Boating With Pets

Pretend for a moment that you are your dog taking a cruise on the family boat. The fresh air awakens the senses with myriad new smells—even more than sticking your head outside the window of the family car. As you lie on the aft lounge, the sun warms your coat and you drift off to blissful sleep. There is water, water, everywhere, and you can’t wait to take a flying leap into it!

Maybe that is you in that same moment. Do you leave Fido at home when going boating? If so, you are missing out on enriching your family’s boating lifestyle. Your trusted companion—also a member of the family—would love to be part of the fun with some training.

Sporting breeds love water more than humans. Owners of water breeds like Labrador Retrievers already know that taking a swim is equally as fun as a walk around the block. Cats are cool, too, and you might be surprised to know their fear of water is mostly myth.

Follow these tips to make the experience fun for everyone, including the family pet.



Your pet is acclimated to the sounds of slamming doors, lawnmowers and humming kitchen appliances at home. Getting used to those sights and sounds happened over time, maybe with a bit of treat training and verbal praise. You should follow the same plan with a pet on a boat.

Before taking the first cruise, take the pet to the lake on a leash and gradually acclimate it to the environment of the marina and boat ramp. At home, have playtime in the boat. Reward with treats when gaining positive responses around the strange, new sights and sounds.

If all goes well, make your pet part of the crew. Just make the first trip short to avoid overexposure to the fun. Over time, just like at home, the boating environment will be second nature to the pet. 



Everyone onboard wears a life jacket, or PFD, and so should your pet. Even your swim-worthy Lab needs a life jacket for the same reasons as you. Choose bright colors for visibility and a life jacket with a grab handle to lift the pet back aboard if they fall overboard. Before the first trip, put the vest on the dog so it becomes acclimated to wearing it.    



Don’t make your pet an unwanted catch with a stray lure dangling from a rod. Take steps to pet-proof the boat by storing lures, hooks and anything else that poses dangers to the pet, just as you do at home. Keep the lid closed on the baitwell, too, to avoid the temptation to go diving for the curious swimming treats. 


Food and water bowl

Don’t be tempted to wear sunglasses as an alternative to goggles. Ideally, wearing a helmet is more of a safety precaution. On the other hand, and especially when trail riding, goggles combine safety and practicality. You get protection from anything airborne, from bugs to flying gravel and branches. Goggles also keep sweat, dust and dirt from getting into your eyes. Tinted goggles are easy on the eyes and can double as sunglasses.

Good goggles should be scratch resistant with hard-coated polycarbonate lenses, and should bear the standard marking VESC8 (or V-8), or z87.1. Shop for models that are well-vented to prevent fogging. Above all else, make sure the goggles are a match and fit for your helmet. 



Bring along some of the comforts of home, just like you do on a family road trip. You can bring along favorite toys, and even include water toys like floating retriever bumpers. If you use the “place” command to send the dog to his bed or kennel, bring it along, space permitting. A shady spot is a must, and you can get creative with towels or items that create a spot to chill from the hot sun.    


First aid kit

You should have aboard the boat a marine specific first aid kit. A first aid kit stocked with supplies for treating pet injuries is a good idea at home and on the boat. Bring it along for the ride so you are prepared for any minor emergency that might arise. 


Even if your dog is an old salt and seasoned member of the crew there is always the chance of it accidentally going overboard. Like you should for the human passengers, devise a dog overboard plan to get it back onboard without creating panic for the pet and crew.

If it happens, circle back around and turn off the engine when near your dog. To perform the rescue, DO NOT jump in, which could make the dog panic and cause it to swim farther away or panic. Instead, remain calm and call your dog over to the boat. Use a telescoping boat hook to grab the handle of the life vest, or do it by hand. Let the pet shake it off, give praise and resume the fun.



Cats have better sea legs than dogs due to their low center of gravity. Cats are popular sailing companions, which disproves the myth about their fear of water. Even so, cats are adventurous explorers, always looking for places to hide and be where they should not.

If Kitty is your trusted companion you already know about their tendency to wander and roam. Boating with a cat can be just as fun as with a dog. Just make sure you always are aware of where the cat is. Cat sailors solve the problem by using a collapsible cat carrier, and a portable litter box that doubles as a kitty bed.

Follow the same rules of acclimation as you would for a dog. Cats are indeed curious, but can become fearful of too much racket going on around them. There are noises to avoid and others that over time can be acclimated to as part of the ride.

Treat, praise and acclimate your pet to the wonderful world of boating. Before you know it, the same tail wags you get when asking your pet if it wants to go outside and play will come when you ask, “wanna go on the boat?”



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