Water on the Water. Beer on the Pier.

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Water on the Water. Beer on the Pier.

Rules regarding intoxication and boating in Ontario 


              Every year when the warm weather finally comes around people are drawn to their boats. Boating is a fantastically fun pastime that is enjoyed by people throughout Canada and Ontario. One of the more frequent questions about boating is what are the rules regarding drinking and boating as well as cannabis and boating. In today’s blog we will look into these rules and regulations.   

              Under the Criminal Code of Canada it is unlawful to operate, assist or have the care of a moving vessel while impaired. This applies to whether the vessel is in motion or not, and also includes alcohol and drugs, or both. You can be charged with the Impaired Operation of a Vessel, if your blood alcohol level exceeds .08 (80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millimetres of blood). Furthermore many provinces also impose license suspensions at .05 and lower. Sure people’s tolerance to alcohol may vary, but these numbers do not. These rules also extend to the use of human-powered boats such as canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards.  

              Bill C-46 has given the police much more ambiguity with demanding sobriety tests from drivers, boaters, and even canoeists. Law enforcement no longer needs to have reasonable grounds to demand a sobriety test, in fact refusing their test can result in a criminal charge. The bill also defines 3 new drug-impaired driving offences; THC between 2 – 5 ng (Nano grams), THC level above 5 ng, and BAC (blood alcohol content) of .05 in addition to a THC level above 2.5ng. In addition your driver’s licence can be suspended from 1 to 5 years, with a minimum fine of $1000 and a maximum prison sentence of 5 years. These laws are enforced by marine police who also carry alcohol-screening tools. Canadian law states that a first offense carries a minimum $1000 fine, a second offense adds a minimum of 14 days imprisonment as well as a fine, and any subsequent offenses have punishments that vary by province.   

              In some provinces, not a single person may consume alcohol while the boat is being operated. Alcohol and Cannabis are only to be used by boats that are temporary or permanent living spaces. There are differences between provinces however all require that alcohol be packaged and out of the reach of the boat operator. In Ontario on your own boat provincial las states that you must not display alcohol to the public. This can include any bottle of alcohol that might be sitting in your boat’s cockpit. Also alcohol consumed at a picnic table or on a dock or ashore is usually illegal.   

              In Ontario, under bill 209, drunk boaters will be subject to the same suspension penalties that now apply to vehicle drivers. Anyone found to be impaired while operation a boat can face an on the spot license suspension with additional suspension possible if convicted. Canadian border officials can deem people inadmissible at the border if they’ve been convicted of certain crimes, this includes the operation of a boat or car under the influence of alcohol (laws are similar in the USA). 

              The Red Cross shows that 37% of boaters in Canada admit to consuming alcohol every time they boat. Another 66% report that they drink alcohol sometimes when boating. These overall statistics also state that alcohol is a factor in over 40% of recreational boating fatalities.                

             In most provinces, alcohol may be legally consumed on a boat with all of the following; a permanent sleeping facility, permanent cooking facilities, a permanent toilet, and or anchored or secured alongside a dock. Most yachts and houseboats will meet these requirements, however not all boat types will. As the boat operator it is your responsibility to make sure you boat meets requirements, before anyone opens any beer or liquor. Additionally it is your responsibility to stay sober to make sure everyone gets home safe. Always check with our local law enforcement for current carriage restrictions.   

              In Ontario, it is illegal to carry alcohol in a car, snowmobile, or boat unless the container is unopened and seal unbroken. However if the alcohol is packaged in a bag that is fastened closed or not otherwise readily available to anyone in the vehicle it is perfectly legal. In your boat alcohol must be stored in a closed compartment.  

              Alcohol can have numerous negative effects on people while boating. Boater fatigue is caused by a combination of hot sun, wind, vibration and the motion of the boat. These factors quadruple the effects of alcohol on boaters. Alcohol also slows your swallowing and breathing reflexes which makes you more likely to drown if you fall overboard. Dehydration is due to the heat and sun as the body tries to cool itself by sweating. A dehydrated person feels the effects of alcohol more quickly. Also, lightly dehydrated people absorb alcohol more quickly into their system and will consequently have a higher blood alcohol concentration. Alcohol while boating can also cause; diminished judgement and ability to process information, slower reactions and reflexes, reduced motor skills, peripheral vision and balance, poorer depth perception, vision and focus, inner ear disturbances, and accelerated hypothermia.   

              Rules for Cannabis do not differ from those of alcohol consumption. You cannot carry Cannabis on a boat unless it’s used as a temporary or permanent living space, and you can’t consume it (smoking, vaping, eating) in a vehicle or boat while it is underway. The consequences for using cannabis while boating are the same as the consequences for consuming alcohol and boating. 

              As with anything in life it is always a good idea to get as much information on a subject as you can. The laws for impaired boating are pretty cut and dry however it is always good to check in yearly or monthly to see if there have been any regulation changes. Check with the Office of Boating Safety, Provincial Governments, and Police forces. 

              We at HRC hope that this blog was informative and that it laid out some of the rules and regulations regarding impaired boating in Ontario. It is always a good idea to adhere to the old saying, “Water on the water, Beer on the pier.” Have fun this summer and stay safe! 


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