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Alcohol and Water Safety

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Alcohol affects everyone differently. This means no amount of alcohol can be said to be safe for everyone. Even small amounts of alcohol can affect behaviour and ability, increasing the risk of drowning.

Alcohol can heighten the risk of drowning because it:

  • Impairs judgement. Alcohol distorts the perception of risk and one’s abilities

  • Increases risk-taking behaviour. Alcohol removes inhibitions

  • Reduces coordination. Alcohol numbs the senses, particularly sight, sound and touch leading to unsteadiness and inability to climb or swim making it hard to get out of trouble

  • Impairs reaction time. Alcohol is a depressant, reducing the rate the brain processes information. In water emergencies, where response times are vital, it can prove the difference between life and death

  • Hypothermia. In cold situations, the body will attempt to draw blood away from the limbs and to the vital organs to prevent heat loss. Alcohol, however, prevents this and therefore increases the chance of hypothermia

Blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits in Boating

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.

  • Aged under 18 (all vessels) 0.00

  • Aged 18 and over (recreational vessel) Under 0.05

  • Aged 18 and over (commercial vessel) Under 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.

More information on alcohol and boating can be found in the Boating Handbook.

How to stay safe

  • Do not enter water or go swimming if alcohol has been consumed

  • Participate in aquatic activities before drinking alcohol and do not re-enter the water afterwards

  • Do not consume alcohol if you are supervising children

  • Avoid aquatic activity alone

  • Avoid aquatic activity at night

  • Avoid aquatic activity in conditions or environments that are unfamiliar to you

Downloadable Resources

RLSNSW-22-414-Safety Know your limits and avoid taking risks DL Flyer
Download PDF • 1.36MB

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