Sorry, Canadians - You'll Still Lose Your Driver's License for Being Tipsy in a Rowboat

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
sorry canadians you ll still lose your driver s license for being tipsy in a

Some might quibble over where “the limit” should be when we’re talking drunk driving — 0.05, 0.08, 0.10 — but few responsible people would argue against the need for impaired driving legislation. Until smartphones and other distracting electronic accoutrements came along, boozy drivers were the leading cause of carnage on the roads.

Now, many of us our personal vehicle to drive to the lake, the seaside, or perhaps a nearby river, where our boat, be it large or small, awaits. Maybe it’s a canoe or kayak. Maybe — because cabin cruiser dollars are hard to come by — it’s an inflatable mattress or inner tube where you can use your feet for propulsion.

Well, if you reside north of the border and were thinking of popping a few beers and paddling about in your human-powered floatation device (after hearing Canada’s recent announcement that drunk driving laws would no longer apply to unmotorized boats), think again. Special interest groups have intervened, and that law will remain on the books.

Drunk paddling? There goes your Chevrolet.

Boating under the influence (BUI) laws are nothing new, nor are they absent in any U.S. state. Steep penalties and potential jail time awaits the boater who chug-a-lugs in his watercraft on either side of the border, but only in Alaska or California could an American find their driver’s license in danger.

Under Canadian law, however, the drunken operator of any watercraft faces the same fines, penalties, and driver’s license suspension (and associated impact on vehicle insurance rates) as would a motorist who fails a breathalyzer. There’s no difference in the charge, in fact. Even if that boater has never driven a vehicle after consuming so much as a sip of suds, an impaired driving offence awaits any boater who lets their hair down at the lake. Things are a little stricter up here.

Still, many feel the law went a little too far. While a motorboat can cause plenty of carnage when in the hands of a drunk operator, a tipsy boater in a canoe or kayak (or on a mattress) is mainly just a danger to him or herself.

As well, recent court cases tested the existing law. A few years ago, a man convicted of canoeing under the influence was given a 90-day license suspension, preventing him from driving his pregnant wife to the hospital for checkups. Another man lost his license for operating a paddleboat after drinking too many Molson Exports, presumably. Those charges were dropped due to the unlikeliness of a conviction.

With this in mind, Canada’s federal government recently sought to amend the hazy part of its Criminal Code pertaining to inebriated boating. Last month, the government proposed removing the word “vessels” and replacing it with “motorized vessels,” leaving beer-fueled canoeists to paddle at their own risk, free from potential criminal records and ignition interlock devices. This caught the eye of safe boating advocates, according to The National Post.

“The [Canadian Safe Boating Council] gave some pretty clear examples of where it can be extremely dangerous to have somebody impaired in the water,” said Liberal MP Colin Fraser, who on Wednesday passed an amendment removing the earlier clause. Once the country’s Senate passes the bill, the briefly threatened status quo will return in stone.

Oddly, the same law does refer to “motorized vehicles,” meaning you can ride your bike down the street while completely gassed. Sure, a fine could ensue, but your car and license would remain safe. That rowboat, however — that’s bad news.

Advocacy was partly behind another part of the Code that says someone in Canada can be charged with impaired driving for falling asleep drunk in a parked car, engine off. The “care and control” provision of the law states that being in control of a vehicle — even one parked with the engine off — means your license can be suspended and future screwed up for sitting in a glorified lawn ornament. Much like the boating controversy, there’s no sign that law is going away anytime soon.

[Image: Wikimedia Commons, ( CC BY 2.0)]

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2 of 17 comments
  • Dukeisduke So, it'll be invisible, just like all other Gen 6 Camaros?
  • Alterboy21 The gov't has already mandated control of your vehicle. 10 years ago they required cars to have ABS and traction control.I am not sure I agree that automatic breaking is ready for primetime, but taking control of a cars driving behavior is not new ground for the NHTSA. 
  • Parkave231 Collector's Edition hood ornament or GTFO.
  • Dave M. Once again Mustang remains solely on the throne. But obviously the day of the ponycar has long passed....
  • Art Vandelay The car so nice they killed it…twice