Ok, we all know that we are not allowed to be in charge of a car when intoxicated or even with a relatively small amount of alcohol in our system, but are the rules the same for operating a canal boat on our inland waterways when we have had a drink or two?
You would think so wouldn’t you but you will be surprised if you don’t already know the answer to that question.
Laws and Regulations for drinking while on the water
The fact is, there are no firm laws concerning this matter for non-professional boat owners or users, a bit silly in this day and age when we all know what the ramifications could be of drinking alcohol while you are the operator of any vehicle, canal boat or other.
Commercial boats have had the Merchant Shipping Act since 1995 to control this, but for the leisure boating industry. which obviously includes narrowboats, there is no such Act that has been implemented. Although in 2003 there was a vague Railways and Transport Act that would put the same limits on boaters using the canals as there is for the roads, this was never actually put into law.
What will happen if you are found to be drunk in charge of a canal boat?
The majority of narrowboat owners are a responsible bunch and would not think about trying to manoeuvre or navigate their canal boat while drunk, but, sadly there is always the exception to the rule and those that will put themselves and others at risk by doing just that.
There are the 1965 By-Laws that state you should not navigate or handle any vessel while being incapable due to alcohol consumption, but these are really not enforced and consequently mainly ignored.
Causing an accident
Although there are none of the laws that you would expect on the waterways there can still be ramifications of drunken driving on a canal, just as there can be on the roads. For example, should you cause an accident, especially if it involves another vessel, the police are very likely to be called to sort the matter out.
At which time you will be breathalysed and they will take a very dim view if you are over the legal road limit of alcohol in your system. There are actually reports of abuse to the police officers that have been called to such accidents and if you don’t happen to be a happy drunk and get abusive, you could very well end up feeling the strong arm of the law on your shoulder.
Insurance claims for boating accidents involving drink
If the authorities are called a report will be made and this will include that fact that alcohol was involved so will your insurance payout? We all believe that insurance companies allegedly try to avoid payments so the consequence of damaging yours or worse still someone else’s vessel could hit your pocket hard.
So if you like to have the odd tipple and still take to the stern of your canal boat you really need to read your insurance policy carefully, but for all people and lives that it could affect think carefully before you do it, after all, your the one that will have it on your conscience.
Where you as shocked as we were to find this fact out? With recreational boating on the increase, this could become more of a problem, especially with the youngsters and holidaymakers taking advantage of our beautiful waterways a lot more and you can’t blame them.
No, we are not saying just because you are young or on holiday that you will become part of the statistics, but boat hire companies are attracting stag and hen parties, even promoting them, sadly some without any restrictions or rules about drinking while in charge.
Although the BPA (British Port Authority) called for new legislation for non-professional boaters to be the same as for commercial boats and ships back in 2018 we can find nothing about any new limits being brought in. So, with no threat of fines, or in the worst cases a prison sentence, people will not be deterred from this behaviour. They have very hard and strong laws in America which carry with them some very serious penalties so why not on our beautiful British inland waterways.
Please don’t be tempted to drink unless you are moored, when you can sit back, relax with a cold beer, G&T or a nice glass of wine and enjoy your surroundings safely, happy boating.