Save the Beer for the Pier The Laws Surrounding Alcohol and Boating….

With the abundance of lakes and rivers that we have in Ontario, boating is a common past-time enjoyed by many. Whether for fishing, water-skiing, or plain relaxing, being on a boat is a great way to spend a hot summer day. However, this is where some get a bit too comfortable. Hot summer day, you said? Why not bring some ice cold beers along for the boat ride? Wrong! There is a lot more to it.

The Term Vessel Encompasses Many Types of Watercraft

Firstly, the definition of a “vessel” can be found in S.214 of the Criminal Code of Canada and is construed broadly. Meaning, a vessel can include a sea-doo, kayak, canoe, sailboat, dinghy, and inflatable rafts. If the boat has a motor, it need not be running in order for an individual to be convicted of drinking and boating. Impaired operation of a vessel can include circumstances where the boat is simply drifting and the motor is off.

The Penalties are the Same as Impaired Driving and Driving with Excess Blood Alcohol

To clear up some confusion, boat operators face the same “Impaired Driving / Driving with Excess Blood Alcohol” penalties as those faced by drivers of motor vehicles. Also, keep in mind that drinking and boating will ALWAYS result in the suspension of your driver’s licence.

Similar to driving a vehicle, if you are stopped on the water, an officer can pursue one of two courses of action:

  • Arrest the party for “Impaired Operation”. If it’s abundantly clear to a police officer that the operator of the vessel has had too much to drink, the officer will place them under arrest for “Impaired Operation”. This essentially means that the officer has grounds to believe that the boater is impaired, and should not be operating a vessel. The party will then be transported to a local police station. Once at the station, the arrested party will be required to provide two samples of their breath into breathalyzer. If both of these samples show that the accused party’s “blood alcohol concentration” (B.A.C.) was over 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, then a further charge of ‘Operation with Excess Blood Alcohol/Over 80’ will be laid.
     
  • If an officer has a reasonable suspicion that the boater has consumed alcohol, he can ask that they provide a sample of their breath into an “Approved Screening Device”. This is a portable unit that most marine units keep with them which allows officers to determine an individuals blood alcohol concentration (B.A.C.).  

One of four things can happen at this stage:

1. Boaters Caught Blowing in the “Warn Range

Boaters caught with a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) in the “warn rage” (between 50 and 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood) will face an immediate driver’s license suspension. The length of the suspension varies based on whether or not it is their first offence. See below:

First Offence

  • 3-day driver’s licence suspension
  • $150 Administrative Monetary Penalty

Second Offence (within 5 years)

Third Offence (within 5 years)

  • 30-day driver’s licence suspension
  • Mandatory alcohol treatment program (Back on Track) 
  • Six-month ignition interlock licence condition
  • $150 Administrative Monetary Penalty

Subsequent infractions (within 5 years)

  • 30-day driver’s licence suspension
  • Mandatory alcohol treatment program (Back on Track) 
  • Six-month ignition interlock licence condition
  • Mandatory medical evaluation
  •  $150 Administrative Monetary Penalty

Keep in mind, the penalties described above are only for those blowing in the “warn range”.  The penalties described above are not criminal in nature, rather they are considered “Provincial Offences”.  These suspensions take effect immediately and cannot be appealed. Further, these suspensions are recorded on your driver’s abstract and are considered when determining the consequences for subsequent infractions.  Remember, a suspension for blowing in the “warn range” applies to the persons driver’s license as well.

2. “Boaters Who are Found to Exceed 80 Milligrams of Alcohol”

If the boater fails the “Approved Screening Device”, then the officer has grounds to arrest the boater and take them to the local police station to obtain two samples of their breath into a breathalyzer. If both of these samples show that the accused party’s ‘blood alcohol concentration’ (B.A.C) was over 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood, then the charge of “Boating with Excess Blood Alcohol/Over 80” will be laid.

This will result in the following:

  • 7 day vessel impoundment
  • An immediate 90-day vehicle driver’s licence suspension;
  • If convicted under the Criminal Code of Canada, the boater’s driver’s licence may be suspended for one year or more depending on whether it is a first, second, or subsequent conviction.
  • Mandatory alcohol assessment, education and follow-up may be assigned as a condition of driver’s licence re-instatement (Back on Track);
  • Installation of an ignition interlock on the boater’s vehicle (not their boat) for up to 1 year on first conviction

3. Refusal to Provide a Sample of Your Breath into the “Approved Screening Device” or “Intoxilyzer”

If the boater refuses to provide a sample of their breath into either of these devices, the boater will be charged criminally with the offence of “Refusal to Provide a Sample”. This offence carries with it, the same penalty as being charged with “Impaired Driving and/or Driving with Excess Blood Alcohol” as noted above.

4. The boater passes the “Approved Screening Device” and continues on their way.

Can you Drink Alcohol on a Boat?

In Ontario, there are specific requirements relating to the consumption and transportation of alcohol. 

According to the Ontario Liquor Licence Act, it is illegal to transport alcoholic beverages in a boat unless it is in a container that is unopened and the seal unbroken, unless the alcohol is reasonably stowed (in baggage or a closed compartment) and is not readily available to anyone.

Further, no alcohol can be consumed by anyone on board while a boat is underway. Consumption is only permitted if the following requirements are met:

  • The boat is fitted with permanent cooking, sleeping and washroom facilities (built into the boat); and,
  • The boat is at anchor, tied to a dock or grounded.
  • Once you pull anchor, all alcohol must be put away.

The lesson: Boat operators should stay sober while on the water! Enjoy a cold beverage once back on shore or once all of the legal requirements for consuming alcohol on your boat are satisfied.

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