Taking Your Dog on a Boat: How to Set Sail Safely

Having the opportunity to get out on the water is fun for the whole family–even your four-legged family members! Dogs and boats can be a fun combo, but bringing dogs on a boat requires special precautions. After all, while you can talk about boat safety in terms the other passengers can understand, you can't simply use words to explain to your dog how to stay safe on your boat.

Instead, you'll have to teach your dog safety precautions. He might need to learn everything from how to swim to the best way of getting on and off the vessel. You'll also have to pack extra gear just for your dog when taking him on the water. Consider things like where dogs on a boat will go to the bathroom, where he'll get fresh water and where he can rest if the sun gets to be too much. But don't be overwhelmed! Here are some tips on how to safely boat with your canine companion.

Supplies to Pack Before Leaving Shore

Here are some supplies you should always pack when bringing dogs on a boat:

A Life Jacket

While most people think all dogs are good swimmers, it's just not true. Besides, even the best swimmers can sometimes run into trouble if they're exhausted or if they're in water that's too rough or too cold. A life jacket that gives a dog extra buoyancy should have "lifting handles" that enable you to haul the dog back aboard. It's also important to try on a life jacket before you buy. Unlike human personal flotation devices, there are no regulations in place for dog life jackets so making sure the jacket fits well and is comfortable for your pooch is essential.

A Water BowlTwo dogs in life vests sit perched at the bow of a boat on a lake.

You should always have clean water available for your dog. Clean water, of course, is meant to prevent dehydration, but having plenty on hand discourages dogs from drinking water from a stream, pond, or lake. Waterborne parasites can make your dog sick, so if he does drink water from elsewhere, be sure to have his stool exams done several times a year. Testing is important not just for the health of your dog but also for your family, as many waterborne parasites can be passed from pets to people. Try a collapsible water bowl, which makes for easy storage and transport.

Sunscreen

Light-colored dogs and thin-haired dogs are susceptible to sunburns. Some vets recommend using baby sunscreen with SPF 30 (or higher) for your pet. Apply sunscreen on his ears, the bridge of his nose, and any other area where skin shows. There's also a wide array of sunscreen on the market that is made just for dogs. Please note that you should NEVER use sunscreen that contains zinc oxide on your dog. While safe for humans, zinc oxide is toxic to dogs.

Extra Towels or a Mat

Find a place that's out of the way and in the shade that your dog can rest when he needs a break from the sun. A mat can also help a dog that's slipping on the deck of a boat feel more secure and comfortable. The movements of dogs and boats don't always align.

Waste Bags and Puppy Pads

Some people train their dogs to go on puppy pads when on board so that messes are easy to clean, and spare waste bags can help you contain and tuck away any mess until you're able to find the proper receptacle ashore. If this is not something your dog is accustomed to do and you plan on being out of the water for hours at a time, you need to make sure you set aside some time to make a trip ashore to let him relieve himself.

Getting Your Dog on and off a Boat

A dog that tries to jump on and off a boat can hurt himself if he slips. He can also accidentally end up in the water, caught between the boat and the dock–a scary scenario for sure! That's why it's important to teach your dog to let you carry him on board, or better yet, have a ramp or stairs that he can use to climb on himself.

While the Boat is in Motion

Dogs are naturally curious creatures. They love to have the wind in their face and be in a place to spot all that is going on around them. But because boats are not enclosed like cars, they have a much greater risk of getting thrown out of the boat. So, when the boat is in motion, make sure he is not standing on the bow (front) of the boat. Large waves, or sudden changes in direction or speed could cause him to lose balance and fall in putting him at great risk. It's okay when the boat is stopped (like in the photo shown). The same can be said of sunbathing areas on boats. Many passenger boats have a spot on the stern (back) of the boat that allow passengers to lay out when the boat is anchored. Just as it is not safe for a human to ride up there while the boat is in motion, it is even more of a hazard for a dog to ride up there. The best way to keep your pup safe is to have him lying down beside you or on the floor of the boat. It might also be a good idea to keep the leash on him, so that if a fun and exciting sound or smell gets his attention, you will have the ability to help control his movements and keep him safe.

Why Should You Have All the Fun?

If you are an avid boater, you might also have other affinities while you're out on the water such as watersports or fishing. Learn more about how to keep your pup safe while you're enjoying all that the water has to offer.

Watersports

Your dog may love the water and is just itching to get in and cool off, so when he sees a passenger jump in the water to put on skis or a wakeboard he may think it is also time for him to get in too. Again, this is where a leash can come in handy, or the handle on the back of a life jacket. Your dog can get excited and try and jump in after their human companion, but he could end up injuring himself by doing so. With that in mind, make sure another passenger that is on the boat has ahold of the leash or handle to keep him situated as the other passenger gets into the water.

Fishing

No doubt that on a long day out on the water fishing you'd like the companionship of your best friend, but there are some things to consider before taking your dog on your fishing trip with you. First, hooks and lures can be dangerous to a dog if not safely locked away in a tackle box. They can get caught in his paws, or he might see a lure as a tasty treat and try to eat it causing way more issues. It can also be hazardous while casting or trying to get a hook unstuck as the hook flying through the air can not only potentially get snagged on you, but you might also end up hooking your dog. The next thing to be wary of is when you actually catch a fish. To you, a large mouthed bass is the highlight of your day, to your furry little friend it is a new and interesting situation that must be investigated. If he sees a fish flopping out of the water, he might try and jump in after it and hurt himself. Also, a fish flopping around could stick your dog with its fins, or the hook still lodged in its lip could also get your dog. Make sure your dog is trained enough to leave the fish alone while you are hauling it in.

Keep Him Safe in the Water

While some dogs take naturally to the water, other dogs benefit from swimming lessons. PetMD recommends starting the lessons in a shallow area where you can walk beside your pup and keep him leashed while he gets comfortable. If your pet is reluctant to get his feet wet, bring a favorite toy or two that you can toss in the water to tempt him to take a dip. To teach your dog to use all four legs to swim, support him until he perfects the doggie paddle. If he's still timid, there are special flotation devices made especially for dogs. They allow him to float on top of the water, but get used to the idea of being in the water.

When you're teaching your pup to swim, NEVER do the following:

Never Just Throw Him in

Not only does this put your dog at risk for drowning, you'll break your dog's trust in you, and you may even scare him enough that he loses all interest in ever getting wet.

Never Leave Him Alone

Just like a child, you should never leave a dog unattended in the water–even for a minute. Dogs can drown, too, so you'll want to supervise his swimming at all times.

Keeping YOU Safe in the Water

Some dogs try to climb on their pet parents when in the water, which can quickly turn into a dangerous situation. The dog might think he's playing with you or might think he's actually saving you! But instead, he could drown you and himself. So it's vital to train your dog–in water shallow enough where you can stand–to stay a few feet away from you in the water. One training technique for this is to toss a toy that floats away from you anytime he gets too close.

Bringing dogs on a boat can result in plenty of great memories. You just have to plan ahead, train and prepare your pup for the adventure. Once you've done the prep work, you'll find that you have a true sea dog on your hands!

Contributor Bio

Kara Murphy

Kara Murphy

Kara Murphy is a freelance writer in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.

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