Pontoon boats are great fun for all of the family, but why should our four-legged friends be left out? If like me you own a dog, you won’t want him left bored at home whilst you go out and have a great day on the water… and there’s no reason why you should considering the wide range of fantastic dog boat ramps and ladders that you can now buy.
But as with any accessory or gadget, some are much better than others, and with so many on the market, how do you know which pontoon dog ramp or ladder is best? Or even what type you need depending on the size and weight of your dog?
Let me help you out. My family and I own a French Bulldog. His name is Claude. He’s a terrible swimmer and is very short too. But he loves the water, so we wanted to get a decent dog boat ladder to help him come onto our Bennington, as well as a ramp so he could get in and out of the water (with his little life jacket on!).
We also have friends and family with Labradors and German Shepherds, so have seen most of the doggy boat ramps on the market by now.
Based on what I’ve seen and what I own, here’s my guide to what you should consider.
Paws Aboard Review
Best for: Small dogs under 40 pounds
The Paws Aboard dog boat ladder is the perfect size for our French Bulldog (view Amazon prices). For smaller pets it’s a very good solution as most of the time they will struggle with the larger dog boat ramps.
It’s dead simple to use, as all you do is attach it over your existing boarding ladder.
The plastic construction means you have no concerns over rusting, and it also floats just at the water surface, so will push downwards to give the stepped angle once your dog starts to climb onto it.
Because it’s plastic it is also very light and folds in two, so you can store it on deck or behind some seats.
Whilst it’s not designed for humans, my younger kids also find it a lot easier to get in and out of the water versus our existing boarding ladder.
If you have a larger dog, it probably won’t be a great option. Whilst the steps are very wide, due to the lightweight construction it won’t be as stable as other dog steps.
- Fits any boat with a boarding ladder
- Very lightweight plastic design
- Wide steps
- Folds in half for easy storage
- Easy to attach to existing boat ladder
- Slip resistant gripping
- Floats on the surface
- Rust and corrosion proof
- Small kids can also use it
- Too small for larger dogs
- Not as solid as aluminum ladders
Best for: Small to medium dogs or older and arthritic dogs under 95 pounds
My buddy owns the Load-a-Pup platform and it’s perfect for his Labrador who is getting a little bit older now. My buddy is getting older too, so this helps to prevent his back pain where he used to have to lift his dog out of the lake.
It’s compatible with all boats, isn’t at all expensive, and when attached hangs from your existing ladder giving a platform under the water for your dog to swim onto.
Once on the platform, your dog can then get back into the boat very easily.
Because there are no steps involved, it’s also good choice for where you might have an older dog who now struggles with ladders, especially after exerting themselves in the water.
Once they have swum onto the platform, if they find it hard to still climb back into the boat, you can pick them up without having to lean into the water and pulling them out.
Just be careful with this one because if you don’t secure it using the straps supplied, it will sink to the bottom of the lake as it’s not a floating dog ramp.
- Fits any boat with a boarding ladder
- Very lightweight aluminum design
- Large 14 x 20-inch platform
- Flat and compact for easy storage
- Easy to attach to existing boat ladder
- Slip resistant gripping
- Will sink if not secured using the straps
- Can feel loose and wobbly
Dog on Water Ramp Review
Best for: Small, medium to large dogs under 100 pounds
If you want a floating dog ramp for a pontoon boat, then I would recommend the Dog on Water on Amazon. My uncle has one of these and it’s perfect for his German Shepherd dogs.
Because it’s a floating ramp, you won’t need to place it over your boat’s boarding ladder. That means both doggies and humans can come in and out of the water, with no need to constantly be attaching and re-attaching ramps.
If you look at it, it’s actually like a small pontoon boat itself with two buoyant tubes that help it float, and a central netting construction which your dog swim right up into.
You will need to use dock lines or similar to secure it to your boat, but once it’s set up you can leave it there for the entire duration of your boat trip. In fact, my uncle’s dog sometimes just sits in it whilst we all go swimming.
The tubes will need to be inflated before use, but for your peace of mind, I’ve never heard of these puncturing at all. They are very robust and strong.
If I have one complaint about this one, it’s the size. It is quite large so will take up a bit of room on a smaller boat when you aren’t using it.
- Amazing customer service
- Doesn’t cover your boarding ladder
- Rust and corrosion resistant
- Very lightweight design
- Quite large and not as easy to store
- Have to tie with dock lines to your boat
Solvit Telescoping Dog Ramp Review
Best for: All sizes of dog for when beached or docked
If you are simply looking for solution to let your dog come on and off your boat when docked or beached then I would recommend the Solvit dog ramp.
It’s telescopic up to a length of 72 inches so should provide ample enough ramp for most docks and marinas where you’ve pulled against the side, or simply for your dog to walk down onto the beach with ease.
Only weighing 13 pounds, it slides into a smaller size when not being used, and can be used with your SUV, truck, or any other vehicle – not just a pontoon or a boat.
- Amazing customer service
- Side guide rails
- Non-slip surface
- Can take up to 400 pounds in weight
- Can also be used with vehicles
- Some owners report that the walking surface is quite harsh
Tips for Taking Your Dog on Your Pontoon Boat
Once you have installed your pontoon dog ramp or ladder it’s time to get your furry friend accustomed to the water, as chances are they have never been in water this deep before.
You will also need to get them used to using the ladder or steps itself, which can be harder than it looks, as dogs need to be familiarized with new tasks.
Here are my tips for getting your dog ready.
1. Introduce Them to Your Boat
Dogs love familiarity and smell, so the first thing I would advise you to do is get them used to your boat or pontoon.
You can carry them on if it’s docked or let them have a sniff around when it’s trailered up.
Above all, don’t just get them on the boat for the first time, start up the motor, and pace it out onto the lake. They will freak out at the noise for the first couple of times.
