By on October 6, 2017

rowboat, Image: Wikimedia Commons

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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17 Comments on “Sorry, Canadians – You’ll Still Lose Your Driver’s License for Being Tipsy in a Rowboat...”


  • avatar
    Heino

    PM Trudeau wants to legalize marijuana by July 2018. Time for a floating bong. For a friend of course, I know nothing about weed or magic mushrooms.

  • avatar
    whitworth

    They could easily inject some common sense into these sorts of laws, but I genuinely think law enforcement likes the power to be able to lock people up for stupid reasons.

    I heard from a credible source a story where a guy got a DUI for drinking beer while he was washing his car in his front driveway.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    But, why?

  • avatar
    mikey

    “too many Molsons Ex ? ” I suppose thats possible ? I can’t gag down more than a couple.: )

  • avatar
    hamish42

    Hey, dead is dead whether you are in a Lotus or a rowboat. The cost to the public in salvaging what remains is the same. So up here we try to protect the public purse, the bloody fool and their loved ones from their actions. A little strong? Maybe. But if you want to die don’t do it in public on my time.

    • 0 avatar
      Lynchenstein

      If you don’t need a licence to do something, you shouldn’t lose a completely different type of licence by doing it drunk. That’s just stupid.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      There’s a huge difference in societal cost between some guy drowning himself and some other guy killing himself and others by T-boning a family at high speed. The difference is great enough that I’m inclined to believe you’re trolling.

      In fact, the former scenario might even have cost benefits. In the long run, the country will be stronger if the dumbest members of the population are allowed to kill themselves off.

  • avatar
    dougjp

    There are so many nannies up here, people wanting to live in a bubble and force others to, that no laws can apply in real life. The reason is, there are so many laws (and they keep piling on more and more) that ignorance of them is now a valid excuse.

  • avatar
    deanst

    Just what defines “operator”? A rowing boat can have 1 to 8 people, with one person steering. Can the rest of the crew be tipsy?

  • avatar
    stingray65

    Follow the money – insurance companies can now jack up rates for rowing while intoxicated charges. Lawyers will no doubt see some added business from defending those caught with a beer in one hand and an oar in another. Law enforcement will also make some nice change from the fines involved from floating while tipsy.

  • avatar
    Jeff Semenak

    Canadian Safe Boating Council- No Financial Statements available since 2014. Primary Revenue source – Safe Boating Classes which coincidentally enough, are required to operate a Motorized Boat in Canada. MADD has been involved with the Council. Nope, they are just concerned, not profiting from Government Regulations that they push.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Um, your tag: Crime and “penushment”???

  • avatar
    Slocum

    Canada continues to live up to its reputation as a nation of hall monitors.


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