I can still remember the first time I took my dog Blue on a boat. It was a half-dozen years ago, and after he overcame his initial fear of stepping aboard, I was certain he’d never want to get off. He found a spot up at the bow where he could see ahead and feel the breeze on his snout, and he was entranced by the experience. He looked about as happy as I’ve ever seen him, even thinking about it in retrospect so many years later.
Blue’s was the kind of happiness that we all want for our dogs when we bring them aboard. That’s why it’s important to think about the best ways to keep pooches safe and psyched on the water. The following tips should help keep everyone—humans and four-legged friends—safe and happy when boating with your dog.
3 Safety Tips for Boating with Dogs
1. Buy a Canine Life Vest
This safety gear has come a long way in recent years, with all kinds of variations and sizes now available to suit everything from a 160-pound Great Dane to a 6-pound Chihuahua. Some features to consider include a handle (so you can lift the dog like a suitcase out of the water), reflective tape and adjustable straps for a snug fit.
2. Have a Dog-Overboard Plan
Just as you have a man-overboard plan in case a person goes into the drink, it’s important to have a dog-overboard plan that you can put into action in an emergency. Write out the steps and have them at the ready, so you can follow them in a time of panic. Include everything from engine shutdown to what you will do to check the dog’s medical condition after you have her back on board.
3. Teach the Dog to Drink Only Fresh Water
Dogs don’t sweat, so they can overheat and will look to any available water source. Teach your dog only to drink fresh water, and have plenty of it available at all times on the boat.
3 Travel Tips for Dogs Onboard a Boat
1. Have a Safe Boarding Procedure
One of the things I did wrong my first time out on the boat with Blue was trying to get him to step onto the boat with me from the dock. It was a calm day and he was on his leash, but he was skittish and could’ve fallen into the water between the boat and the pilings. A better plan is to carry the dog on board for safety.
2. Keep an Eye on Fishhooks and Bait
If you were a dog and you smelled a piece of gloriously stinky fish without realizing it was attached to a hook, you’d eat it. And like fish, dogs don’t generally consider the existence of hooks. So, keep baited hooks and bait in general away from dogs on board, lest your shepherd end up snared like a striper. Teach the dog that bait is off-limits at all times. Reward them with dog treats as they learn to ignore the bait buckets altogether.
3. Monitor for Signs of Seasickness
Dogs do get seasick, just like people. All the same signs and symptoms apply, including dizziness, lethargy and vomiting. If you see your dog developing these signs, stop the boat and get the dog ashore. To avoid repeat cases, veterinarians say you can give a dog seasickness medication, just as with people. Or, consider whether your dog actually wants to go boating with you at all (it’s really not for everybody…)
The Big Must-Have for Living Aboard with a Dog
Let’s just be blunt: You need a pee carpet, a piece of carpet that you can put on the boat where the dog knows it’s okay to take care of his business. If you can, get an old one from a friend’s boat that already has the scent of canine urine on it. That scent will entice your own dog to use the carpet aboard your boat, and then you can switch to your new piece of carpet in the same spot aboard, perhaps stacking the pieces at first so all the scents blend.
Don’t have a friend with an old pee carpet? (And really, how many of us do?) You can make your own. Either try to get your own dog to stink it up in a location where he usually pees, or ask a local doggie day care if it’s possible to leave your new piece of carpet with its packs of pooches for a day. Potty problem solved.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in June 2015 and updated in September 2018.