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Boating with Dogs: Essential Tips

Dogs are loved members of the family, so when it’s time for a day or weekend out on the water, you will of course want them to join in the fun. Most dogs enjoy the water, and even those who aren’t fans of swimming will usually be enthusiastic at coming along for a day with their favorite humans.

While you want your pooch to have fun, safety is the most important aspect of any boating trip with a dog. You'll need a few essential supplies plus some important training before you start planning days afloat together. 

Take Your Dog Boating With These Essential Supplies and Trainings


Train Your Dog to Get On and Off the Boat Safely

If you have a small pooch, then the safest way to do this is to simply pick them up and carry them on board. Larger dogs, however, will need some training and possible encouragement to step onto a moving platform. It is an unusual feeling for them in the beginning, so using the treat training method is a good distraction and reward-based way of getting them to board without being afraid. It’s vital you never push or pull your dog onto the boat as it could create negative associations, and they might point-blank refuse in the future. This is a fun adventure and your dog should see it as that. 

Be sure you go at your dog’s pace, and start on a calm day in the marina. Some dogs will take to it straight away, but others (often older dogs) might take a few weeks to build up confidence. Go at your dog’s pace and don’t rush the process. Signs of stress or anxiety to look out for including excessive panting, refusing to get on the boat, being rigid, excessive yawning, licking their lips, and showing the whites of their eyes. Be gentle and patient and keep a pocket full of their favorite treats, and together you’ll master the hardest part of boating with a dog. 


Buy a Good Fitting Dog Life Jacket

Yes, you heard us correctly… your dog needs a life jacket when on a boat. While dogs are good swimmers, and some breeds are exceptional swimmers, tiredness, cold and/or adverse water conditions can quickly exhaust or disorientate a dog, especially older dogs. Dogs tend to love the water and will jump off for a swim at any opportunity. Even if your dog prefers to stay on dry footing, accidents can happen and if your dog slips in the water, you want them to be able to stay afloat until you rescue them.

Doggy life jackets come in all shapes and sizes, and it’s important to get one that fits well. They are designed to keep your dog in a horizontal position, so they can keep swimming, and good ones will come with a handle to help you lift them from the water. When buying a life jacket, make sure it fits comfortably, with no handles or buckles causing the dog discomfort. It will take a bit of time to get used to wearing a life jacket—and this is best started at home—so they should be as comfy as possible in it. 


Pack All the Doggy Essentials

You’ll need a selection of items to ensure your dog is comfortable, whether you’re going out for a couple of hours, a whole weekend or sailing around the world. It’s always best to over plan and take extras, especially when it comes to food, so you don’t run out if your trip ends up being longer than planned.


Things you’ll want in your doggy kit include:

1. Water and Food: Take a good supply of their usual food and plenty of fresh water. Don’t forget the bowls too. Dogs need to drink plenty, especially in hot conditions, and you want to discourage them from drinking out of lakes or the sea as there are bacteria (not to mention salt) that can make them unwell. You’ll need a good stock of treats, too, as reward for good behavior and for positive reinforcement. It’s a good way to get your dog to stay put when you’re busy doing something. 

2. First Aid Kit: Add some items to your first aid kit that you can use if your dog has an accident. Bandages and tape, disinfectant wipes, a butterfly suture kit, and a cone are all good things to have on board. 

3. Toys: Take a selection of your dog’s favorite chew toys to keep them happy when you’re under way and to prevent them from wandering around.

4. Floatable Lead: A lead or leash with a float on one end allows you to let your dog go swimming without the worry of the lead dangling underwater and getting tangled in something. Of course, they can swim without their lead, but if you’re concerned about their swimming abilities, then a floating lead lets you get to them more easily.

5. Towels and a dog bed: Bring along a stock of old towels to dry your dog off when they’ve been swimming or if it rains. You don’t want soggy-dog smell all over your upholstery and carpets. In cooler conditions, a couple of blankets will ensure your dog doesn’t get cold. Bring a dog bed too, as dogs need a safe, comfortable place to rest and sleep. 

6. Non-Slip Mat: This is especially useful on fiberglass boats where the decks can be slippery for dogs. They will feel more secure and relaxed if they aren’t slipping about when they walk, and there’s less chance of accidents. A piece of carpet or rubber matting in the cockpit near their bed will work perfectly. 

7. Doggy Pee Pads: Your dog will need to relieve themselves during the day, which is easier said than done on a boat. Firstly, ensure your dog has been given a good chance to relieve themselves before getting on board. Secondly, bring along a puppy pad or piece of astroturf and train your dog to use it. You can easily clean the astroturf at the end of the day or throw the puppy pads away, and it saves a distressed dog ending up peeing all over your decks. You’ll want an odor neutralizer too, poop bags, and some disinfectant.


Make Safety a Priority

You know your dog best and how they’re going to react when on board. Be patient and take things at the dog’s pace, and ensure you train them long before the boating season starts to board the boat safely and respond to commands such as stay. Be prepared to abandon a day out if the weather changes, or turn back if your dog isn’t looking comfortable (some dogs can get seasick). Boating should be fun for all the family, and your dog is more likely to be enthusiastic about the next trip if he enjoys himself. 

Here at Rightboat.com, we love our pets and many of us take dogs boating with us. After all, they’re part of the family and love a day on the water as much as the rest of the family. Boaters around the world have been sailing with dogs (and cats!) for years on both motorboats and sailboats. Check out our huge selection of boats for sale—perfect for the whole family—and start your own adventure today. 


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Written By: Samantha Wilson

Samantha Wilson has spent her entire life on and around boats, from tiny sailing dinghies all the way up to superyachts. She writes for many boating and yachting publications, top charter agencies, and some of the largest travel businesses in the industry, combining her knowledge and passion of boating, travel and writing to create topical, useful and engaging content.

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