Alcohol limits when driving a boat

Alcohol limits apply when driving a boat just as they do when driving a vehicle. You must not drive a vessel when you're under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It's also a good idea for passengers to stay under the limit.

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Alcohol limits

You must not drive a vessel when your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is over the legal limit or if you’re under the influence of illegal drugs.

Driving under the influence of alcohol or any drug puts everyone on the water at risk.

It's recommended that passengers also stay under the legal limit. Studies show that passengers are just as likely as drivers to be involved in incidents – such as falling overboard – as a result of drinking alcohol. Passengers may also need to respond quickly in a collision, or if the vessel capsizes or is swamped.

When you're on the water, alcohol can affect your coordination, judgement, vision, reaction time and balance more than when you're on land. Waves, motion, vibration, engine noise, weather, wind and spray can all multiply the effects of alcohol.

If you end up in the water, you're more likely to drown if you've been drinking alcohol.

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits

BAC limits apply to:

  • the driver – anyone steering or exercising control over a vessel's course or direction
  • the observer in a vessel that's towing a person
  • anyone being towed by a vessel.

As the skipper, you must not let another person drive your vessel if you believe they're over the BAC legal limit or under the influence of illegal drugs.

The BAC legal limit depends on your age and whether you're driving a recreational or commercial vessel.

Age and vesselBAC limit
Aged under 18 (all vessels)0.00
Aged 18 and over (recreational vessel)Under 0.05
Aged 18 and over (commercial vessel)sUnder 0.02

It's very difficult for you to estimate your own BAC, even if you know how many drinks you've had. Your size and weight, how tired you are, and variation in alcohol servings can all affect your BAC.

The only way to be sure you're under the limit is to not drink alcohol at all.

If you do intend to drink, it's recommended that you have a plan, such as a designated skipper to get you, your passengers and your vessel home.

Random testing

Police regularly monitor NSW waterways. They can stop you for random breath testing (RBT) and random drug testing (RDT) when your vessel is underway, including when it is drifting.

If you're over the legal limit, police can give you a court attendance notice. If a court convicts you of an offence, your licence can be cancelled.

It's recommended that you stay under the legal limit when moored, berthed or anchored, just in case you need to move your vessel.

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