Boating and Drinking

Am I allowed to drink alcohol if I am the skipper of a boat? What about if I am only a passenger? Do skiers have to follow any rules relating to consuming alcohol? Are the rules different if the boat is moored?

These are commonly asked questions which often are answered incorrectly.

With summer fast approaching and with the Hunter’s boat owners starting to take off their winter boat covers, it is an important time to remind boat owners of the rules relating to drinking when boating.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is an offence when boating. Breath testing, including random breath testing (RBT), can be conducted on the driver of a boat (the skipper) of a vessel while it is underway, even when the boat is drifting.

What are the limits?

Permissible concentration of alcohol limits are as follows:

  1. 0.00 for recreational skippers aged under 18 years (youth range);
  2. Less than 0.05 for recreational skippers over 18 years; and
  3. Less than 0.02 for commercial skippers (special range).

Being detected in excess of the permissible concentration of alcohol by way of a breath test may result in NSW Police issuing a Court Attendance Notice.

A person will be charged with the offence of low-range PCA if their blood alcohol concentration is between 0.05 and 0.79.

A person will be charged with the offence of mid-range PCA if their blood alcohol concentration is between 0.08 and 0.149.

A person will be charged with the offence of high-range PCA if their blood alcohol concentration is equal to or above 0.15.

Who has to be under the alcohol limit?

The operator of a vessel includes anyone steering or exercising control over the course or direction of a vessel. This includes:

  1. The Skipper;
  2. The observer in a ski boat or personal watercraft; and
  3. Any person being towed (i.e. a skier, tuber or wakeboarder).

What if the boat is moored or at anchor?

RBT does not apply when a vessel is moored, berthed or at anchor. However, a designated driver (skipper) should remain under the legal limit when out on the water in case you need to move your boat.

What are the penalties?

Penalties for PCA boating offences are serious an include losing your license, fines of up to $5,500 and/or two (2) years imprisonment.

Being detected in excess of the permissible concentration of alcohol by way of a breath test may result in immediate suspension of a boat driving licence and/or Police issuing a Court Attendance Notice.

The following table sets out the penalties for each offence:

Does a boating PCA offence affect my car licence?

No. If you are convicted of a boating PCA offence, you will not lose your car/motorcycle license however it is a criminal offence and will show on any future criminal history checks.

The Marine Safety Regulation 2016

On 1 July 2016, the Marine Safety Regulation 2016 introduced changes to promote safety and included changes to:

  1. Reforms to boat driver licensing, including streamlining licence classes and application requirements, simplifying the fee structure and the introduction of a 10-year boat licence;
  2. Vessels no longer need to display a registration label or trade plate;
  3. New lifejacket standards and simplified requirements for wearing lifejackets;
  4. More rigorous safe distance and speed requirements;
  5. Broader restrictions on bow riding;
  6. Changes to some penalty levels and disqualification periods; and
  7. Changes to streamline the administration of aquatic licences.

All boat owners should be aware of these changes and review the RMS Boating Handbook prior to hitting the water

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