May 21, 2019

Boating Under the Influence: Serious Injuries Happen

Author: Katelynn Drake

As warmer weather sets in, many Ontarians are looking forward to getting out in their boats. Although many people use boats without incident, more than 100 people lose their lives to boating accidents each year, and many more are seriously injured.

Alcohol is a significant contributor to boating accidents. According to the Red Cross, alcohol is a factor in more than 50% of boating fatalities. It is well known that alcohol impairs judgement, slows reaction time, impedes vision, and weakens reflexes. As a result, the risk of collision, drowning, or other boating accidents increases considerably when operating a boat under the influence. With that in mind, it is crucial that boaters and their passengers familiarize themselves with the relevant rules, regulations and recommendations that will help to keep them safe.


In Ontario, boat passengers are permitted to consume alcohol if the boat is equipped with a permanent toilet, permanent sleeping facilities, and permanent cooking facilities. The boat must also be anchored or secured alongside a dock. It is the responsibility of the boat’s operator to ensure that these requirements are met.

When the boat is moving, open alcohol is not permitted on board unless it is sealed, or if it is in a separate, closed compartment. Through the Liquor Licence Act, police enforce rules related to open alcohol on board boats, and boaters will be fined $175.00 for each violation.


It is always illegal to operate a boat while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including cannabis.

Fines and penalties for operating a boat while under the influence are the same as for operating a motor vehicle. Penalties imposed for impaired boating will affect your licence to drive a car. Similar to impaired driver, drunk boaters may face hefty fines, licence suspensions and even jail time in serious offences.

As of January 1, 2019, a first impaired driving offence may result in a minimum 1-year licence suspension, a 1-year requirement to use an ignition interlock system, a fine of at least $1,000, and other penalties. For second and third offences, those penalties increase in severity.

Despite changes in the laws surrounding possession and consumption of cannabis, operating a boat while impaired by cannabis is illegal and will result of serious penalties.

Stay Safe

These boating rules are in place for very good reason – as already discussed, alcohol plays a part in the majority of serious boating related injuries. Catastrophic injuries or causing the death of someone is tragic and can have a devastating effect on those injured and their families.

Most boating injuries can be prevented.  Boaters are well advised to avoid drinking, using drugs, and engaging in other risky behaviour while operating a boat. Passengers should always wear a life jacket, especially if consuming alcohol. It is said that the use of life jackets decreases the risk of drowning by up to 90%.

If the negligent or careless operation of a boat resulted in injuries to you or a loved one, we may be able to help. The laws surrounding boating negligence are complex, but the team at MD Lawyers can help to navigate the waters.