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Boating under the influence: Can I get a criminal record for drunk boating?

Living in the Kawartha Lakes region for most of my life, it’s quite obvious that boating and water sport activities are a staple of our summer culture. We live in the land of lakes, as the Trent-Severn waterway connects over 240 miles of freshwater from Trenton to Port Severn through the Peterborough area, accessing hundreds of bodies of water on the way. As the summer progresses, more and more people look to the water when the days get unbearably hot, especially on long weekends. With that being said, there has long been the notion that day drinking at the cottage, and going out on the water are synonymous activities. In recent years however, more and more fatal accidents have led to a crackdown on intoxicated boaters, as law enforcement patrol the same waters as boaters now with due diligence and in greater numbers. As a boater planning to hit the water this season, it is important that you know what laws apply to you on the water, especially when you operate a motorized vehicle.

Why the crack down?

A study from the Lifesaving Society of Canada found that approximately 40% of all boating fatalities in Ontario included alcohol as a contributing factor. This is a staggering percentage and indicated a serious problem to law enforcement, especially within the last decade. In 2017 the OPP reported an 8-year high regarding boating fatalities, with the total number of deaths in Ontario reaching 31 over the summer season. This number has been shown to be steadily increasing for the past 5 years; especially accidents involving distracted and/or intoxicated operators. Just one-year prior in 2016, there were 23 fatalities further supporting a problematic upward trend. The OPP was also quick to point out that of the 54 total boating fatalities in the past 2 seasons, 42 of the victims were found wearing no lifejackets. Wearing a lifejacket or having ready access to one can often prevent an avoidable tragedy on freshwater, and is something that is frequently and tragically overlooked.

Is impaired Boating a Criminal Offence?

With regard to law enforcement, they see intoxicated boating the exact same way as intoxicated driving. If you are caught with over 80mg of alcohol in your blood, you will be charged with a criminal offence; impaired operation of a vessel. The fines and penalties associated with impaired boating are identical to those for land-based vehicles. Upon your first offence, you will receive a $1,000 fine and a licence suspension of 90 days including a permanent criminal record. For a second offence you can expect to spend 30 days in jail, with a 3rd offence adding another 120 days if convicted. If charged a 2nd or 3rd time, fines will increase accordingly with a driver’s licence suspension of 2 years for a second offence, then a possible driving ban on the third offence.

What’s Allowed?

The only time you are ever allowed to have open alcohol on a boat is if that boat has sleeping quarters, a toilet, and permanent cooking facilities (a house boat/yacht for short). Even so, the only time one is permitted to drink on one of these vessels is when it is securely anchored or docked in a stationary position. If the vessel is a fishing boat, sport boat, pontoon boat or even a canoe, the alcohol must be in a sealed container at all times and can not be consumed on the vessel. If caught with open alcohol on your vessel, you may be subject to fines, searches, and seizures of your property, not to mention a potential Breathalyzer test. To keep it simple, in most cases it’s never legally acceptable to consume or have open alcohol on a moving vessel!

From everyone here at Aitken Robertson we hope you have a fun time on the water this summer, and urge everyone to always put their safety first, and drink responsibly.

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