Sailing with a Pet on Board Your Boat

dogs on a boat
photo courtesy of Ingrid Taylor

Tips for keeping your dog or cat safe, happy and well cared for when cruising

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Ask any pet owner how their furry friend has changed their life, and you will get the same answer – high maintenance, but a best friend for life. Sailing, also a high maintenance hobby, can only become more difficult with a furry beast playing Skipper, but it is not impossible and it works miracles on the crew’s mood.

There are a couple of things to mind before and during your sailing trip with the pet:

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Prepping Your Boat for Pets

cat on boat
photo courtesy of A. Davey

Before you even bring an animal on board, you have to make the boat pet-safe. This applies to cat-owners rather than dog-owners. The boat is full of holes and openings perfect for a cat or little dog to settle in. Nobody wants to drag an unwilling cat out of the engine compartment, so inspect your boat before your pet does, and close off the holes. A cat knows water when it sees it, and won’t actively try to come near it. It could slip, however, and hanging some form of net or rope off the side of the boat could save its life. Also, keep your boat safe from your cat by putting up a scratching post, and training the cat to use only the scratching post. Don’t declaw your cat, however, as the sharp claws are its only method of staying safe aboard the boat.

For both dogs and cats, you want to take your pet to the boat a couple of times before sailing, to let it get comfortable with its surroundings.

Traveling with a Pet

Pet microchips, carrying owner and vaccination information, are required by law in most countries, as well as pet passports. Not many officers will ask to look at it, but having it around is a far better option than having your pet taken away from you. It is a good idea to engrave the collar tag with the boat name as well as the regular owner information, if the animal is to spend a lot of time around marinas, which do not have a scanner at hand to read the microchip.

pet cruising
photo courtesy of Jelene Morris

Pet Water Safety

Life jackets exist for dogs of all sizes, always a bright, vivid color, and with a useful handle on top. If you are having trouble finding one in your vicinity, try pet stores equipped with life jackets. Dogs are more likely to go overboard, and should always wear one. Of course, unless the dog is used to clothes, it will not be too happy wearing the vest, so try introducing it gradually. A life jacket on a cat interferes negatively with its mobility, keeping netting around the board is the only solution. Of course, devise a rescue plan for overboard crew members and pets before even setting sail.

Pet Vaccinations & Health for Cruising Destinations

Vaccinations depend on the sailing destination. Pets must be microchipped in order to apply for a passport, and a complete vaccination history is required on hand in some places. Australia and New Zealand are legally very complicated and expensive for onboard pets, so completely avoid sailing there with a pet onboard. You can find more information on international pet legislation here.

As with a first-aid kit for humans, never travel without a first-aid kit for animals. Tiny doses of human medication will work in most cases, but the Humane Society offers travelers a complete pharmacy list for animals, listed by order of necessity, that is a good reference. Keep in mind that most animals get seasick.

pet potty break
Photo: Weimaraner Figurehead by Ingrid Taylar

Pet Potty Breaks

Bathroom breaks on a boat are rather different than the usual ones. It is a simpler matter for cats – install a litter box near the center of the deck, where boat movements are felt the least. Place it on a non-skid mat, and clean it out as often as possible.

Some dogs can be trained to use newspapers, making everybody’s time onboard easier, but if this is not the case, marina stops are necessary. Throwing poop overboard is illegal everywhere.

Water and Sun Safety

Keep your pets hydrated, and have a shade available to protect them from the harsh sunlight of open waters. A bowl of fresh water on a non-skid mat will do the trick.

Finally, always keep an eye on your pets – they are very much like children in their curiosity and naivety. For all that, there won’t be a person on your boat happier to hit the open waters and explore new marinas than your pet.

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