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Boating and alcohol: A dangerous and illegal brew

We often write about the dangers of driving an automobile under the influence of alcohol. However, operating a boat while under the influence can be equally deadly and is illegal.

Boating is of course a popular activity in Canada. After all, we have the longest coastline in the world. We also boast the largest concentration of freshwater lakes.

Whether you're visiting from across the border in the U.S. or you're a Canadian citizen, you're subject to Canada's statutes on impaired boating when you're in Canadian waters. 

Some regulations involving alcohol and boating vary by province. However, operating a vessel while under the influence is illegal throughout the country. In some provinces, it's illegal for anyone on board to consume alcohol as long as the boat is in operation.

Here in Ontario, alcohol cannot be on board a boat at all unless it's classified as a "home." According to Transport Canada, alcohol can be consumed if the vessel has permanent sleeping and cooking facilities and a permanent toilet. It must also be "anchored or secured alongside a dock."

People who are arrested for operating a boat while under the influence (a blood alcohol level greater than .08) can face, at minimum:

  • A $1,000 fine for a first offense
  • 30 days of incarceration for a second offense
  • 120 days incarceration¬†for a third offense

Given the severity of the possible legal consequences and the variation in laws across provinces, it's probably wise to avoid mixing alcohol and boating at all and to avoid, if possible, being a passenger on a boat where there is alcohol. Boating accidents can cause serious and even fatal injuries. If you've been injured or lost a loved one in a boating accident where the operator was under the influence, you can and should find out what your options are for holding that person civilly liable.

Source: Transport Canada, "Visitor Information - Alcohol and Boating," accessed Dec. 10, 2015

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