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Your Guide to Bringing Pets on Board Your Boat

Chris Riley by Chris Riley Updated on October 4, 2021. In Boats

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Interested in taking your cat on a boat? Do dogs on boats do well? Many boaters have managed to take their furry family members out for a trip at sea. Cats and dogs have been a part of boating for many long years. But you do need to be properly prepared. And remember, not every dog or cat will be into it. Let’s take it step by step and see if we can get your pet out on your sailboat, fishing boat, canoe or yacht.

Getting Started

The best way to figure out if your cat or dog has sea legs is a slow introduction. As you no doubt know, pets can be quirky. Some cats love to swim, for instance. Some dogs hate taking a bath. You know your pet best. So if you think their personality might mesh with boating, you need an intro. Getting used to a new environment is tough for anyone, including pets. The only way to know if you can take your dog boating is to try it.

Take your pet into your boat while it’s docked. Let them get a feel for it in a safe way. With the boat tied up, let them see what they think. The motion of a boat on the water is not for every pet. If they panic or react in a fearful way, don’t force it. Just like people, some animals are not comfortable on water. If that’s the case, the best thing is to take them off the boat. You should have a good idea within several minutes of introducing them. If they still seem to be in distress, call it a day.

You can try several times to see if there is any progress. Some animals just hate anything new. Once they get used to it, they’re fine. But not always. So, again, give it a few minutes each time. If there is clearly no progress, then perhaps it’s not meant to be.

If your pet does seem to be comfortable on a boat, then you can move ahead. There are a few things you can do to ensure your dog or cat is safe and happy on a boat.

Start the Engine

Being OK on water is one thing. Being OK with the engine running is another. So if your cat or dog can handle the boat as is, it’s time to step it up. Remember, a lot of animals even hate the vacuum. The engine of a boat could really stress them out.

You’re not going anywhere yet, just starting the engine. If your cat or dog is OK with the noise you can keep going.

Get a Dog Life Jacket

Just like humans, animals need to stay safe on the water. You can get dog and cat life jackets to ensure this. Life jackets can be found in marine supply stores that sell human life jackets. If there are none in your area, there are also plenty to be found online as well. Pet shops also tend to carry these. You may need to take your pet’s measurements to ensure a proper fit, though.

Cats also need life vests. Some cats are strong swimmers, but not all of them. Most absolutely hate water and swim only when forced. Keep that in mind. Make sure you have an emergency plan in case your pet does fall overboard. The whole family needs to know what to do.

Take a Test Swim

Animals are not good swimmers. We’re so used to seeing dogs swim that sometimes we forget that. Just because a dog can swim doesn’t mean it’s a good swimmer. Dogs can and do fatigue easily. Cats even more so. But you should have an idea of your pet’s skill level. This is an emergency prep thing more than anything. Your pet may hate you a bit as a result, but it’s for everyone’s good. Once you have a quality life vest that fits your pet, give it a test.

Gently take your pet into the water. Some animals will love this, some will hate it. But you need to get an idea of how your pet handles water. Check to see if they panic. Watch how long it takes them to settle into floating and swimming with a life jacket on. Also watch to see how much stamina they seem to have. This can all be important for later, if there’s an emergency. It’s also a good test to see how they adapt to the life jacket. You’ll know if it works well, if it’s the right size, and so on.

Cats will have a harder time with this than dogs, for the most part. Make sure you’re close by to help your pet out. Don’t let them get up on you though, that defeats the purpose. This is for their safety, so you need to observe how they manage. But don’t let it go on for too long, either. You don’t need to make them swim until they can’t. Just long enough to get a sense for things. Then you can rescue them, dry them off, and give them a treat.

Head Out

Take your dog or cat out for a short boating trip. No need to head onto the high seas here, just a quickie will do. Like humans, animals can get seasick. Keep an eye on your pet to see how they tolerate the trip. If they seem disoriented, they may be feeling the effects. Watch for sounds of distress, vomiting, fatigue, and so on. If this happens, return to shore quickly and safely. You should contact your vet as well, just to be safe.

Do Most Pets Like Water?

Most animals don’t really enjoy the water at all. Many do and that’s great, but not all. Dogs are often much bigger fans of water than cats. And while your pet may love the boat, it may still hate the actual water. So do what you can to make sure they’re having as much fun on board as you are.

A Few Things to Remember

Here are a few safety tips to ensure the best trip for our four legged friends. You’ll want to keep some pet specific supplies on your boat. Normally you don’t travel with puppy pads, right? But you’ll need them now to keep your deck, carpet, and boat surfaces clean. Your furry friend still needs to heed nature’s call on a boat. Bring some paper towels too, just in case.

