The criminal code governs the offence(s) of impaired boating in Canada. The laws that apply to impaired driving (a car) are the same laws that apply to impaired boating. These laws are outlined in criminal code section 253.
The criminal code states that everyone commits an offence who operates a motor vehicle or VESSEL or has care or control of a motor vehicle or vessel whether it is in motion or not,
while the person ability to operate the vessel is impaired by drugs or alcohol or;
while operating the vessel with a quantity of alcohol in a persons blood that exceeds eighty milligrams of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood.
Although section 253 (a) and 253 (b) go hand in hand in a lot of case, they are actually completely different offences. For example: you can be impaired, but may not have eighty milligrams of alcohol in one hundred millilitres of blood. This could happen if you have a small body size and you are an occasional drinker. In a case like this you may have a small quantity of alcohol but yet show signs of impairment. Likewise, you can have over eighty milligrams of alcohol in your blood but not show any signs of impairment. you will likely see this in the case of a person who is a longtime alcoholic.
If you are arrested for impaired driving the Police will require you to provide a breath sample and if you fail you will be charged with both section (a) and (b).
What happens if I get stopped?
So what happens if you get stopped by the police and you’ve been drinking while operating your boat. Here are two scenarios;
If you are showing signs of impairment (a boat accident, poor boat handling, slurred speech, lack of hand eye coordination …. ) you may be arrested for impaired driving 253(a). Your boat will be towed away and you will be taken back to the Police station to provide a breath sample. If you fail the breath test, you may be charged with the 253(b).
If on the other hand you are not showing signs of impairment but the Police smell alcohol on your breath, or suspect that you have consumed alcohol, you could be given a breath test on the spot. If you fail, you will be arrested under section 253(b).
What is care and control?
essential, this means that you can be charged with impaired driving, even if you are not driving the boat. Here is an example of where you can see this.
You decided to turn the boats engine off and drift on an open lake. Even though you are not operating the boat. you have the ability to set the boat in motion and as such, you could be charged with impaired operation.
If you are stopped, and requested to provide a boat side breath sample by Police, and if the sample you provide falls within the “warn” range of 0.05 to 0.08, you will be given an immediate 3, 7 or 30 driver’s license suspension. This occurs on the spot.
If you fail the boat side test and you are arrested and charged with Impaired boating you will received an immediate 90 day suspension of your driving license (car licence) and you will have to attend a criminal court to answer to the charge(s) against you. The criminal penalties depend on the whether or not this is your first offence, the amount of alcohol in your system and various other factors. Whats consistent, is that this is definitely not a charge the courts take lightly.
Impaired boating causing bodily harm or death
Impaired driving penalties increase substantially if you injury or cause death to someone. Significant jail time can be expected if you are convicted.
Boats are large complex machines and do not mix well with alcohol. When you are impaired by either drugs or alcohol, your decision making skills are affected and you become prone to making bad decisions. Your fine motor skills will be compromised as well, which will make it difficult for you to get yourself out of a bad situation if you should find yourself in one.
While boating, it is best to stay clear from consuming alcohol and if you decide to do so, limited consumption is best.