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Sailing With Your Dog

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According to a recent Cruisersforum.com survey, dogs are the most popular boating companions. About 62 percent of those who cruise with pets choose dogs as their sailing partners, while cats account for roughly 36 percent of seafaring pets.

Like their owners, dogs will be more or less comfortable on a boat. While breeds of all types can acclimate to a seafaring lifestyle, smaller dogs with a low center of gravity may find their sea legs sooner than a long-legged variety. Boaters often discover that miniature schnauzers and poodles, or other small breeds such as Schipperkes, have big benefits. These include:

  • A smaller food supply that requires less storage space
  • Fewer shedding-related maintenance issues than larger dogs
  • Onboard playtime that can provide enough exercise between land excursions

You won't have to cruise with a dog often to realize that a small dog is a lot easier to haul out of the water than, say, a soaking wet 130-pound St. Bernard. Small dogs are easier on your dingy, too.

Doggie overboard?

Even dogs with good motion reflexes occasionally fall overboard, so you'll want to prepare for that possibility as part of your pre-trip planning.

The following are some options to consider:

  • Water collars sound a loud alarm when wet, effectively alerting you that you have a dog overboard.
  • A PFD, or pet flotation device, is a good idea in rough seas. A properly fitted jacket will support your dog horizontally with its head slightly out of the water. A device with an attached handle could be a real lifesaver if you need to retrieve Fido. 
  • It's much easier to haul your cruising canine out of the water if its wearing a dog harness rather than a collar.

Captain George Stateham, who has a United States Coast Guard Master license, has taken his Entlebucher, Toby, on many cruises. Stateham recommends attaching a tether to the harness that's short enough to prevent your dog from accidentally falling over overboard, but long enough to allow some freedom of motion.

"You can also train your pet to self-rescue using a ramp rigged to the boat,'' he said. "It's a great solution for dogs that love to swim, too.''


You may find that it proves more difficult to retrain your dog to go to the bathroom onboard than it was to housebreak it. Some dogs will wait forever rather than risk going in your floating home.

Some cruisers use potty pads or a litter box. However, others have found it more convenient to train their pet to go on a piece of Astroturf marked with their own scent. It takes up less storage space, and can be washed and reused on a daily basis. As a rough weather precaution, take the time to teach your dog to use its bathroom matt below deck as well.

Dog tags

Finally, be sure your dog has identification or is microchipped, and that it is healthy enough to travel. You'll want to make sure all shots are up to date. On your travels, your pet may encounter dogs that have had little veterinary care. An ounce of prevention, including flea and heartworm medication, can save a lot of trouble later.

For a comprehensive list of requirements for entering foreign countries, click here. Many ports require a health certificate, so contact your veterinarian for a check up. While you're there, ask about stocking your dog's first aid kit. Dog-sized dosage information for human medications, including those for motion sickness (Dramamine) or stomach upset (Tums), can come in handy.  Or contact your veterinarian about Cerenia, a prescription medication to control motion sickness in pets.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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