Know the repercussions before drinking on your boat
There’s little doubt that the positive turn in the weather is going to increase the number of boats on the water this coming weekend.
And while the idea of popping open a cold beer while you wait for the fish to bite or cruising through the waves can be enticing, the penalties for drinking on your boat are just as severe as if you were in your car… and getting caught will have impact back on shore too.
It is an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada to operate a boat if you’re impaired by drugs or alcohol. You are under the influence’ if you have a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) in excess of 80mg or 0.08%. Your BAC level is determined with a breathalyzer or blood test. Sure, people’s tolerance level to alcohol may vary, but this number does NOT: 80mg = drunk boating.
Boat passengers may legally consume alcohol on board a boat in Canada if the boat:
- Has permanent cooking facilities.
- Is equipped with permanent sleeping facilities.
- Has a permanent toilet; and
- The boat is anchored or secured alongside a dock.
Most yachts and houseboats meet these requirements, but not all boat types will.
As the boat operator, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure your boat meets these requirements before anyone opens any beer or liquor. Additionally, it’s your responsibility to stay sober to make sure everyone gets home safe. Remember, drinking and boating is ALWAYS illegal. However, the rules for legal alcohol consumption and transport vary by province.
What are the laws for drinking and boating in Ontario?
In Ontario, the fines and penalties for a person who is drinking and boating are the same as those for a person who drinks and drives. Ontario boaters convicted of operating a boat under the influence may have their driver’s license suspended for a minimum of one year. Additionally, Ontario’s Ignition Interlock Program applies to those convicted of drunk boating.
As you might expect, the insurance ramifications are the same too.
The effects of alcohol when boating
There are numerous negative effects that result from consuming alcohol while you boat, including:
Boater Fatigue: Caused by a combination of the hot sun, wind, noise, vibration and the motion of the boat. These factors quadruple the effects of alcohol on boaters. Alcohol also slows your swallowing and breathing reflexes, and makes you more likely to drown if you fall overboard.
Dehydration: Heat and sun cause dehydration as the body tries to cool itself by sweating. A dehydrated person feels the effects of alcohol more quickly. Additionally, mildly dehydrated people absorb alcohol more quickly into their system and will have a higher blood alcohol concentration.
Other negative effects of drinking and boating can include:
- Diminished judgment and ability to process information – alcohol makes you less attentive
- Slower reaction and reflex response times
- Reduced motor skills, peripheral vision and balance. This puts you at greater risk of falling overboard
- Poorer depth perception, vision and focus
- Inner ear disturbances. This will make it harder to distinguish the water surface if you fall overboard
- Accelerated Hypothermia, since alcohol will lower the body’s resistance to cold
Safe Boating Tip: Consuming alcohol and not wearing a life jacket or PFD are a deadly combination.