Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol is a very serious offence. Being charged with a boating drink driving or DUI offence can cause a great deal of stress and worry.
This section contains information written by experienced lawyers about the laws regulating alcohol and boats. It has been designed to inform people about the likely penalties and their options for avoiding a criminal record.
Much like driving a car, there are legal limits on the amount of alcohol that can be in a person’s system when operating a boat. The limit varies depending on the person’s age and whether the boat is being used for private or commercial use.
What Is A Vessel?
The law gives a very broad definition to the word ‘vessel’. It includes water craft of any description that can be used as a means of transportation.
There are some craft that are excluded from the definition of vessel. These include pontoons, airdocks, floating docks, any apparatus used as an accessory in surfing or bathing, or any apparatus used as flotation equipment by a person being towed in a vessel (not including kiteboards and sailboards).
What Is Operating A Vessel?
The definition of “operating a vessel” for the drink driving law is also very broad. It includes:
- Determining or exercising control over the course or direction of the vessel (even if the vessel isn’t actually underway)
- Determining or exercising control over the means of propulsion of the vessel (even if the vessel isn’t actually underway)
- Piloting the vessel
- If you are the owner, allowing or causing someone else to operate the vessel
- Being towed on a vessel (for example while on water skis)
- Being the observer on a vessel, for safety purposes, of any person being towed by the vessel.
- Supervising a juvenile operator of a motor vessel.
Will I Get A Criminal Record?
Yes, operating a boat under the influence and boating PCA are considered to be serious offences. The starting point for the sentencing Court is the recording of a criminal conviction, together with the imposition of a fine and disqualification of boating licence.
In more serious cases the Court can impose good behaviour bonds, community service and even imprisonment.
What Does It Mean To Have A Criminal Conviction Recorded?
The consequences of having a criminal conviction recorded can be very serious. For example, many employers will conduct a background check on potential employees as part of the standard recruitment process including a police check. A police check would reveal if you have a criminal conviction recorded against your name, and the charge for which it was recorded. This may impact the employer’s decision in whether or not to employ you.
In certain professions a criminal conviction may need to be reported to a regulatory body. For example, a member of the legal profession must report any criminal convictions to the relevant law society who will then make a determination as to whether that legal practitioner should be allowed to continue to practice law.
A criminal conviction may also inhibit future overseas travel. Most countries require visitors to obtain a visa prior to entering the country. As part of the visa process, you will more than likely need to disclose any criminal convictions. Depending on the policy of the particular country for which the visa is being sought, your visa may or may not be granted based on the person’s criminal record.
Novice Range PCA
All people who are under the age of 18 years must have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.00 when operating a vessel in any waters.
The offence of novice range PCA is committed by a person who is under the age of 18 years old and operates a vessel in any waters with a blood alcohol concentration from 0.00 to 0.019.
If a person who is under the age of 18 years operates a vessel with a blood alcohol concentration that is higher than 0.019, will be charged with the offence corresponding to the higher reading.
Special Range PCA
The special range PCA offence applies to a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02 to 0.049. The offence can be committed by:
- Operators of vessels for commercial purposes. These people must have a blood alcohol concentration of less than 0.02.
- People who are under 18 years old. These people must have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.00.
If a person who is subject to the special range limits operates a vessel with a blood alcohol concentration that is higher than 0.049, they will be charged with the offence corresponding to the higher reading.
Low Range PCA
The offence of low range PCA is committed by a person who operates a vessel in any waters with a blood alcohol concentration from 0.05 to 0.079.
Mid Range PCA
The offence of mid range PCA is committed by a person who operates a vessel in any waters with a blood alcohol concentration from 0.080 to 0.149.
High Range PCA
The offence of high range PCA is committed by a person who operates a vessel in any waters with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.150 or higher.
Operating A Boat Under The Influence
A person must not operate a vessel in any waters while they are under the influence of alcohol.
The offence of driving under the influence occurs when a person is noticeably affected by alcohol. Unlike the PCA offences, for a charge of driving under the influence the person’s blood alcohol concentration does not matter. A person’s guilt will be decided by how they were acting and their appearance when they were operating the vessel.
It is also an offence for the master of a vessel to permit a person who is under the influence of alcohol to operate the vessel in any waters. To be guilty of the offence the master must be aware, or has reasonable cause to believe, that the person is under the influence of alcohol.
Is It Possible To Avoid A Criminal Record?
It may be possible to avoid a criminal record if you are afforded the leniency of a section 10 non conviction order.
Do I Need A Lawyer To Represent Me?
It is your choice whether to represent yourself or whether to have a solicitor represent you in Court. If you are worried about a criminal conviction or loss of licence, we would advise having a solicitor represent you. For someone who is unfamiliar with the Court system, having to navigate a drink driving charge can be daunting. Our solicitors specialise in these matters and will use their experience and expertise to lead you through the process to the best possible outcome.
Penalties And Disqualifications
(The information contained in the table below is correct at the time of publishing – 3 January 2017.)
|Offence||Maximum Fine||Automatic Disqualification|
|Novice Range PCA||10 penalty units||3 months|
|Special Range PCA||10 penalty units||3 months|
|Low Range PCA||10 penalty units||3 months|
|Mid Range PCA||20 penalty units 9 months imprisonment||6 months|
|High Range PCA||30 penalty units 18 months imprisonment||12 months|
|Driving Under the Influence||30 penalty units 9 months imprisonment||6 months|
|Novice Range PCA||20 penalty units||6 months|
|Special Range PCA||20 penalty units||6 months|
|Low Range PCA||20 penalty units||6 months|
|Mid Range PCA||30 penalty units 12 months imprisonment||12 months|
|High Range PCA||50 penalty units 2 years imprisonment||2 years|
|Driving Under the Influence||30 penalty units||12 months|
The Court has the power to reduce the period of disqualification. It would usually be necessary to show the Court good reason why such leniency should be given.
WHERE TO NEXT?
In NSW, traffic offences are treated seriously. Therefore, it is important to get competent legal advice as early as possible, whether you have received a penalty notice, had your licence suspended or been charged with a serious offence. Our lawyers are highly experienced and understand the difficulties you face without a licence. We can guide you through the process while dealing with the various authorities related to your matter.