Impaired boating laws in Ontario. The dangers of alcohol, Cannabis or Drugs while boating.

by CK

Let’s dive into the murky topic of impaired boating laws in Ontario. The law in this area changed with the introduction of Bill C46 in June of 2018. This law was updated to integrate cannabis legalization and to strengthen the existing rules surrounding impaired driving/boating. It is important to note that the criminal code does not distinguish between operating a boat or driving a car. Impaired driving laws are same as impaired boating laws. The new laws are strict and so they should be.

The criminal code begins by declaring the following; operating a boat is a privilege that comes with certain limits that are set in the interest of public safety. These limits include sobriety. Essential the law is saying that operating a boat or car is not a right but a privilege and is subject to rules. Here is the explanation of the rules.

The law 

Section 320.14: Operation while impaired states that everyone commits an offence who

  • (a) operates a boat while the person’s ability to operate it is impaired to any degree by alcohol or a drug or by a combination of alcohol and a drug;
  • (b) has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a boat, a blood alcohol concentration that is equal to or exceeds 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mL of blood. (there are some exemptions);
  • (c) has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a boat a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood drug concentration for the drug that is prescribed by regulation. (there are some exemptions here); or
  • (d) has, within two hours after ceasing to operate a boat, a blood alcohol concentration and a blood drug concentration that is equal to or exceeds the blood alcohol concentration and the blood drug concentration for the drug that are prescribed by regulation for instances where alcohol and that drug are combined. (there are some exemptions).

As you see, it is important to understand that being impaired by alcohol is the same as being impaired by drugs or a combination of both alcohol and drugs. A drug can be cannabis, prescription pills or any other drug for that matter. If someone is impaired, they are impaired!

So what happens if you are stopped and alcohol is suspected? 

Lets start by talking about alcohol impairment only. So what happens if you get stopped by the police and you’ve been drinking alcohol while operating your boat. Here are two scenarios;

  1. If you are showing signs of impairment (a boat accident, poor boat handling, slurred speech, lack of coordination exc …. ) you may be arrested for impaired boating. 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 both impaired boating and having over 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood.
  2. 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 that test, you will be arrested and taken back to the station for another breath test. If you fail again, you will be charged with having over 80 mg of alcohol in 100 mil of blood.

Note: It is possible to be impaired but not have 80mg/100 ml of alcohol concentration.  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 80mg/100 ml of 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. Either way, both of these scenarios will result in criminal charges.

So what happens if you are stopped and cannabis or another drug is suspected?

Lets now talk about being stopped and a drug is suspected. Police can demand you submit to either a standardized field sobriety test or to provide a sample into an approved drug screening device if they have reasonable suspicion that you have drugs in your body. Here are a couple of possible scenarios:

  1. if you FAIL the field sobriety test, the officer will demand that you undergo a drug recognition evaluation (this testing has been around for some time and well before cannabis legalization). If you preform poorly on this test you may be charged with impaired boating. If you preform well, you will likely be released with no charges. If a drug recognition expert isn’t available then the police can make a blood demand. They can take your blood, and test it for drugs.
  2. if on the other hand you preform WELL, and alcohol isn’t suspected, then you will very likely be on your way.

What is care and control?

Essentially, this means that you can be charged with impaired boating, even if you are not operating 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 and risk to set the boat in motion and as such, you could be charged with impaired operation.

Impaired boating causing bodily harm or death

Impaired driving penalties increase substantially if you injure 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 or drugs. When you are impaired by either drugs, alcohol or a combination, your decision making skills and reaction times 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 or drugs.

Disclaimer: I have written this article for reference and information only. Although I make all attempts to ensure accuracy I cannot guarantee the information or confirm that it will always be up to date. Please use this post “as is” and confirm all information yourselves. The following links will take you to the relevant government website for further information impaired boating Ontario, impaired boating Canada. You can also check out my “terms of use” here.

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