In BC many people enjoy spending time on the water with friends and family. Whether you’re cruising or sailing, it’s important to be aware of the laws surrounding alcohol consumption on boats in BC.
In this article, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions about drinking on boats in BC and explain the rules and penalties for violating them.
Table of Contents
Can You Drink on a Boat in BC?
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, it is a criminal offence to operate a boat while intoxicated. The degree of intoxication is measured using either a breathalyzer or a blood test, with the maximum allowable blood alcohol concentration (BAC) being 80 mg per 100 ml (0.08%).
Every province has also established its own legislation regarding alcohol use while boating.
BC Alcohol and Boating Laws
Under the BC Government Liquor and Cannabis Regulation Branch (LCRB), the same rules which prohibit driving a motor vehicle while impaired also apply to boats: you must not operate, assist to operate, or have the care and control of a vessel while impaired by alcohol or with a blood alcohol level more than .08%.
Liquor must only be consumed in boats or other watercraft if the boat is licensed or it is a boat that the public does not have access to.
Liquor must only be consumed in boats or other watercraft if the boat is licensed or it is a boat that the public does not have access to and is equipped with sleeping accommodations, cooking facilities and a toilet. In these cases, liquor may be consumed in the cabin or on the deck of the boat.
It’s also important to note that consuming alcohol on a boat can be dangerous, as alcohol can impair your judgment and make it more difficult to react to unexpected situations on the water.
Can the Operator of the Boat Drink in BC?
Vessel operators as well as passengers may legally consume alcohol or cannabis on-board a boat if it is equipped with:
- Permanent cooking facilities.
- Permanent sleeping facilities.
- Permanent head (toilet); and
- The boat is at anchor, secured alongside a dock or beached
The vessel operator must NOT be impaired by the time the vessel is ready to depart from being at anchor, docked or beached.
Can You Drink on a Boat If You're Only a Passenger?
Passengers on boats in BC are allowed to consume alcohol, but only a small amount as they still have to be below the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of 80 mg per 100 ml (0.08%).
Passengers are prohibited from consuming alcohol while the boat is in motion and can only consume alcohol on the boat if the boat has:
- Permanent cooking facilities,
- Permanent sleeping accommodations, and
- Legal sanitary facilities
Can Police Stop and Search Your Boat for Alcohol in BC?
Yes, police officers (enforcement officers) in BC have the power to stop and search boats for alcohol. If you’re stopped by the police, you’ll be required to provide identification and proof of ownership of the boat.
The police may also ask to search the boat for alcohol or other illegal substances. If they find alcohol that is not being transported or consumed in compliance with Canada’s Criminal Code or BC’s Liquor and Cannabis Regulation, you could be fined and face other penalties.
Enforcement officers may:
- Ask for ID;
- Ask for proof of competency (permanent or temporary PCOC);
- Ask any pertinent questions;
- Board your vessel; and
- Examine a vessel and its equipment.
An enforcement officer can be:
- A member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP);
- A member of the harbour or river police;
- A member of provincial, county or municipal police force; and
- Any person designated by Transport Canada.
What are the Fines for Drinking Alcohol on a Boat in BC?
Under the Criminal Code of Canada, the penalties for operating a boat and operating a car under the influence are the same.
The minimum penalties for operating a boat under the influence in BC include:
- 1st offence: at least One Thousand ($1,000) fine
- 2nd offence: at least Thirty (30) days of imprisonment
- 3rd offence: at least One Hundred Twenty (120) days of imprisonment
You can also face additional consequences and charges:
- Driving prohibition of 1, 2 or 3 years can be imposed – can be increased to a lifetime prohibition for repeat offenders
- Consume or possess liquor in a public place $230
- Intoxicated in a public place $115
- Consume cannabis while operating vehicle or boat ($575)
- Consume cannabis in vehicle or boat operated by another person ($230)
- Operate vehicle or boat knowing that another person is smoking or vaping cannabis in it ($230)
In BC, if you are convicted of boating under the influence you can also have both your boating license and your driving license suspended!
Please think about the seriousness of these penalties before you ever drink and boat.
Can You Transport Alcohol on a Boat in BC?
Yes, it is legal to transport alcohol on a boat as long as it is either sealed or stowed away in a closed container.
Can You Have Closed Alcohol on a Boat in BC?
Yes, boaters are allowed to have unopened containers of alcohol on their boats in BC, but there are still rules about how it must be transported and consumed. Unopened containers of alcohol must be stored in a secure area, such as a locked cabinet or cooler.
Can You Drink Beer and Fish on a Boat?
Passengers can drink a small amount of alcohol on a boat in BC (Blood Alcohol Concentration below .08%) if the boat:
- has a cooking and sleeping area
- has a toilet
It’s important to remember that drinking and fishing can be a dangerous combination. Alcohol can impair your judgment and reaction time, making it more difficult to react to changing conditions on the water. In addition, fishing requires concentration and focus, which can be compromised by alcohol consumption. If you’re planning to fish on a boat, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether.
Cannabis / Marijuana on a Boat in BC
In addition to alcohol, it’s important to be aware of the rules surrounding cannabis use on boats in BC.
Since 2018, cannabis has been legalized and regulated under the Cannabis Act (Bill C-45). The regulations are similar to those for alcohol, such as restrictions on carrying cannabis on a boat unless it is being used as a temporary or permanent living space, and prohibiting the consumption of cannabis (through smoking, vaping, or eating) in a moving vehicle or boat.
Boaters can be subject to drug recognition techniques to establish their impairment status by law enforcement officials. They may also be asked to submit a blood, urine, or oral fluid sample for testing.
- THC concentration of 2-5 nanograms per ml of blood could result in a fine of up to $1,000.
- THC concentration exceeding 5 nanograms per ml of blood (or above 2.5 nanograms coupled with a blood alcohol concentration over 50 milligrams) could be subjected to both fines and jail time.
Alcohol and Boating Deaths in BC
More than 40% of recreational boating deaths are caused by alcohol consumption. Alcohol intensifies the effect of fatigue, sun, wind, and boat motion to adversely affect balance, judgment and reaction time. Even one drink will affect you, so please leave the booze out of the boat.
Follow the BC boating and alcohol laws and stay safe on the water. Remember that the rules for legal alcohol and cannabis consumption and transport vary by province and territory. The minimum fines and penalties also vary by province, so always check with the local authorities before heading out on the water if you are visiting other provinces and territories.
Be Safe, Get Certified.
It is illegal to operate a powered boat in BC without a boating license (or other proof of competency), and the fines for doing so can be significant. Additionally, obtaining a boating license is a good way to ensure that you are operating your boat safely and responsibly.
By completing a boating safety course and obtaining your boating license, you can gain the knowledge and skills needed to operate a boat safely, protect yourself and others, and avoid costly fines. If you want to test your knowledge – why not try out the free BC boating license practice test.
With the convenience and affordability of MyBoatCard.com’s online course, there is no reason not to get your boating license today.
Join the over 2 million certified Canadians, and get your boating license in BC today!