Clarity Law

Specialist Traffic Law Firm Queensland
Friday, 09 February 2024 12:43

Drink Driving on a Boat | What is the Penalty?

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It is possible to commit what is (somewhat misleadingly) called “drink-driving” offences in a variety of ways. For example, it is possible to be convicted for driving with alcohol in your system, or while trying to get your car started, or while merely “in charge” of your car. Similarly, it is possible to commit “drink-driving” offences on other types of transport such as horses, bicycles, trains, trams, Lime scooters, and boats.

When a person commits a drink-driving offence while driving a “motor vehicle”, Queensland’s traffic legislation dictates to the court for how long the person must be disqualified from driving. The legislation states that both low-range (ie, 0.05 – 0.99 BAC) and mid-range (0.10 – 0.14 BAC) drink-driving offences have minimum and maximum periods of disqualification. The court must take away that person’s licence for a period somewhere between the minimum and maximum. High-range drink-driving offences (0.15 BAC and above) only have minimum periods of disqualification. The court cannot override these periods dictated by the legislation.

Furthermore, the period of disqualification must commence from the date of conviction. The court cannot “back date” the period of disqualification to the date of the offence, nor set the date of disqualification to a future date.

However, as stated, these mandatory periods of disqualification from driving only apply to offences committed “in relation to a motor vehicle”. Here is where it gets technical. The transport legislation gives certain words and phrases used in the legislation specific definitions. These definitions do not necessarily conform to the ordinary meaning of these words and phrases.


What about Boats and Other Watercraft?

A “motor vehicle” is defined as “a vehicle propelled by a motor that forms part of the vehicle and includes a trailer attached to the vehicle …” A “vehicle” includes “any type of transport that moves on wheels and a hovercraft but does not include a train or tram”. It is clear from this definition that boats, and other watercraft, are not covered by the definition of a “motor vehicle”.


Therefore, the mandatory periods of licence disqualification do not apply to offences committed on boats.

However, the legislation that deals with marine licences does give the court power to disqualify a person’s “licence” for any drink-driving offence committed that involved the use of a “ship”. It is important to note that the “licence” that is subject to the disqualification is the person’s marine licence, not their drivers licence.

The definition of “ship” is unusually expansive and includes “any kind of boat or vessel used, or intended to be used, in navigation by water or for any other purpose on water”. It also includes “a boat or vessel – whatever its size; and however it is propelled or moved; and whether it is on land or in water”. A recreational boat clearly falls within this technical definition of “ship” used for the purposes of the licencing legislation.

Unlike “motor vehicle” offences, the court’s power to disqualify is discretionary: it is not required to take away the person’s licence. If the court does choose to disqualify the person’s licence, it may decide how long the disqualification is for, and when the disqualification is to start. In deciding whether to disqualify the person’s marine licence, the court must be satisfied that doing so is “in the interests of marine safety”.

Should the Court decide that the interests of marine safety are served by imposing disqualifying the person’s marine licence, the court must make the disqualification having regard to “the nature of the offence; the circumstances in which the offence was committed; and the real or potential danger to other persons operating or aboard ships and the public generally;” and whether the person committed any drink-driving offences on a “ship” in the last 5 years.


Marine Safety Queensland may Suspend or Cancel Marine Licences Anyway

Nevertheless, even if the court does not disqualify the person’s licence, Marine Safety Queensland may suspend or cancel the person’s marine licence on conviction of a drink-driving offence involving a boat or ship. In this case, the person must be given notice and is permitted to make written reply to the proposed suspension or cancellation explaining why their marine licence should not be cancelled or suspended.

Once disqualified, the person must surrender their marine licence or marine licence indicator within 7 days of receiving formal notice that they have been so disqualified. This applies to both court-ordered disqualifications and to suspensions or cancellations by Marine Safety Queensland.


“Work” Marine Licences are Available

If the person convicted requires their marine licence for work purposes, it is possible to apply for a restricted marine licence. Applications for restricted marine licences are heard and dealt with similarly to “work licence” applications for drivers licences.

If the application is granted, the person will be issued with a restricted marine licence that limits the person’s operation of boats, etc to their means of earning a living, the times that they may operate, and the waters in which they may sail.  



In short, if a person is convicted of a “drink-driving” offence while operating a boat, ship, or other watercraft, the court can only disqualify the person’s marine licence, and not their drivers licence. The court is not compelled to disqualify the person’s marine licence but, if it does, may decide how long to disqualify for and when the disqualification is to start.


A Word of Warning

In practice, few people are charged with drink-driving offences involving boats, ships or other marine vessels. It is more common for police to intercept people when they are at the boat ramp, hitching the boat to their car’s trailer, or towing the boat out of the water. In these circumstances, the police will invariably charge the person with a drink-driving involving a motor vehicle, rather than involving a boat (even if the person had a prohibited concentration of blood alcohol at the time they drove the boat). This is usually because the person was either driving the motor vehicle (to put it up to the boat ramp, etc) or “in charge” of the motor vehicle (in order to attach the boat to the trailer).

In cases such as these, convictions will result in mandatory periods of disqualification of the persons drivers licence.


If I contacted you what would occur?

If you contact us, then Steven Brough the firm’s founder or our office manager Belinda Smyth will take the call or receive the email or contact form. They have over 45 years legal experience between them, we can provide immediate legal assistance and answer any questions you have. We will discuss your case, provide guidance and send a quote by email with additional relevant information about your charge, all at no cost.

If you want to engage us then it’s easy, there is a form you can complete online in less than 15 minutes.  If you don’t want to engage us or want to engage another firm that’s fine, you won’t be hassled and at worst you will just have more information about your charge. Once engaged one of our lawyers will go through your matter and contact you to discuss what the best way forward is to achieve the best results. Every one of our lawyers are very experienced with many hundreds of courts appearances for drink driving charges each.

Remember its critical you get advice before going to court, a drink driving charge no matter the reading will have an impact on you, your family and your employment or business.  


How do I get more information or engage you to act for me? 

If you want to engage us or just need further information or advice then you can either;

  1. Use our contact form and we will contact you by email or phone at a time that suits you

  2. Call us on 1300 952 255 seven days a week, 7am to 7pm

  3. Click here to select a time for us to have a free 15 minute telephone conference with you

  4. Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  5. Send us a message on Facebook Messenger

  6. Click the help button to the right and leave us a message


We are a no pressure law firm, we are happy to provide information to assist you, if you want to engage us then great, if not then you at least have more information about drink driving.

You won’t be chased or hounded to engage us.  Remember its critical you get advice before going to court, a drink driving charge no matter the reading will have an impact on you, your family and your employment or business.  


Need more information?

We have a range of articles on drink driving on our traffic law blog.  Some of the most recent have included:


Russell Tannock

Russell Tannock is a senior traffic lawyer at Clarity Law.  Russell appears in all courts in South East Queensland helping clients with traffic charges in court.

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