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Can You Be Charged for Using a Canoe, Kayak or Paddle-board being Impaired by Drug or Alcohol?

Everybody knows that drunk driving can lead to serious legal trouble if you get caught. But how far does the impaired driving law extend? Can you be charged with a crime if you get caught canoeing while drunk? What about kayaking while impaired by marijuana? The short answer is that yes, you can get fined or even land jail time for rowing a boat or paddle-board while impaired by drugs or alcohol. Furthermore, there are potential consequences for passengers being impaired as well.

What are the Legal Limits for Boating?

The legal limit for alcohol content in your blood while boating is the same as the legal limit for driving. That means that you cannot legally drive a canoe, kayak, or paddle-board with a blood alcohol content, or BAC of 0.08%, or 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood. The exact amount of alcohol that will put you over this limit depends on your body weight, your gender, and many other factors. Women might approach the limit with two drinks in two hours, while men of average weight might be able to drink one more alcoholic beverage during that time. However, you never know exactly how much alcohol is in your blood without a breathalyzer or blood test. The only way to know that you are under the limit is to avoid drinking before you get into a boat.

What are the Penalties for Boating While Impaired?

If a police officer catching you boating while drunk or impaired by drugs, you face several hundreds of dollars in fines and could wind up in jail if this is not your first offence. While the maximum penalties vary based on the laws of the province, the minimum penalties for impaired boating throughout Canada include a fine of $600 for the first offence. A second offence could result in up to 14 days in prison, while a third offence could result in 90 days in prison. These penalties are the same whether you were drinking or using drugs such as cannabis. If you get into an accident that causes property damage or injury to somebody else, the penalties could be more severe.

What if Somebody Else is Impaired?

You can also be charged with a crime if somebody else in the boat is impaired by alcohol or drugs. The exact penalties vary from province to province, but anybody in a boat with you who is considered to help you navigate the vessel needs to be sober. When talking about a small boat such as a canoe or kayak, it is virtually impossible to convince a police officer that somebody else in the vessel with you is not helping in any way. Technically, even somebody who simply asks you to steer the boat in a specific direction could be considered a helper. For this reason, it is best to make sure that everybody is sober before you go boating and to make sure that nobody brings alcohol or drugs on board with them.

What if the Boat Has Stopped Moving?

There's really no escaping the impaired boating law or trying to find wiggle room in it. Even if you have the canoe, kayak, or paddle-board docked or unmoving in the water, you can still be found guilty of a crime if you are intoxicated within it. This law was designed for motor boats and larger vessels, but it also applies to any human-powered boat such as a canoe. More than 60% of all boating accidents in Canada involve alcohol, so the public safety concern is no illusion. The bottom line in looking at any of these laws is that you need to make sure everybody in your boat is sober. If you choose to bring alcohol on board (for example, transporting a case of beer in a canoe), make sure that the containers are unopened and securely packed away so nobody can assume you have been drinking them.

If you find yourself accused of using a human-powered boat while impaired, or if somebody in the boat was impaired, you should reach out to an experienced lawyer at your earliest opportunity. The best way to avoid the severe punishments that you might receive is to get good representation in court, so make sure to call an experienced lawyer immediately.