Boating with pets
If you’re considering boating with pets, follow these practical tips to keep your best friends safe on board.
Before you go
Your pet should be wearing an ID tag with your contact information. The tag should include
- your boat’s permanent location and slip number,
- a cell phone number, and
- the number of a relative or land-based friend.
If your pet has a microchip, include this information in your pet’s registry profile.
Regardless of your pet’s swimming ability, a sudden dunking can cause panic. So, make sure your cat or dog wears a personal flotation device, available at boating or pet stores for $20 to $80. A brightly colored life jacket with a top handle makes your pet easier to see and retrieve. Get your pet used to wearing the life jacket before setting out.
Teach your dog basic safety commands, such as “Stay,” “Sit,” “On boat,” “Off boat,” and, the all-time favorite, “Do your business.”
Get seasickness medication for your pet if necessary. Some medicines used for humans also work for pets; however, please consult your vet before giving any medications.
Always carry your pet’s rabies vaccination certificate and health records when away from the boat.
If you venture to foreign ports, check the regulations beforehand. Many countries have quarantine or health laws that apply to animals.
Introduce your pet to the boat gradually. Start by spending time together when docked.
Practice swimming and rescue drills with your dog. Train the dog to paddle to a swim platform or ladder, where it can be helped on board.
Prep your boat
Make it easier for an overboard cat to climb onboard by rigging a self-rescue system, such as a coiled line or carpet strip dangling into the water from each corner of the boat. A long-handled net can also help you retrieve a cat or small dog.
Consider your deck’s traction. Bathroom throw rugs or outdoor carpets with non-slip backing can provide a temporary solution for any slippery areas.
Provide steps or ramps if your pet has trouble navigating companionway ladders.
Ensure your pet has a shady place to sit on the deck. (Fiberglass gets hot.) Secure the water dish. A large one kept half-full will spill less underway.
A piece of artificial turf or a box of sod can work as a bathroom substitute for your dog when landfall is impossible. Get the dog used to going on the artificial turf at home before moving it onboard. Cats can use an anchored litter box, or you can train them to use the head. This requires tremendous patience, but it can be done. –Marty Seconhouse
Feel at home on the water
Learn to boat with confidence by taking the Boat Handling course online from America’s Boating Club.