 (1) of the Criminal Code of Canada:
Everyone commits an offence who (. . . ) operates a conveyance while the person’s ability to operate it is impaired to any degree by alcohol or a drug or by a combination of alcohol and a drug.
According to the Criminal Code, you are ‘impaired’ if your Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) level is 80mg or higher, as determined by a breathalyzer or blood test. It does not matter whether you have a high tolerance for alcohol, the law will not vary.
After cannabis was legalized in 2018, federal laws were revised. Now, impaired boating includes operating a vessel while having a higher than acceptable blood concentration level of THC and cocaine, in addition to or in combination with alcohol.
The Criminal Code states that any person convicted of BUI for the first time will be charged up to $1000. Keep in mind that this is only one part of the punishment. Provincial laws include further consequences, such as at least two weeks of prison time, the suspension of your driver’s license for a year, the obligation to take a costly boating course and the doubling or even tripling of your insurance costs.
Depending on your behavior, you could also face charges for public intoxication or for possessing an open container of alcohol.
You’re out on the water, there are no visible obstacles, it’s a calm day – why is it illegal to drink and drive a boat?
The fact is, it is easier to become impaired while drinking on a boat than while operating a motor vehicle. The combination of hot sun, noise, wind, the vibration of the motor and the movement of the boat together quadruple the effects of alcohol on boaters, leading to boater fatigue. And once you begin to suffer related effects of boater fatigue, you are more likely to suffer from or cause harm.
According to the Canadian Red Cross, approximately 525 Canadians die every year in boating-related accidents, and more than half of these are related to alcohol. Remember, you are legally responsible for the safety of everyone on board your boat. This means equipping your boat with adequate safety equipment, including fire extinguishers (remember, alcohol is flammable!), and following boating laws. Be prepared and stay sober!
Here are a few of the effects of drinking while operating a boat:
While it is illegal to boat under the influence, you are allowed to have a drink on your boat if your boat has:
Not all types of boats will meet these requirements. Even if they do, the boat must be anchored alongside a dock while you drink. Note that provinces and territories have their own laws about drinking on a boat, which may vary.
You should always contact provincial law enforcement authorities for more information before taking to the water with alcohol on board. You can also contact the RCMP to obtain province-specific information. Keep in mind that laws do change, so stay informed.
Enjoying a drink onboard is possible, but only if you follow the rules. Otherwise, the consequences can be dire.