Under Canada's Criminal Code, you may not operate, assist in the operation of, or have the care or control of a vessel while impaired. This applies whether or not the vessel is moving. It also applies whether you are using alcohol or drugs, or both. Both alcohol and cannabis prevents you from safely operating a vehicle or boat.
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 9 of 13 provinces and territories also impose administrative licence suspensions at 0.05 or lower. It's also illegal to operate a human-powered boat (canoe, kayak and paddleboard) while impaired. (The Canada Shipping Act definition of "vessel" does not exclude human-powered craft.)
Canada's Bill C-46, gave police wide-ranging new powers to demand sobriety tests from drivers, boaters and even canoeists. Police do not need to have reasonable grounds before demanding you submit to a test. Refusing can result in a criminal charge. The Bill defines 3 new drug-impaired driving offences for having specified levels of a drug within 2 hours of driving:
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.
In some provinces, no one on board can consume alcoholic beverages while the boat is being operated. You can use alcohol and cannabis only on boats used as temporary or permanent living space.
There are differences between provinces, but all require alcohol on board to be packaged and out of reach of the boat operator. 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 driving (car or boat) under the influence of alcohol or drugs. American laws are similar.
In most provinces, alcohol may be legally consumed on a boat with all of the following:
Check with the OPP for Ontario, SQ for Quebec, and RCMP for other provinces/territories 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, or unless the beverage alcohol is packaged in baggage that is fastened closed or 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)
Since October 2018, the Cannabis Act (Bill C-45) has legalized and regulated the sale and use of cannabis everywhere in Canada. Provinces have separate regulations for cannabis sales. Rules are similar to alcohol - 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 under way.
Officers may use drug recognition techniques to determine if a boater is impaired and can request a blood, urine or oral fluid sample for testing. THC levels of 2-5 nanograms per millilitre of blood can receive a fine up to $1,000. Drivers who test above five nanograms (or above 2.5 nanograms combined with a blood-alcohol concentration above 50 milligrams) per 100 millilitres of blood would receive fines and mandated jail time for repeat offenders.
See our Government Directory for information about laws and regulations.