Ahoy, matey! Thinking about boating with your dog? It can be tons of fun to bring your dog along on a sailing excursion, fishing trip, or day out on the water. With some simple preparation and safety precautions, your dog can be a great first mate!
Read on for tips on how to introduce your dog to life on the high seas and a list of what doggy supplies you'll need for safety and fun.
Boat Safety Training for Dogs
There are a few things you should plan for and practice before outings on the water so you and your dog are prepared safety-wise. Boating with your dog is a lot like boating with children — be aware of where they are at all times and block off slippery or dangerous areas of the boat, such as ladders or open decks.
Teach Your Dog to Get On and Off the Boat
One of the more dangerous moments of boating with your dog is getting in and out of the boat. If you can, the safest option is to carry your dog on and off the ship. If your dog is too big for this, invest in a pet-friendly boarding ramp or ladder that you can use from the dock or in the water to help them get on board safely. If possible, practice with the boat on dry land and stabilized to acclimate your pup to using the ramp or ladder, or you can practice with using your car or a table before using it on your boat. Spend some time allowing them to practice how to get in and out of the boat on calm water before working up to more of a rocking boat deck.
Check out this article for step-by-step instructions on how to train safe boat loading and unloading with your dog and tips to help them feel comfortable on deck.
Teach Your Dog to Settle in a Designated Spot
Teaching your dog how to settle in a specific spot on the boat will help keep them safe while underway (and they should be wearing their life jacket while the boat is on the move). You don't want a dog to be running around the deck while traveling, as this puts them at risk of going overboard or distracting the driver. This is where having a non-skid mat can be helpful, as it gives your dog an obvious place for them to settle.
Have a plan for if your dog goes overboard, and practice the routine often:
- Cut the boat's engine
- Go to a certain spot and call your dog to come
- Help them back in the boat (their life jacket with handles will come in handy for this)
Your plan for what to do might change based on what type of boat you're on — sailboats take longer to maneuver back to a dog that's fallen over board, so practicing your dog's come-when-called in the water can be really helpful. Motorboats can double back more quickly to get closer to the dog to pull them out of the water, but you don't want your dog getting close to the engine rotors. Make sure you've got a plan for any overboard pups, make sure they're wearing a PFD (life jacket), and make sure everyone on board knows what to do.
Dog Boating Gear & Supplies
Safety & Comfort First
A life jacket is important even if your dog knows how to swim — but not all dogs know how to swim! Check out our "Does Your Doggie Paddle?" article to learn how to teach your dog to swim. Many dogs take to the water well, but they are just as prone to exhaustion, drowning, and cold water temperature while swimming, and tides and currents can quickly sweep them away from your boat. If you're speeding over the water and your dog falls off the boat, they might be injured in the fall and unable to swim — make sure your pup is wearing a life jacket whenever the boat is underway. Life jackets also make it easier to spot your dog in the water, and have handles that make it easier to help them back on deck.
Choose a comfortable and well-fitted canine floatation device. There are lots of options available, from classic colors to cute shark fin life jackets. We really like this dog lifejacket from Ruffwear that comes in three bright color options. You want to make sure that it fits nice and snug without chafing and won't slip off during water play. Be sure to follow the manufacturer's fitting instructions.
Pet First Aid Kit
No one plans to have an injury, but you can be prepared in the event your dog is injured. Keep a fully stocked pet first aid kit on your boat in case of emergency, and familiarize yourself with Pet CPR & First Aid.
Water Bowl and Fresh Water Supply
Being out in the sun and swimming can be dehydrating for your pup! Make sure to bring along enough fresh water and a water bowl for them on the boat. Don’t rely on lake water for their hydration needs — lakes and ponds are often full of parasites and algae that can make your dog sick. Keep enough fresh water on board for both you and your dog.
A collapsible water bowl is perfect because it's lightweight and easy to pack. A spill-proof water bowl is another option if you plan on keeping a more permanent water bowl on board. This Buddy Bowl by Ray Allen is sturdy and spill-proof — even if flipped upside down, as long as you fill it only to the "water fill line" — perfect for a rocking boat deck! We tested it out with our office dogs here at Preventive Vet in the video below. The only downsides about the bowl are that it isn't ideal for small dogs, as they have to stick their head deep into the bowl to drink, and it's hard to remove the lid but over time it does gets easier as the plastic softens.
