Is it permissible to drink alcohol when Sailing in Ontario?


Now that temperatures are warmer, what better way to spend a lovely sunny day than on a boat. While sailing, you would probably like to have an alcoholic drink to enjoy the time. However, before you start packing your beer or liquor to take on the boat ride, it is crucial to know the laws about boating and drinking in Ontario.

Can You Consume Alcohol on a Boat in Ontario?

In Ontario, passengers on a boat can legally consume alcohol if the boat meets all of the following requirements:

  • It has permanent sleeping facilities
  • It has permanent cooking facilities
  • It has a permanent toilet
  • It is anchored or secured alongside a dock

Most Houseboats, yachts, and larger vessels will likely meet these conditions; however, many smaller vessels may not count on those features to meet the requirements.

Is Consuming Alcohol Allowed While Operating a Boat?

Consuming alcohol up to a point is legal for passengers. Remember, you should also have to observe the laws relating to public intoxication. However, if you are the boat’s operator, the consumption of alcoholic beverages is forbidden. This regulation ensures the safety of everyone on the ship while sailing. The no alcohol consumption rule for boat operators or pilots also applies to yachts, speed boats and any other type of vessel.

Furthermore, if someone is found operating a boat while drinking alcohol, it is considered a criminal offence under the Criminal Code of Canada.

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation defines impaired driving as:

“Impaired driving means operating a vehicle (including cars, trucks, boats, snowmobiles, and off-road vehicles) while your ability to do so has been compromised to any degree by consuming alcohol, drugs, or a combination of the two.”

What Are The Sanctions For Drinking And Boating?

The penalties applied to boating and drinking are the same as those used when driving under the influence. You may lose your license, pay hefty fines, possibly some jail time, and get a criminal record.

In Ontario, they also use the Interlock Ignition Program, which applies to land and water. If you don’t lose your license, you must comply with the program provisions. The same laws applied to impaired driving are applied to boating under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both.

Boat operators who after a breathalyzer or blood test have a Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) of 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 milligrams of blood or 0,08% are punishable as follows:

  • First time: Immediate 90-day suspension, 7-day vehicle impoundment, Penalty of $550
  • Second time: Immediate 90-day suspension, 7-day vehicle impoundment, Education and treatment program, Penalty of $550
  • Third time: Immediate 90-day suspension, 7-day vehicle impoundment, Education and treatment program, Ignition Interlock condition for six months, Penalty of $550

These strict laws are put in place because about 65% of boat accidents in Canada are related to alcohol abuse, making it a serious issue. Additionally, the Ontario Provincial Police has implemented a program called R.I.D.E. (Reduce Impaired Driving Everywhere), aiming to approach this severe problem by enforcing the law and educating about impaired driving.

A pilot or diver consuming alcohol while operating a boat can experience:

  • Dehydration: Alcohol intake can make individuals absorb alcohol quicker into the system. Dehydrated individuals can even present higher levels of BAC (Blood Alcohol Concentration) than those who aren’t.
  • Poor judgment: Alcohol intake can impair the appropriate information process of the individual under its influence.
  • Boater Fatigue: A boat operator consuming alcohol can feel a significant increase in fatigue caused by various factors.
  • Poor depth perception, vision, and focus due to alcohol intake.
  • Inner ear disturbances: Disorders in the ear can result in vertigo and balance issues which are dangerous while in the water.
  • Reduced motor skills: This is the main factor that causes serious accidents.
  • Accelerated hypothermia: Alcohol intake lowers the body’s resistance to cold resulting in hypothermia.

As you can see in the information above, the boating and drinking regulations are very strict in Canada and with good reason. However, if you would like to have a stress-free boat ride with your family and friends, your best option will be to hire a crew that is licensed by AGCO and can provide alcoholic beverages on board.

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When considering chartering a yacht in Canada, we know you have many options. Some of these options look super exciting and at ridiculously great prices. Recent trends in the industry have opened the door for many unqualified individuals to purchase boats and offer charter services to the unsuspecting public. It’s easy to create a website and even easier to just list a boat on sites such as Facebook Marketplace, Kijiji, Getmyboat, Boat Setter and many others.

Unfortunately, many of these operators are NOT licensed, insured or qualified to accept your trust on the water.

In order to be licensed and insured a number of items MUST be in place. Listed are just a few.

  • The operator must be licensed by Transport Canada with a commercial license known as either:
    – Limited Master under 60tonne.
    – Small Vessel Operators Permit (SVOP).
  • The name of the vessel must be visible on the stern (back) or the registration number beginning with the letter “C” must be visible on the side of the vessel near the front. Boats with a registration number beginning with “ON” are not licensed for passengers.
  • If the vessel is under 12m (40’) it should participate in the Transport Canada Small Vessel Compliance Program and display a “Blue Decal” and have corresponding certificate.
  • If the vessel is over 12m (40’) or carries more than 12 passengers, it MUST BE INSPECTED by Transport Canada and have an inspection certificate on board.
  • All vessels must have commercial liability insurance and coverage specifically for the number of passengers approved to be carried on board.
  • The vessel must comply with commercial safety requirements beyond recreational standards. Many of these illegal operators do not have the proper training, carry proper safety equipment, nor do their recreational boats meet the design/construction requirements of a commercial, passenger carrying vessel. These illegal operators try to stay under the radar of Police/OPP/RCMP/Transport Canada by:
  • hiding the name of their vessel by hanging items over the stern
  • not letting you know where they will have you board until just before the start of your charter.
  • pick you up at a public park (where docking is not permitted).
  • suggest to you that you are friends of the owner/operator out for a ride and not a paying customer.
  • allow you to drink alcohol while the boat is underway (illegal-same as a car) but tell you to hide your bottles etc.
  • insist on a cash transaction or part of it as a way of defrauding the internet listing company.
  • Make you sign a “Charter Agreement” just before you board without giving you details of the document beforehand.

    Over the last few years there have been a number of deaths and even more accidents resulting from these types of operators. Be safe and know who you are getting on a boat with. All licensed operators should willingly display their credentials, and most are members of the Passenger & Commercial Vessel Association (PCVA).

    Link to Global News Report on Charter Accidents

Check before you book
Know before you Go!