Understanding the Changes to Western Australia’s Marine Act: the New Alcohol and Drug Laws

Understanding the Changes to Western Australia’s Marine Act: the New Alcohol and Drug Laws
passengers on the boat drinking alcohol

The Western Australian Marine Act of 1982 has undergone significant amendments to introduce stringent measures against alcohol and drug use on waterways. With the passing of the Western Australian Marine Amendment Bill 2023 on November 28, 2023, the state aligns its maritime laws with road laws regarding substance abuse. This guide from Coast Insurance explores the implications of these changes for skippers and passengers alike. 

The new legal framework 

There is evidence to indicate that drugs and alcohol contributed to many of the 88 deaths, 66 serious injuries, and 167 hospital admissions in WA marine incidents between July 2011 and February 2022. For this reason, the government took decisive action to address the concerning trend: 

Staged law implementation 

The amendments are set to roll out in two stages: 

  • Stage one (effective from December 21, 2023): Focuses on criminalising the unsafe operation of vessels. 
  • Stage two (introduced in 2024): Empowers Department of Transport (DoT) and WA Police Force officers to conduct drug and alcohol tests on skippers. It also sets legal limits for blood alcohol and drug levels, coupled with harsher penalties for violations. 

These laws aim to harmonise Western Australia’s maritime regulations with other Australian jurisdictions, ensuring a consistent safety message. 


The new laws encompass all motorised vessels, including personal watercraft (jet skis), sailboats, dinghies, and tenders. However, they exempt non-motorised crafts like paddle craft, windsurfers, and kiteboards. 

Blood alcohol and drug limits 

There are strict guidelines in place for alcohol levels and prohibitions on drugs. 

Alcohol limits 

The blood alcohol content (BAC) limit is set at 0.05, with graduated penalties mirroring those for road violations in Western Australia. The levels are categorised as 0.05, 0.08, and 0.15. 

Drug prohibitions 

The laws cover substances in line with the Road Traffic Act 1974 and the Road Traffic (Drug Driving) Regulations 2007, including but not limited to cannabis, ice/speed, MDMA, and ecstasy. 


The penalties in the updated marine laws are in line with those for similar road offences: 

  • First offence: If caught operating a vessel under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you could be fined up to $3,750. 
  • Repeated offences: For a third or subsequent offence, the penalty increases to more than $7,500 and can include up to 18 months in prison. 
  • Severe incidents: Causing death while navigating under the influence can lead to a maximum of 20 years in prison and an unlimited fine. 
  • Licence implications: Breaking the new laws will result in your recreational skipper’s ticket (RST) being disqualified. 
  • Temporary prohibition: Testing over the limit might result in a notice that temporarily prohibits you from operating any vessel. 
  • Immediate actions: You’ll be required to either safely dock the vessel or hand over control to a WA Police or DoT officer, or a qualified passenger. 

Additionally, under the WA Marine Act, officers are empowered to handle any vessel that poses a hazard or obstruction in state waters, which could include taking control of the vessel for safety. 

Drug and alcohol testing 

Under the updated regulations, DoT and WA Police officers have the authority to test skippers for drug or alcohol impairment if they suspect it may affect their ability to operate a vessel safely. Key points to note: 

  • Mandatory testing: Testing becomes compulsory following any boating incidents that lead to serious injury or fatalities. 
  • Identification issues: In cases where the skipper cannot be identified, all individuals present on the vessel at the incident time may undergo testing. 
  • Testing on secured vessels: Tests can be conducted on vessels at anchor, moored, or docked if officers suspect you are under the influence or if someone under the influence attempts to operate the vessel. 

This approach aligns with road safety practices, ensuring similar standards are maintained on WA waterways. 

Frequently asked questions 

Here are some frequently asked questions about the new marine alcohol and drug laws in Western Australia.  

Can skippers drink? 

While in theory, skippers might be able to consume alcohol, they must stay under the legal blood alcohol content (BAC) limit of 0.05. However, given that alcohol impairs critical boating skills like judgement and coordination, the safest approach for skippers is to avoid drinking altogether while operating a vessel. 

If I’m the skipper and have consumed too much alcohol, can another person take over the helm? 

Yes, but they must hold a recreational skipper’s ticket (RST). Plus, similar to road rules, allowing an unqualified person to steer the vessel while you’re over the alcohol limit is a legal offence. Never let someone impaired by drugs or alcohol operate the vessel. 

Is there a zero alcohol limit for skippers under 18? 

Currently, there’s no special BAC limit for minors. Still, they must adhere to the Liquor Control Act 1988. 

Do I have responsibility for passengers drinking on board as a skipper? 

As the skipper, you’re responsible for everyone on your vessel and others in the water, and excessive alcohol or drug use by passengers can increase safety risks. 

Is there a way to make sure I stay under the limit as a skipper? 

A common guideline for alcohol consumption suggests that men can have two standard drinks during the initial hour and one in each subsequent hour, whereas women are recommended to stick to one drink per hour. However, this is just a guideline and varies on a variety of factors such as body size, food intake, metabolism, and the type of alcohol consumed. Opting to steer clear of alcohol entirely is always a safer choice. 

Can I be tested for alcohol or drugs on land at boat ramps? 

Yes, the enforcement of drug and alcohol laws is coordinated both on land and water. Officers can perform testing at boat ramps using the same equipment as they do on the roads, reflecting the integrated approach to these laws in WA. 

Will my recreational skipper’s ticket (RST) have a demerit system like a driver’s licence? 

Currently, the RST doesn’t include a demerit point system, and there aren’t any plans to introduce one. 

What if my RST is cancelled in another state for drug or alcohol offences? 

If you’re suspended or disqualified from operating a recreational vessel in another state due to drug or alcohol offences, you won’t be eligible to hold or obtain an RST in Western Australia under the new rules. 

Are hire vessels where an RST isn’t required covered by the new laws? 

Yes, the new regulations apply to all types of vessels, including commercial and hire-and-drive vessels, regardless of the need for an RST. 

Could I lose my car licence for marine alcohol or drug offences? 

As of now, there are no measures in place for marine alcohol or drug offences to impact your driver’s licence. 


Recent amendments to the Western Australian Marine Act introduce strict measures against alcohol and drug use on waterways, aligning maritime laws with road regulations. The changes include staged implementation focusing on vessel operation safety and mandatory drug and alcohol testing. These laws apply to all motorised vessels, with penalties for violations, potential RST disqualification, and testing in various scenarios. 

Coast Insurance encourages all water enthusiasts to stay informed and follow these regulations for a safer and more enjoyable boating experience. If you want to ensure your peace of mind on the water, remember that having the right insurance is essential. Explore our insurance solutions to protect your vessel, passengers, and adventures. Safe travels on the water! 

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