While we all know that police can stop you while driving a vehicle at any time to conduct drug and alcohol testing, did you know that the same applies on the water? Yes, that’s right, in most states and territories in Australia, water police can stop you at any time and ask you to undertake testing.
When it comes to drug and alcohol testing on the water, Australia Day is typically one of the busiest days for water police. Many people take the opportunity to enjoy the public holiday on our waterways and in some places, such as Sydney Harbour, it can get very hectic.
NSW Marine Area Commander Detective Superintendent Murray Reynolds said Australia Day was typically one of the most popular days to be on the water.
“With significant maritime traffic expected on the harbour and in our waterways, skippers are reminded that the same drink-driving rules apply on the water as on the roads,” Mr Reynolds said in the lead up to Australia Day 2023.
“As well as compliance checks, police will be conducting drug and alcohol testing, so make sure your vessel is in working order and all required safety equipment is on board.
“Drinking alcohol or taking drugs while in or out on the water can have a tragic ending, so make responsible decisions and look after your mates,” Det Supt Reynolds said.
Drug and alcohol testing isn’t just for boats
It’s important to point out that while you can face drug and alcohol testing while driving a boat, it’s not just boats where the laws apply.
In NSW, for example, drug and alcohol testing can be conducted on anyone operating a “vessel”. This can include a boat, a sailing craft, a canoe and a kayak.
Here are some tips from the NSW Centre for Maritime Safety for staying safe on the water:
- The law is the same, whether you are driving a car or a recreational boat – stay under 0.05.
- The alcohol limit is 0.00 for all vessel operators under 18 years
- The alcohol limit is less than 0.02 for commercial vessel operators over 18 years
- If you drink, have a ‘Plan B’ – such as a designated skipper to get you and your boat home.
It’s not just on the water where drugs and alcohol can be fatal
While it’s dangerous to operate any vessel while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, it can be just as dangerous while swimming.
According to the Royal Life Saving Society, swimming while under the influence of alcohol is the single biggest factor involved in drowning deaths.
“In more than a quarter of all drowning deaths in inland waterways over the ten years to 2020/21, the person who drowned had a blood alcohol content reading of more than 0.05 per cent,” said Royal Life Saving Chief Executive Officer Justin Scarr.
Like on the land, alcohol reduces coordination and can impair a person’s judgement and reaction time. It can also reduce inhibition and distort the perception of risk.
Incidentally, research shows that drowning deaths practically double on public holidays. Six people drowned this past Christmas Day and Boxing Day alone. In addition, most drownings involve males.
Just like on the roads, when you’re operating a vessel in Australian waters you can face drug and alcohol testing. Credit Josh Withers https://unsplash.com/photos/4rIM6TkmOpQ