Drink Driving - Boats, Vessels and Watercraft | Armstrong Legal

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This article was written by Michelle Makela - Legal Practice Director

Michelle has over 15 years experience in the legal industry, working across commercial litigation, criminal law, family law and estate planning.  Michelle has been involved in all practice areas of the firm and in her personal practice has had experience in litigation at all levels (State and Federal Industrial Tribunals, the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, the Federal Court, Federal...

Operating a Boat Under the Influence


Operating a boat under the influence of alcohol is a very serious offence under the Marine Safety Act 1998. As with 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 of the word ‘vessel’. It includes watercraft of any description that can be used as a means of transportation.

There are some craft that are excluded from the definition of a 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 if I’m found guilty of Operating a Boat Under the Influence?

Yes, operating a boat under the influence and boating PCA are 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 one’s boating licence.

In more serious cases the court can impose community service and even imprisonment.

Operating a Boat Under the Influence:

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.

Operating a Boat Under the Influence:

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.

Operating a Boat Under the Influence:

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.

Operating a Boat Under the Influence:

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. This offence occurs when a person is noticeably affected by alcohol while operating a vessel such that they are incapable of having proper control of the vehicle. Unlike the PCA offences, for a charge of driving under the influence, the person’s blood alcohol concentration does not matter.

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 have reasonable cause to believe, that the person is under the influence of alcohol.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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