Marine alcohol and drug laws

Find out about the risks of drinking alcohol when boating.

Amendments have been made to the Western Australian Marine Act 1982 to introduce legal limits of levels of blood alcohol or illicit substances and allow drug and alcohol testing on WA waterways. On 28 November 2023, Parliament passed the Western Australian Marine Amendment Bill 2023.

Under the new laws, skippers navigating a vessel are subject to the same drug and alcohol limits and penalties as those in place for WA drivers.

The new laws will be introduced in stages over the next year.

Read the media statement to find out more about the proposed changes.

For enquires and questions please email marinealcohol@transport.wa.gov.au

Law changes

Stage one laws in effect from 21st December 2023

  • new offences to target the unsafe operation of vessels.


Stage two laws introduced in 2024

  • Department of Transport (DoT) and WA Police Force officers will be able to test skippers for drugs or alcohol,
  • legal limits on levels of blood alcohol or drugs affecting skippers navigating vessels, and
  • increased penalties for skippers under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

The new laws will bring WA in line with jurisdictions across Australia and deliver a consistent safety message to skippers and drivers.


What vessels will the laws apply to?

The new laws will apply to all types of vessels including personal water craft, sailboats, dinghies and tenders. 

The new laws will not apply to paddle craft, windsurfers, kiteboards and other types of non-motorised craft. 

Drug and alcohol limits

The blood alcohol content limit will be 0.05 and graduated penalties for being above this limit will align with road laws in WA, including 0.05, 0.08 and 0.15.

The drugs captured by the new laws will align to the Road Traffic Act 1974 and the Road Traffic (Drug Driving) Regulations 2007 and cover a range of substances including but not limited to:

  • cannabis;
  • ice or speed; and  
  • MDMA and ecstasy.

Penalties

The penalties under the new laws reflect penalties for similar offences on the road.

If you operate a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you face:

  • a fine up to $3,750 for a first offence; and 
  • more than $7,500 and up to 18 months imprisonment for a third or subsequent offence. 

If you are navigating a vessel while under the influence and cause death, you will face a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment and an unlimited fine.

If you are found breaking the new laws, your Recreational Skipper’s Ticket (RST) will be disqualified.

If you test above the limit for drugs or alcohol, you may also receive a notice temporarily prohibiting you from operating a vessel.

You will be directed to leave the vessel in a safe place or give control of the vessel to a WA Police or DoT officer, or suitably qualified passenger.

Under the WA Marine Act, officers have authority to deal with vessels that are a hazard or obstruction in state waters, and this may include taking a vessel into safe custody.

How drug and alcohol testing will work

Under the new laws, DoT and WA Police officers will have the authority to test skippers they believe are incapable of safely navigating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

There will be mandatory testing after boating incidents which result in serious injury or death.

If officers are not able to identify the skipper, all people who were on board the vessel at the time of the incident could be tested.

Vessels that are secured, either at anchor, to a mooring or jetty are not considered to be operating. However, like on the road, officers can conduct a drug or alcohol test if:

  • they suspect that skipper has recently been operating the vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol; or 
  • a person under the influence of drugs or alcohol attempts to operate a vessel. 

The current laws

It is currently an offence to navigate or attempt to navigate a vessel while under the influence of alcohol or drugs while incapable of having proper control of the vessel.

The penalty for this offence is a maximum fine of $1,000.

Don't go overboard on alcohol

Whether you are going fishing, skiing, diving or just cruising, when you mix alcohol with boating the consequences can be fatal. 

In a boat, the combination of wind, waves and the sun can all magnify the effects of alcohol and negatively impact your judgement and skills. This applies to everyone on board; the skipper and the passengers.

Frequently asked questions

As the skipper, can I still have a drink on the water?

It will be an offence for anyone operating or in charge of a vessel to exceed the alcohol and drug limits contained in the new legislation.

The new legislation does not change the rules around where alcohol may be consumed.

If you are planning on operating a vessel, it is safest not to drink at all.

If I am the skipper and have drunk too much can someone else drive the boat?

The person operating the vessel must be qualified to operate the vessel (hold an RST).

A skipper who is over the limit may be breaking the law if they allow an unqualified person to operate the vessel under their instruction. The situation is similar to a learner driver on the roads. Road law prohibits a person with a licence from giving instructions to a learner while above the limit.

The skipper of a vessel must not allow another person who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol to operate the vessel.

Will there be a zero alcohol limit for skippers who are under 18 years of age?

Under the Road Traffic Act 1974, a 0.00 BAC limit applies to learner and probationary drivers. There is currently no equivalent to a probationary or learner driver under marine legislation. Skippers under the age of 18 years must still comply with the Liquor Control Act 1988.

There is insufficient evidence at this stage to suggest that there is a high prevalence of incidents involving children who are skippering vessels while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, to warrant special BAC limits to those under 18 years of age. This position will be reconsidered if additional evidence emerges following introduction of the laws.

As a skipper am I responsible for my passengers who drink whilst on the water?

As skipper you are always responsible for the safety and wellbeing of people on board your vessel and the safety of other water users.

The ability of a passenger to take life-saving action in the event of an incident is likely to be limited if that person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The new laws only apply to those operating a vessel.

Excessive consumption of alcohol or use of illicit substances while out on the water can pose additional risks to an individual’s safety.

Is there a guide to ensure I don’t go above the limit when I am the skipper?

For men the guide is two standard drinks for the first hour and one standard drink for each hour after. For women it is one standard drink each hour.

However, this is only a guide. The body’s absorption of alcohol, and blood alcohol content is influenced by numerous factors.

A person’s blood alcohol content can be influenced by factors such as:

  • body size
  • whether food has been eaten or not
  • percentage of body fat
  • how fast an individual’s body processes alcohol
  • gender
  • how often alcohol is consumed.
  • type of alcohol consumed (% al/vol).

Normal factors in the marine environment like the sun, wind, noise, vibration of the vessel and wave action can cause a kind of fatigue. These factors alone can reduce reaction times almost as much as being drunk. Adding consumption of alcohol or drugs to these factors intensifies their effects and multiplies the risk of an incident on the water.

RST Disqualification

Will there be a demerit system on my RST similar to my driver’s licence?

The RST qualification does not currently include a demerit point system and there are currently no plans to introduce one.

If my skipper qualification is cancelled in another state due to drug or alcohol offences, can I attain my RST in WA whilst under penalty or cancellation?

Under the new rules, a person who holds a recreational boating qualification issued by another state who is suspended or disqualified from operating a recreational vessel for drug or alcohol related offences will be deemed to be ineligible to hold or obtain an RST in WA.

Do the new laws apply to hire vessels where an RST is not required?

The new laws will apply to all vessels, including commercial vessels and hire and drive vessels, regardless of whether an RST is required.

Can I lose my car licence if I drink too much whilst on a boat?

There are currently no plans for a marine alcohol or drug offence to result in disqualification of a driver’s licence.

Will I be permitted to operate a friend’s boat (in their presence) if I have been caught with a previous high alcohol or drug reading?

Penalties will apply to skippers who allow a person to operate their vessel while under the influence of alcohol.

Prior convictions for marine drug or alcohol offences mean that person faces significantly higher penalties if they are found to be operating a vessel while under the influence.

Can I be tested on land at the ramps?

DoT and WA Police officers continue to use a coordinated approach to the enforcement of drug and alcohol laws on land and water.

The new laws substantially reflect the provisions used on WA’s roads meaning that any officer can undertake testing on land or water, using the same equipment. 

Page last updated: Sun Dec 3 2023 8:44:42 AM