Alcohol and Boats

2017 September: Proposed change to Canada's criminal code will excempt human-powered boats from drunk-driving charges. News Sep.29/2017

Under the criminal code of Canada, drinking and boating carries penalties similar to drinking and driving a car. In addition, your motor vehicle driver’s licence can be suspended from 1 to 5 years. The mandatory minimum fine is $1000. Maximum prison sentence is 5 years. The laws are enforced by local, provincial and federal police - marine police carry alcohol-screening devices on the water.

You can be charged with Impaired Operation of a Vessel under the Criminal Code of Canada if your blood alcohol level exceeds .08 (80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood), but you can be arrested even if it's lower. Nine of 13 provinces and territories impose administrative licence suspensions on drinking drivers at 0.05 or lower.

"Impaired Operation of a Vessel" (Canadian law):
1st offence - minimum fine of $1000
2nd offence - minimum imprisonment of 14 days
3rd & subsequent offence - varies with province

In all provinces of Canada, operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol is illegal. In some provinces, no one on board can consume alcoholic beverages while the boat is being operated. In Ontario, you can't even transport alcohol unless the boat is classed as a "home" (see below). There are differences between provinces, but all require alcohol on board to be packaged and out of reach.

In Ontario, when you visit shore or even on your own boat, provincial law says you must not "display alcohol to the public". That might include a bottle of alcohol sitting in your boat's cockpit. Alcohol consumed at a picnic table on a dock or ashore is usually illegal.

Under Ontario Bill 209, drunk boaters will be subject to the same suspension penalties that now apply to vehicle drivers. The Highway Traffic Act applies to “anyone operating or having the care or control of a vessel”. Anyone found operating a boat while impaired can face an on-the-spot vehicle drivers licence suspension, with additional suspension if convicted.

Canadian border officials can deem people inadmissible at the border if they've been convicted of certain crimes, including drunk driving (car or boat). American laws are similar.

Red Cross statistics: Boating and Alcohol

Carrying Alcohol on a Boat

What boats may carry alcohol in Ontario?

In most provinces, acohol may be consumed on board a boat only if the vessel meets all of the following conditions:

  1. has permanent sleeping facilities
  2. has permanent cooking facilities
  3. has a permanent toilet
  4. is anchored or secured alongside a dock

Check with the appropriate provincial authorities (OPP for Ontario, SQ for Quebec, RCMP for other provinces/territories) for carriage restrictions.

In Ontario, it is illegal to carry alcohol in a car, snowmobile or boat unless the container is unopened and the seal unbroken, or unless the beverage alcohol is packaged in baggage that is fastened closed or is not otherwise readily available to anyone in the vehicle. In a boat, the beverage alcohol must be stored in a closed compartment. (Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario)

This page is a just a summary and may be out of date.


Please note: Pat cannot answer any questions about Canadian laws and regulations.

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