When it comes to cats, unfortunately that means litter. Keep a box in an out of the way place. Introduce your cat to it so they know how to find it. Cats in new places are often unsure about what’s safe and what’s not.

Sun Exposure

Your four legged friend needs shade. Rarely will a dog or cat be out in the sun all day long. Remember, they have a fur coat. They can dehydrate easily. Plan ahead and make sure you bring plenty of fresh water to go with all that fresh air.

You can get hats designed for dogs and cats. It can protect their eyes from the sun’s harmful rays. Of course, getting a pet to wear a hat is its own struggle. If your pet has shown they’re cool with hats in the past, give it a try. If they absolutely will not wear hats, maybe skip this part.

A bed or a pet blanket is a good idea, too. Think of how hot your deck gets in the sun sometimes. Now imagine standing on it in your bare feet. That’s how it is for your pet. They have exposed pads on their feet, remember.

Heat stroke is a serious concern for dogs and cats. It can happen on a boat as easily as in the back of your car. There are signs to be on the lookout for.

  • Keep your eyes open for excessive panting and drooling. If your pet seems like they are doing this, make sure they know where the water is and get them in the shade.
  • Rapid pulse. This can come along with the panting. Some panting is normal on a warm day, but if their heart rate goes up, watch out.
  • If you notice your pet showing the signs of heat stroke, there are steps you can take. Make sure they have their life jacket on securely. Most pet versions have lifting handles. This is important. The ASPCA recommends that you immerse your pet in the water to help cool them off. You can use the handles and dunk them in. Don’t let their head go under! Do what you can to keep them calm during this process. The water should bring their core temperature down fairly quickly. Try to keep them relaxed until their pulse and panting seems to have slowed down. Also, try to prevent them from actually drinking any sea water. That goes for lake water as well. If it’s water you wouldn’t drink, your pet shouldn’t drink it either.

Another thing you may be surprised to consider is sunscreen. Not something most of us put on a pet, right? Well, it depends on the animal. If you have a breed with short hair, sunscreen may be a lifesaver. This is especially true of breeds like boxers, pitbulls, and others that have barely any hair to speak of. That constant sun exposure can burn them. Even an SPF 15 sunscreen can make a big difference. If you decide to use sunscreen, just make sure it’s safe for dogs. You want something as natural as possible, ideally with no fragrance.

Keep it Safe

Remove any dangerous substances your pet could get into. This can include anything from fuel to fishing tackle. Normally it’s safe to set a tackle box on the deck. But with a cat on board, you never know.

Make sure you have a leash for your pet. No, you’re not walking them, but this is a strange environment. There are new sights and smells. Your pet needs to get used to the water plus other boaters and even other animals. Some dogs love a trip out to sea but then go crazy when they see pelicans or seagulls. Likewise if there are fish in the water, they may want to jump in and help themselves. A leash to keep them in check is important.

A long handled net may be a good tool to keep on board. Small dogs and cats can be fished out of the water with this. It’s not elegant and they won’t like it. But in an emergency, it might save your best friend from a bad accident.

First Aid Kit

It’s good to have first aid supplies for both you and your pet. Simple things like gauze and bandages are essential. You never know what can happen while your pet takes its time to get its sea legs. Boating with dogs and cats can be very unpredictable. Boating stores carry small first aid kits that are ideal.

Check the Rules

If you’re staying local, this isn’t a big deal. But what if you boat to foreign ports? Most countries have rules and regulations about animals entering the country. Make sure you know what those are before bringing your pet to a new place. You wouldn’t want officials to seize your pet. Or for them to eject you from the country. Sounds extreme, but both happen regularly.

One thing that can help with this is to check your pet’s records on hand. Make sure you have proof of their various vaccinations. But definitely check the specific rules for any given country before you dock.

The Bottom Line

There is plenty of fun to be had on the water for you and your pets. Just make sure they are comfortable and safe when you head out. Taking your pets boating may take time. You could have to bring them back over the course of several days to get them comfortable. It’s up to you to decide if you want to commit to that.

Double check that your pet has its own necessary supplies. Make sure they have their own specific spot on board when sailing so they don’t have to be underfoot. And as always, stay safe and have fun.

About Chris

Outdoors, I’m in my element, especially in the water. I know the importance of being geared up for anything. I do the deep digital dive, researching gear, boats and knowhow and love keeping my readership at the helm of their passions.

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