by Louisa Beckett for Mercury Marine
Nothing turns heads in a marina like seeing a dog on a boat, happily joining his owner family on their waterborne adventures. If your dog loves to go with you to the beach or the lake, chances are he will enjoy boating, too. Bringing your “best friend” along for a day on the water also can make the boating experience even more fun for you and the family. After all, Fido is part of your family, too.
Taking your dog out on the water is different than taking him to the beach, however. He’ll be away from familiar ground – and the usual potty options. So, before you set sail, it’s important to make sure your boat is equipped for his safety and comfort. Here are some tips on how to prepare for a dog-friendly day on the water.
- Your pet should wear a life jacket when he’s on your boat, just like the kids. Yes, most dogs can swim – the life vest is more for you than it is for him. This will hit home the first time your dog jumps off the boat and you try to bring him back aboard. When you’re in the cockpit and he’s in the water, it’s hard to find the leverage you need to haul him in. Most dog life vests have handles on the top, however, which will make it easier to pull him in. The vest’s built-in flotation also will help your dog swim longer without getting tired, and its bright color will let you spot him in the water more easily as well. Dog life vests are readily available at West Marine and other marine stores, and you can find them easily online. Typically, they are sized by weight, so put Fido on the scale before you buy one for him.
- If your pet is heavy, you might also consider purchasing a dog boat ramp or ladder. We’re not kidding – they actually exist! Look for a dog ladder that’s portable, plastic (so it won’t rust), and hooks securely onto your boat’s stern (or bow) boarding ladder. Make sure the angle is not too steep, so your dog can swim right up to the bottom of the ramp or ladder and use it to climb into the boat.
- This may sound incredible, but they also make sunscreen for pets! Short-haired breeds need protection from the sun, especially when they’re fully exposed during a long day on the water. Use a high SPF sunscreen and re-apply frequently, just as you would with the kids.
- Bring a pet bowl on board and keep it filled with fresh water. Dogs need to stay hydrated on hot, sunny days, just like humans – even more so, in fact. Look for a dog bowl with a rubber base, or put it on a rubber mat, so it won’t slide around in the cockpit or tip over when a wake hits your boat.
- Be prepared to turn back and call it a day if your dog gets seasick. Yes, pets can get seasick too, particularly when the water’s rough. Your human crew may thank you, too!
- Plan to make a couple of stops during your boating trip so your dog has the chance to “do his business” ashore. Most marinas and public docks have a strip of grass somewhere on the grounds where you can walk Fido or Fifi. Don’t forget to pack some plastic bags so you can be a good citizen and pick up after your pet.
- If your boating itinerary doesn’t permit any “rest stops,” you may be able to train your dog to use a puppy training pad onboard. (Some experienced cruisers use an Astroturf mat, which is easy to rinse off.) Keep the pad or mat in the same spot on deck, so your dog will get used to finding and using it when nature calls. Pack some training treats and reward him for a job well done!
- When you’re docking or launching your boat, consider keeping your dog in the cabin or on a leash secured to a cleat or other fixture that’s not in use. Docking requires the full concentration of the captain and crew; you don’t need an added distraction of a dog trying to jump from ship to shore. However, be sure not to leave your dog locked inside the boat’s cabin when you go ashore to shop or eat – He can get overheated in there, just as he could if you left him alone locked in a car. Look for a dog-friendly restaurant instead, or pack a picnic lunch the whole family can enjoy outdoors.
Swimming off the boat, playing fetch on a sandbar, riding home with his head in the lap of a sleepy child – this is the stuff of doggy daydreams. With a little forethought and preparation, the whole family – including Fifi and Fido – can enjoy spending time together on the water.