Dog Food and Treats
If you plan on being out on the water for the day, make sure you bring along some food or snacks for your pup so they can refuel. Swimming is great exercise and you want to make sure your dog can replenish some of those calories they've burned! If you're planning on a longer sailing trip, stock your dog's food supply in an airtight container like this Vittles Vault Pet Food Bin to keep it fresh and dry.
Dog Sunscreen and Shade
Dog sunscreen is a thing! Your dog’s ears, belly, and tip of their nose can get sunburned easily when out on the water and they are just as prone to skin cancer as us humans. Read about what ingredients to look for and what to avoid when picking out sunscreen for your pup. This sunscreen by Epi-Pet is the only FDA-approved sunscreen specifically for dogs. Make sure your dog has somewhere to rest out of the sun while out on the boat with you to prevent heat stroke. If your boat doesn't have a covered area, bring along a canopy so your pup can escape the heat of the sun.
Fiberglass decks of boats can be slippery for your pup’s paws — help them feel more stable by bringing along a non-skid mat where they can be sure-footed while you cruise. They'll also appreciate having a designated spot where they can lay down and relax close to you while you're underway. Choose an easy-to-clean and waterproof mat like this Downward Dog Anti-Slip Mat for your boat deck.
Potty Training on a Boat: What To Do With All That Poo?
Pee Pads / Waste Disposal Supplies
Being on a boat can really put a damper on your dog’s potty habits! Bring lots of paper towels, poop bags, and pet stain cleaner. If you plan on having your dog on the boat for long periods of time, you can train them to use pee pads or a patch of artificial turf while onboard. Flush your dog's poo or throw it away once you're back on land to keep our water clean!
When first introducing your dog to their new potty spot on board, it's helpful to have a potty cue that tells them it's okay to do their business in a new area. You can teach your dog how to go potty on cue in just 4 easy steps! Make sure to praise heavily and give them a few treats after they finish doing their doody to reinforce going in that particular spot.
So you've got your dogs training started to help them feel comfortable while boating, and you've stocked up on the needed supplies to keep them safe — now it's time for some fun stuff!
If your dog likes to take a dip in the water to cool-off, keep a dog-only towel to dry off your pup after their swims. These microfiber dog towels by Tuff Pupper are super absorbent and dry quickly! If your dog has been swimming in salt water (or rolling around on the sandy beach), make sure to thoroughly rinse them off with fresh water to keep their skin and coat healthy!
Playing fetch with your dog in the water is a great way to have fun, build your bond, and burn some of their energy. Retrieving breeds might not even let you get away with a boat trip without some water fetch! Choose a fetch toy that floats and is easy for your dog to find in the water, like this easy to throw Fetch Stick. Another great option is this Bull Fit floating bumper which is bright yellow, making is super visible to your dog in the water. You can see other fetch toy options in our Top 10 Fetch Toys List.
When playing fetch with your pup in the water, make sure to keep an eye on their energy level and take a break if they're tiring out. Fetch while swimming takes more energy than a regular game of fetch on dry land, and when they're on solid ground they can simply lay down to rest. They don't have that option out in the water. Give them frequent breaks with fresh water to drink and a shaded area to recharge.
Nothing is better than floating on the water in hot weather, and giving your dog their own in-water resting place keeps them cool and close by! Dog nails can easily puncture your regular water floatie, so opt for one that's made specifically for dogs, like this Lazy Dog Lounger. It's puncture resistant and won't flip over when your dog climbs on or jumps off — plus it has a loop for tethering to you, the dock, or your boat so your pup doesn't float away without you!
Boating with your dog can be a fun and rewarding experience, allowing them to spend more time with you and enjoy the outdoors. Some avid sailors even live with their dogs on their boat while sailing around the world, as you can see in this great video about Penny and Mondo, whose parents explain how they do it and the pros and cons of living on a sailboat with dogs:
What's your experience been with boating with your dog? Share your canine boating tips with us in the comments below or send us pics of your pups enjoying their boat time to connect@PreventiveVet(dot)com.