Boating is one of Ontarians’ favorite pastimes. There’s nothing quite as relaxing as enjoying a summer day out on the lake with your friends. However, as the operator of your boat, it’s important to remember that many of the rules of the road apply to the water as well.
Under Canadian law, impaired boating is treated the same as impaired driving. Both are offences under the Criminal Code of Canada.
What can get you into trouble?
There are a few different circumstances that can land you in hot water with regards to impaired boating:
- Illegal BAC: It is illegal to operate any land or water vehicle if your blood alcohol content (BAC) is over the legal limit of 0.08.
- Elevated BAC: Ontario considers a BAC of 0.05 – 0.08 to be in the “warn range,” and you can also face serious consequences for operating a boat at this level.
- Drug impairment: A drug recognition evaluator can conduct a blood test to determine whether you are impaired by drugs.
- Refusing a test: It’s worth understanding that if you refuse a blood or breath test from law enforcement to determine your level of drug or alcohol intoxication, you can be treated as though you were legally impaired.
What are the penalties?
The penalties for impaired boating are the same as for impaired driving of a land vehicle. If this is your first offence in 10 years and you tested with a BAC over 0.08 (or refused the test), you could:
- Lose your driver’s license for 90 days
- Have your boat and car impounded for seven days
- Have to pay over $800 in penalties and license reinstatement fees
- Be required to attend a substance education or treatment program
- Have to install an ignition interlock device on your vehicle for at least six months
In addition, if you are convicted in court, you will likely face jail time and additional fines.
For young (under 22) and novice drivers, as well as drivers with a BAC in the warn range, you can lose your license for three days and will have to pay $250 in fines for a first offence.
In all cases, penalties become increasingly severe with repeat offences.
How to fight the charges
There are many factors that can give law enforcement the false impression that you are impaired when, in fact, you are sober. Prolonged exposure to the sun and heat on the lake can make some people act impaired. Consuming certain foods, drinks and medications can lead to a false breathalyzer test result. In a boating situation, it may also be more difficult for law enforcement to determine who is the operator of the vehicle.
Remember: a criminal charge doesn’t have to lead to a conviction. You have the right to a legal support team to help you get your charges dropped, stay out of jail and avoid a permanent black mark on your criminal record.