If you’ve been thinking about bringing your four-legged friend along with you on your next sailing adventure, be it a leisurely cruise down a canal, or a trip out to sea for some fishing, there are a few things worth taking into consideration to ensure that you both have the best time possible. With a little bit of training, and a short list of supplies, your dog will be more than ready to join your crew.
We have taken our dog out regularly on our pontoon boat and in that time have learned some lessons – some good, some bad! In this guide you can read more about how boating for dogs can be easy and fun – plus details on everything you will need to make the boat trip a success..
Is your dog ready to go sailing or boating?
Although most dogs will be more than happy to keep you company on your boating adventures, there are a few indicators that your dog may not be suited or ready for the open water just yet. So before you pack the lead and water bowl, first consider the following questions:
1. Is your dog old enough?
If your dog is still a puppy, it might be best to leave them at home, at least until they’re a little older. Although this will vary from dog to dog, it’s important to take into account that a puppy’s unbridled enthusiasm and unpredictability can be a potential hazard when sailing.
According to the most recent report released by the US Coast Guard, not paying enough attention while driving and not keeping proper lookout were two of the leading causes when it came to recreational boating accidents in America.
With this in mind, if your puppy is still prone to ignoring commands, or is easily flustered by new environments, it might be best to wait a little bit longer, or to be extra cautious while introducing them to this new experience.
It’s also worth noting that puppies and young dogs are more prone to jumping overboard than dogs with a bit more experience (although this does depend on the breed), and they may be a little bit harder to clean up after, depending on where they are in their potty training.
2. How nervous is your dog?
If you have a dog with a nervous temperament, it’s certainly worth trying them with sailing, but it will be important to take it slowly. Being in control while on a boat is vital for the safety of everyone aboard, and you need to make sure that your four-legged friend isn’t going to throw you any curveballs. If you suspect they might react badly to certain triggers, such as the sound of the engine, it might be worth testing them under controlled conditions first, preferably while moored.
3. What breed is your dog?
If your dog has been bred specifically for hunting waterfowl, or just generally loves to swim, you may find that they are more prone to jumping overboard than some other breeds. Although not necessarily a problem, it is important to keep in mind.
Before the trip
Once you’ve determined if your dog is ready to join you on your next boating trip, you can start preparing your dog and the boat for your journey together. Here are a few things that you will need to do to get them ready for this next stage:
1. Have a plan in the event that your dog goes overboard
Before your dog has had the chance to set a paw on the boat, you need to make sure you have a plan in the event that your dog goes overboard. No matter the age or breed of your dog, it is absolutely vital that you have a plan, and that you discuss this with everyone who will be sailing with you. If you can, it is also recommended that you practice this emergency drill ahead of time so that you can be confident that everyone knows their role in this scenario.
2. Invest in a life jacket
Just as every person onboard should have their own life jacket, it’s absolutely vital that you invest in a good life jacket for your dog as well. Even if they are a good swimmer, a life jacket can make all the difference when exhaustion hits, or if the weather changes suddenly.
When shopping for a life jacket, it will ideally need a handle, which will make it much easier to pull your dog out of the water if he jumps in. The jacket will need to be brightly coloured, to ensure maximum visibility, and you will need to check that it fits comfortably.
If the jacket is too tight, your dog will not want to wear it for long, but if it’s too loose, your dog may slip out when they get in the water.
Once you have selected the jacket, it is highly recommended that you give your dog the chance to get used to wearing it before you set out on your first trip together. Ideally, you should also give them the chance to swim in it before you set out.
3. Introducing your dog to the boat
Once you have an emergency plan and a life jacket, you are now ready to start introducing your dog to the boat itself. Before you take your dog out on their first trip, you should first give them the opportunity to explore the boat while its moored at the dock. Your dog will have a much better time if they are already familiar with their surroundings.
Once they are familiar and seem confident and happy, you will be ready to take them out on their first boating trip, but it is recommended that you keep this first outing quite short. If you notice any issues, this will give you the perfect opportunity to regroup and make any additional preparations before committing to a longer journey.
You will also need to keep an eye out to make sure your dog doesn’t suffer from seasickness. If they do get sick and you notice their sickness getting worse over time, it would be worth checking in with your veterinarian as they should be able to offer medications to help with this.
4. Make a space for your dog’s toilet needs
The last thing you will need to do before setting off on your dog’s maiden voyage, is to make sure that they have a place to do their private business.
The set up of this will depend on your dog, so it may be worth trying a few things. Some dog owners recommend training them to go on puppy pads, as this will make clean up a lot easier, while others recommend buying a patch of fake grass and designating this as their toilet area.
Whatever works best for you, make sure to pack plenty of kitchen roll, litter bags, and odour neutralizing spray.
Other safety considerations
Now that your dog is ready to set sail with you, there are a few more safety considerations that need to be addressed before you embark on your first trip together.
Wherever you happen to be sailing, it’s important that you do not allow your dog to drink from the water over the side of the boat. This will be less of an issue if your vessel has higher sides, but will be especially important to keep an eye on if you are taking your dog along with you on a canal boat.
As a precaution against this, make sure to pack plenty of fresh water, and always keep their water bowl topped up and within easy access.
Handy Hint: You must keep your dog cool on the boat at all times. Read these 8 tips on how to keep a dog cool when boating.
If your dog will be joining you on a fishing trip, it’s important that you take extra care with your dog and the tackle. Never leave lures unattended, and when you are casting out, you will need to make sure your dog isn’t tempted to go for the bait.
This can quickly turn into a medical emergency if not monitored properly.
Supplies to pack for your dog
Last but not least, here are a few supplies to pack for your trip:
- Life jacket
- Plenty of fresh water
- A patch of carpet or some towels to sit on (or a specialist boating dog bed)
- Plenty of treats
- Sunscreen, which will be especially important if your dog is a short-haired breed
- Toilet supplies, including puppy pads, kitchen roll, litter bags, and odour neutralizing spray.
Dog Boat Accessories: I’ve compiled a list of the best dog boating accessories that any pup owner should have. All of this gear has been personally used and tested by my family.
The last word…
Boating with dogs is a huge amount of fun. But it can come with risks. Please be prepared and there’s no reason why your 4-legged friend can’t come and join the adventures with you and your family.