It’s a law that’s been in effect for more than a year and a half, but many boaters seem to be unaware of it and are unintentionally breaking the law.
“The rules surrounding alcohol have changed,” Reserve Const. Phil Boissonneault told Global News.
Boissonneault is a member of the RCMP’s marine patrol team. He inspects boats on Okanagan Lake and other area lakes on a regular basis, looking for infractions, including illegal alcohol consumption.
“We have the authority to either seize or order them to shore to store the liquor in their vehicle until they are done their day sailing,” Boissonneault said.
Boating and booze is nothing new. In fact for many years, as long as you weren’t operating the boat, on-board drinking was tolerated.
But that’s no longer the case.
“In January of 2017, the provincial government changed the definition of a private place in the Liquor Act so that the rules governing boats would mirror the rules governing cars,” Boissonneault said. “So in a car in British Columbia, you cannot have open liquor in a vehicle. Now it’s the same in a boat.”
It means is that even if you are not driving the boat, consuming alcohol on board is illegal, something many boaters seem to be unaware of.
“That’s crazy; it plays into the fun of summer,” boating enthusiast Jenna Noort told Global News.
Other boaters Global News spoke with Thursday afternoon in Kelowna said they thought the law was too strict.
“Whoever is driving the boat shouldn’t be (drinking), but for the rest of the people sitting in the boat, there’s no harm in it,” Christina Maza said.”It’s a little bit restrictive, I think.”
But there is one type of boat where alcohol consumption is still legal, with the exception of the driver, and that’s because it’s considered a private residence.
“It has to have a permanent bathroom and permanent kitchen and permanent bedroom facilities on board,” Boissonneault said.
But even if you have a larger boat with all the requirements that allow you to drink on board, with the exception of the driver, the law changes the moment you tie up with another vessel.
“If you are moored up together and people can move from one boat to another then your larger vessel goes from being a private place where you can consume alcohol to a public place where you cannot consume alcohol,” Boissonneault said.
For now, RCMP officers are not using heavy-handed enforcement, but, rather, are educating boaters on what’s legal and what’s not.
However, they do have the authority to issue tickets for open liquor on board, a fine that costs $230.
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