September 24, 2018

How does mixing alcohol and boating affect your safety and the safety of others?

Many RYA members will no doubt have heard that the British Port Association (BPA) has called for the alcohol limit law for leisure boaters to be enforced and be in line with the one for commercial mariners in charge of a ship.

Over the summer, the BPA called for new legislation to introduce alcohol limits for non-professional boaters – to be in line with the rules that already exist for commercial ships in British waters.

Commenting on the BPA’s suggestion for legislation, their Chief Executive Richard Ballantyne said: “It is right that we revive the debate around the gap in legislation regarding alcohol limits for non-professional mariners. We understand there will be technical challenges to overcome and also that enforcement will not be easy but it cannot be right in this day and age that such a sizeable section of our maritime sector is exempt from drink-drive rules.

“There have been too many occasions when alcohol has endangered lives in the maritime environment, both within and outside ports and harbours.”

Alcohol and boating – our position

The RYA promotes safe recreational boating, encouraging boaters to behave responsibly and to understand how alcohol can affect their safety and the safety of others

The RYA urges all boaters not to mix alcohol and boating

The RYA opposes the implementation of section 80 of the Railways & Transport Safety Act 2003 for ‘non-professional mariners’. As drafted it creates confusion and uncertainty and the RYA considers it to be unenforceable

The RYA would not object to legislation based on compelling evidence, provided that it was proportionate, understandable and enforceable

Howard Pridding, RYA Director of External Affairs, explains: “A significant aspect of our work is aimed at ensuring boaters are well equipped in terms of knowledge and experience for the boating activity they are participating in. We do this through our training courses and national safety awareness initiatives.  We believe that knowledge, skills and experience are the foundations on which personal safety and responsibility are built.

“As a responsible national governing body, the RYA encourages all boaters to behave responsibly and to understand how alcohol can affect their safety and the safety of others.  Put simply, alcohol distorts your perception of risk and your own abilities.

“Whilst we already urge boaters not to mix alcohol and boating, we would not object to legislation based on compelling evidence, provided that it was clear, understandable and enforceable.”

Alcohol and boating law in the UK

Merchant Shipping Act 1995: Boaters may be prosecuted under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 if their actions on the water are seen to be endangering other vessels, structures or individuals and they are under the influence of alcohol.

Harbour byelaws: Locally, most harbour authorities have harbour byelaws under which they can prosecute if boaters are found to be under the influence of alcohol when in charge of a vessel.  The RYA encourages harbour authorities to enforce those rules.

Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003: A law to introduce drink driving offences (including specific alcohol limits) for non-professional mariners was included in the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003. This provision has not been brought into force.

Next steps

The BPA and the RYA have already met informally and hope to have a constructive discussion with the Department for Transport and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. As these discussions continue, the RYA will keep Members posted on developments via the Current Affairs hub at

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