Drinking and Boating

Dayana Moreno

Are you looking forward to getting some friends and family together and taking out the boat to enjoy the water? Just remember that boating and drinking are a bad combination.

When the effects of alcohol are combined with the effects of sun, fatigue, wind and motion, boaters can experience reduced reaction time, a decrease motor skills and impaired judgment. In fact, the Government of Ontario’s website states that “according to national statistics, approximately 40 per cent of all power boating fatality victims have a blood alcohol level that is over the legal limit. (In 2002) there were 35 fatal boating accidents in which 43 people were killed.”

The risks are well recognized and now, according to the Ontario Marine Operators Association, Ontario boaters caught drinking while boating can now lose their motor vehicle driver's license for up to one year.

Under the new legislation, police and courts can now suspend motor vehicle licenses for boaters who are drunk or have elevated levels of alcohol in their blood.

According to the Ontario Marine Operators Association, “boaters who blow close to the legal limit on a breathalyzer test can have their license suspended for 12 hours, and those convicted of being drunk while boating can lose their license for a year.” To add to that, all of the penalties that apply to drunken driving on the roads will also apply to boaters (including an increase in the cost of insurance if they are convicted).

According to the Government of Ontario’s website, former Ontario Premier Ernie Eves, said that, "People who operate any vehicle while impaired put lives at risk…Our government will do everything possible to ensure that those who drink and boat face the same severe consequences as those who drink and drive.”

If you need clarification on alcohol and boating law, it is illegal to drink alcohol on a pleasure boat when it is underway. You may only have open alcohol aboard a boat that is equipped as a residence (ie. sleeping area, permanent cooking facilities and a fixed toilet with pump out). Consuming liquor in other than a licensed premise, residence or private place carries a hefty fine and operating or having care and control over a boat underway with an open container of liquor will also carry a fine.

If the change strikes you as particularly extreme, it is important to keep in mind some important facts. According to 2003 Ontario Provincial Police statistics, marine vessel fatalities are a serious concern. These statistics point out that 8 out of 10 people who died did not wear a PFD. Not to mention the fact that almost 1 in 3 people who died had consumed alcohol. Most fatalities of these fatalities occurred on weekends in the months of May, June and September most commonly occurring on an outboard motor boat (59%).

So remember, when it comes to boating, don't drink and ride.

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