12 Tips to boating safely with dogs

There is nothing better than being out on the water with a cool breeze blowing in your face and the smell of the fresh salt air. Whether you are boating in calm protected waters or sailing the wild open oceans, it’s a great way to spend time with friend and family.

There’s one family member that love the wind in his hair, ok fur, more than all the rest and that’s your ever faithful, companion and best friend, your dog.

Boating Safely with Dogs

Dogs are no longer a restriction to boating and many dogs absolutely love it. The wind in the face, the fresh air or just lazing around on the deck soaking up the warmth.

Here a some important tips to safely boating with dogs that will make the trip so much easier and more comfortable for you and your dog.

1. Identification

Have a secure ID tag for your dog. Have a tag especially made for your dog that includes:

  • Your boat's name
  • Your boats usual location
  • A phone number
  • An alternative number for someone on land

Many pets these days have a microchip. If your dog is found and perhaps is missing his ID tag, this will allow a vet or rescue home to identify and return your dog to you. 

2. Familiarisation

If you haven't sailed or been boating with your dog before you will need to familiarise your dog with the boat and the water. Many dogs will take to boating naturally but others you will need to spend some time getting them used to it. Introduce your dog to the boat in small doses. Use rewards to make it a positive experience. Have some fun with your dog by playing fetch from the boat. Start in the marina or on a calm river, preferably in the pen. Spend some time getting on and off the boat. and let you dog see you enjoying it. Give your dog a tasty treat when he gets on the boat and let him get off if he needs to. Make all the usually boating noises and start the engine. Once your dog is comfortable on the calm water, do a quick trip around the marina or up the river and increase the length of trips as your dog get more familiar with the boat and the water.

3. Doggy life jacket (PFD)

Firstly make sure you dog is a good swimmer. But even so, it is very important that your dog wears a doggy life jacket while on board the boat just in case he falls overboard. You may think your dog can swim but as thedogeffect.com explains it will allow your dog to stay afloat for longer if it takes awhile to find him. This can easily happen even if the waves are only small. If your dog is older or has health conditions he will tire more easily or just to give your dog a little help if he isn’t a born doggy paddler. Always buy a life jacket with a rescue handle. This will allow you to easily pull your dog out of the water and back onto the boat.

4. Housekeeping

You will want to keep your boat deck clear of hazards for your own safety, but this is a really important consideration for your dog too. Remember your dog doesn’t have hands to quickly reach out and grab something to hold onto if he stumbled over something.

5. Deck grip

You may need to add some grip for extra traction on the deck for your dog. Try non slip carpet or stick on deck grips. I have even heard of people using temporary bath style suction mats to provide extra traction.

6. Rescue practice

Go swimming with your dog from the boat. Put your dog’s life jacket on and get him to jump in the water. Train your dog to swim to the rear of the boat so that you can lift him up gently by the rescue handle on the life jacket. There are ramps commercially available that connect to your boat and allow your dog to walk up onto the transom. These have had varied success but definitely worth a try and will take familiarisation training.

The best boat ramp I have found is the Dog On Water Ramp. It is very easier for the dog to get up as they can swim into the ramp rather than try to get up onto it.

Boating Safely with Dogs

7. Keep watch

Always be alert for where you dog is on the boat. They can easily get into trouble and may need your help quickly. You may need to tether your dog at times. Find an appropriate place and use a short lead to eliminate the risk of your dog becoming tangled up. Attach the tether to your dog life jacket not their collar and keep the tether short enough so that you dog cannot reach the edge of the boat and fall over. I always have a karibena for the most secure option and it allows for a quick tie up and release. At night or at times when you can’t watch your dog, keep him inside the cabin. Always go with your dog at night, on a lead, if he needs to go pee.

8. Weather conditions

Don’t leave your dog out in the elements unprotected. In winter and storms, protect him from the rain and wind by providing good cover and warmth. In summer don’t leave your dog tethered out in the sun as they can quickly overheat. Apply sunscreen to your dog’s nose or any areas of thin fur coverage.

Check the weather report before you leave, there may be times when it is not ideal to take your pup out on the water.

9. Food and water

Always have fresh water available for your dog. Use food and water bowls that are not going to slide away or tip over on the deck. You should be able to find rubber based bowls or engineer a secure solution so that your dog always has water.

10 Toilet on board

It is often difficult to get your dog to go to the toilet on board the boat. Your well trained dog won’t want to pee on your shiny boat and will hold it in. This may cause health problems so train your dog to pee on the boat. If you are near land, plan toilet stops for your dog or choose a place on the boat that you are happy for your dog to go to the toilet. It may be best to start training your dog off the boat. Use fake grass in the back yard and train him to pee on it. Training him to pee on command will also make your life easier. Slowly move the turf to the boat and do the same.

11 Health Checkup

Make sure you dog is in tip top shape before you go set sail. Stock up on some medication and first aid for you dog just in case. Dogs can get seasick and medication is available for your dog if necessary. Speak to your vet before you go for any advice on this.

12 Quarantine

If you are sailing long distances and travelling between countries, check the local immigration and quarantine laws. Australia and New Zealand have the strictest quarantine laws in the world when it comes to introduced species, this includes our dogs. Forms, permits, vaccinations, vet checkups may be required for some countries. Other countries are not so strict and entry may be granted immediately.

You can now enjoy safely boating with your dog but remember that not all dogs will relish an adventure on the high seas. Always watch for unusual behaviour in your dog. If your dog becomes scared or nervous it is best to either spend more time making your dog comfortable or keep him on shore. Your dog will happily wait for you at home and wag his tail on your return.

Boating Safely with Dogs

Leave a comment: