Don’t drink and paddle

Boaters face the same penalty as those caught drinking and driving

Don’t drink and paddle

A. Green/Corbis

Ontarians, enjoying the last days of summer, may want to think twice before knocking back a beer, then hopping into a paddleboat to bob around the lake.

Two weeks ago, an Ontario Provincial Police marine patrol arrested a 57-year-old man at the helm of a paddleboat, charging him with operating a vessel while impaired. The resident of Upper Island Lake, just north of Sault Ste. Marie, was also fined $200 for failing to have a life jacket aboard. Ontario’s boating and drinking laws are the strictest in the country, and the paddleboater also had his driver’s licence suspended for 90 days; if convicted, he’ll lose his licence for a year, OPP traffic and marine Sgt. Randy Nethery told Maclean’s.

Boaters, he says, face the same penalty as those caught drinking and driving, and the laws aren’t restricted, as you might think, to those navigating a boat with a motor: canoeists, kayakers, even—yes, really—people floating on dinghies or goofing around on windsurf boards are all subject to charges. “The boating and the drinking don’t mix,” says Nethery. “The biggest thing we worry about is drowning.”

Indeed, roughly 500 people drown in Canada every year, says Barbara Byers, public education director for Canada’s Lifesaving Society; and 40 per cent of these incidents are alcohol-related, she adds. Byers, who wasn’t aware the law extended to even non-motorized boaters, supports its reach: “If a person is intoxicated,” she says, “they shouldn’t be operating any kind of vessel.”

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