There have been many tragedies on the waters of Canada, no thanks to boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Obviously, this practice is dangerous and even life-threatening, but did you know that it can affect your motor vehicle license, too?  If you’re a regular on the clear Canadian waters, here’s what you need to know to survive and stay out of hot legal water, too.

The Law and Drinking While Boating

Canadian law is clear on drinking while driving a boat: you can’t do it. Ben Leung is a criminal defence lawyer in Calgary Alberta. The firm sees a lot of various types of cases, including driving under the influence – on the water. It’s expensive to defend, and the stakes are high.

That’s because, in Canada, operating a boat while under the influence is an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada. You’re considered impaired or under the influence if you blow a 0.80 blood alcohol concentration level (BAC) in excess of 80mg.

Since 65 percent of boating-related accidents in Canada involve alcohol consumption, the country is strict about its anti-alcohol stance when it comes to driving on the water drunk. If you’re convicted of operating a boat while under the influence, the minimum penalties are steep.

How You Could Lose Your Driver’s License

One of the first things that could happen to you is that you could lose your boating license. If that happens, you won’t be able to drive. You could also put your driver’s license in jeopardy. Many jurisdictions in Canada are adopting stricter impaired driving laws, such as Ontario and Alberta. In most provinces, impaired driving means the operation of trucks and cars, but it also includes boats, snowmobiles and even off-road vehicles.

One example of an area with tough driving regulations is Ontario, which has some of the strictest impaired driving laws in North America. Under their laws, the courts and the police can suspend boater’s motor vehicle licenses who operate water vessels while drunk or with elevated levels of blood alcohol.

In addition, the penalties for drunk driving on the roads also apply to boaters, including an increase in the cost of insurance if there is a conviction. Because of the success of Ontario and many other provinces, lawmakers in other areas are taking another look at their impaired driving laws.

The Pricey Penalties for Boating While Drunk

If you’re convicted, more penalties follow, including a $600 fine for a first-time offence. Upon the second offence, a minimum of $600 in fines is imposed and at least 14 days in jail. If you’re caught a third time, a minimum of $600 fine is imposed plus at least 90 days in prison.

The maximum fines and penalties vary by province; however, many leaders are comparing their regulations with those of other areas that have lowered their rates of driving under the influence due to their stricter laws and are work to make some major changes. This means Canadian laws for impaired driving are expected to get tougher across the nation as more areas adopt stricter laws.

Reasons to Know Your Local Laws

In most territories, you can drink on a boat as long as you’re not the driver. In Quebec, you’re allowed open containers on the boat while you’re underway – even if you’re the driver – as long as your BAC does not exceed the legal limit.

Some territories only allow drinking if the boat has operational and permanent cooking facilities, sleeping facilities, and is anchored or docked. Some territories specify that the boat must have at least one bathroom with a permanent toilet.

The laws concerning drinking while on a boat often vary according to the province you live in. For example, in Alberta, fines for operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs match the fines for driving on public roads while under the influence. Alberta allows drinking on a boat, however, only if the boat is equipped with a permanent toilet, cooking facilities, sleeping facilities, and is docked.

In Quebec, the law is a bit different. There are fines equal to those imposed for drinking and driving on the public roads. However, you are permitted to have open containers on the boat while it is under way. You can even drink while driving, as long as your BAC level is not more than the legal limit of 80mg.

A Final Word

If you think you’re immune to the boating laws because you are a tourist, think again. Canada’s marine acts, laws, codes and regulations apply to everyone who operates a boat in their waters, even if they’re just visiting the country. You could face penalties, fines, or even imprisonment if you violate any of these laws. This is because while travelling abroad, all visitors must obey the laws of their host country, so make sure you know them before your visit to Canada.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), provincial and municipal police forces and other local authorities enforce these laws to keep boaters safe. Law enforcement officers inspect boats and monitor activities to ensure everyone is in compliance with all of the current boating laws. Bottom line: boating is a wonderful pastime, but it can turn deadly when alcohol or drugs are involved. Avoid being a statistic by taking drinking and substance abuse out of the equation.

Benedict Leung began his criminal defence career while still in Law School.  Benedict has helped hundreds of low income Calgarians and Southern Albertans who were charged with criminal offences at Student Legal Assistance (SLA) first as a volunteer caseworker, and eventually as the Student Director. Benedict’s skills at trials are highlighted by the Donald Sabey Q.C. Award he received at the University of Calgary for the most outstanding ability in Trial Advocacy. Benedict is also unique in that he is in a select group of students who had run over 30 trials before they had graduated from law school. Since attending law school, Benedict has worked on hundreds of impaired driving files and prides himself in providing a highly skilled defence.