2. Possibly Invest in a Dog Life Preserver
Our dog is a terrible swimmer, but he loves the water.
To see for yourself take a look at the Ripstop Dog Life Preserverto see if they have one in your pet’s size.
3. Train them to Use the Ladder When Docked
With your ladder, make sure that your boat tied up and docked first, as this will let you take them up and down, possibly on a lead, so they get used to their footing.
I also recommend starting up the engine at this point too, as the growl from an engine can really frighten dogs. Just like you might have done with puppy training near busy roads, get them used to the sounds they will be hearing.
4. Train them to Use the Ramp when Floating in the Water
With floating dog ramps these are an entirely different discipline all together. If you’re lucky you might have one of those dogs who just gets it first time.
But most dogs I have seen don’t understand the floating aspects and how they grip on.
I used a favorite toy and stick which I threw in the water first and encouraged them down the ramp.
To get them back on board and I had a bag of treats and set a couple of them down at the top of the ramp. It took a few goes, but Claude was soon back on the boat!
5. Have an Overboard Plan
Accidents can happen, and dogs can be unpredictable, even the best trained ones.
Yours could get spooked at some point and jump straight off the deck into the water when you least expect it.
That’s why it’s important to have a plan in place should your dog go overboard.
A simple plan to follow is in 5 steps such as:
- Stay calm and relaxed
- Shut off the engine
- Bring the boat to a complete stop
- Lean over the railing and call your dog
- Then lower down your pontoon dog ladder
6. Keep Your Dog Hydrated
Hot sun and salt water can be a killer for dogs, and none more so on the open deck of a pontoon boat.
Don’t forget to bring a clean drinking bowl for your dog and keep it topped up with fresh water, and also some ice if at possible.
If your dog decides not to go in the water or isn’t used to using your pontoon dog ladder or ramp to cool down, it’s going to very, very hot and in a very quick time.
Avoid overheating and keep them well hydrated at all times.
7. Keep a Dog First Aid Kit on Board Your Boat
Believe it or not, dogs can actually get sea sick. I had no idea about this until we started taking Claude out on our Bennington.
If your dog is getting sick or nervous then there will tend to be some tell-tales signs to look out for such as:
On the Humane Society website, you can see a list of items that every pet first aid kit should carry.
Alternatively, there are some very good kits just for dogs available Amazon. The one with the best reviews is the Fab Fur First Aid Kit.
What Other Dog Owners Say
As part of my research to find out what the best dog boat ramps are, I also spoke to other pontoon owners on Facebook and looked at various online boating forums. Here’s a short selection of comments from people who already own the products above.
“We used the Paws Aboard for the first time this weekend and it went really well. It is very easy to carry and works great when beached. Our grandkids love to use it too.”
“The Dog on Water Ramp solution is the best solution for getting your dog in and off your pontoon. It’s by far the easiest one to use I have personally seen and can accommodate dogs of different weights at the same time. The biggest issue is that it is rather large and takes up a fair amount of space on the boat when not in use though.”
“We have the Solvit telescoping one from Amazon. I like that it folds and stows away when not in use. It fits neatly on our pontoon.”
“We also found a great dog ladder for our pontoon boat. It’s called Paws Aboard and has very wide steps and the ladder goes quite deep. Our dog can walk up and down the steps with ease as well as it is much easier for us our grandchildren to use versus our standard boarding ladder. Almost all of our neighbors with pontoons have gotten them also.”
“I recommend trying out Load-a-Pup. It hangs from your stock ladder giving the dog a platform under the surface of the water to swim up on. Our Labrador uses this with ease. It’s a lot more compact than most dog ramps, mounts right on your stairs at whatever stair height works best for your pet.”
“We have a German Shepherd and use the Dog on Water floating dog ramp and love it as do his friends (see photo). The platform allows here to get on and off the pontoon with ease with a place to shake. The netting is thick and allows her to swim in and she lays her front paws on the pontoons and floats while we float around her. She doesn’t have to swim constantly. The customer service from the Dog on Water ramp people is exceptional, we have used ours for five years and it still looks brand new.”
“I haven’t bought one but instead use our bow ramp with a large fender attached under the end to make it float. The dogs just climb on it to board out in open water. It saved me a lot of money and works just fine.”
“We have a 90-pound boxer and a 70-pound Labrador. The Load-a-Pup dog boat platform is excellent and takes their weight both at the same time with no problem, then folds flat when we aren’t using it.”
“We use Dog on Water ramp for the front of our pontoon and put and Paws Aboard on the over the original ladder and our dog goes up and down it.”
“The Load-a-Pup dog boat ladder hooks on your normal ladder when you want it, and folds to store it when you don’t need it. We have one and we are pretty happy with it. We use it for our Labrador each summer.”
“We use use the Load-a-Pup for our Red Setter and love it. You just hang it off the boat ladder a few inches under the surface of the water. My dog can get onto the platform and then into the boat on his own.”
“You really can’t go wrong with the Dog on Water ramp. We have had ours for five years and its one of the best things we have bought for our pontoon. I tried making something a couple of times that our big dogs could use but never worked good and I seen this online and bought it.”
No matter what boat you own, whether it’s a pontoon or a yacht, take your dog with you. Ours honestly loves coming so much and it’s added an extra dimension to our family days out and means we don’t worry about him being left at home all day. See what accessories for boating dogs we always take.
However, you will need to make sure you have the right set-up to let them get in and out of your boat properly.
All of the dog boat ramps and ladders listed above I have genuinely either used, seen, or personally own myself so they come highly recommended.
PS: Once you have your dog safely on your boat, make sure that he has a safe place out of the sun to sleep and rest. You can see my recommendations for specialist dog boat beds that don’t slip around and slide to help make your choice.