Boating with Your Pet

Spring has finally arrived and if you are not lucky enough to live in Florida, where we boat most of the year, landlubbers all over the country are thinking of getting their boats ready for the coming boating season.

With boating comes the thought, will my dog or cat be able to join the family in its fun?

The answer to that is maybe “yes” and maybe “no.”

It depends on the pet and your patience in acquainting your pet with your boat. Some pets do get seasick just like some people do. A pet that has adjusted to long car rides is more apt to be okay, than a pet that gets sick in the car from a ride around the block.

Pets that have never been boating need time to get exposed to the ins and outs of boating, a little at a time. The best time to start is now, while the boat is either in your yard or in dry-dock.

But before you start ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will your pet tolerate a harness and a leash?
  • Is your pet fairly calm or does it get overly excited, when something happens?
  • Does your pet get carsick?
  • Is your pet old and has lost some of its agility?
  • What would you do if you had to leave port immediately and could not find your pet?
  • Does you cat or dog respond to commands; such as come, stay, sit, up, down?

    Does your dog bark at the drop of a pin?

  • Will your dog bite or nip at stranger?
  • Have you trained your dog to “potty” in a certain spot?
  • Is your cat an indoor cat and never been exposed to the outside?
  • Is your cat a fussy eater?
  • Is your cat scared of strange sounds and of people?
  • Is there be someone on board that will keep a watchful eye most of the time on your pet?

    If you can answer those questions and come up with the correct answer 99.9 percent of the time, you and your pet are ready for the open sea.

    The next question is “how do you prepare your pet” for this wonderful adventure?

    First of all, your pet has to get used to the boat and that can be done while it is in your yard or in dry-dock. Remember, if you are taking your pet away from home, it needs a harness and leash (yes, a harness, no collar.) Why a harness? A cat or dog can slip out of a collar and be gone in a blink of an eye; a harness is more confining and safer.

    Once they are used to the feel and smell of the boat, start the motor, so they get used to the sound and are not frightened.

    Next purchase a floatation device (life jacket) for your pet, there are many on the market and they do save pets lives. Let your pet become accustomed to wearing it; start with short periods of time at first.

    It also will be worth the effort and time to allow your cat or dog to try swimming with it on. Believe it or not some dogs cannot swim. Pets do fall overboard many times.

    The life jacket will keep your pet afloat even if it is exhausted or suffering from hyperthermia. Most devices have handles on the top for easy lifting out of the water. Pets when wet are heavier than when dry.

    Once you have the boat in the water, take your pet aboard and let it feel the motion, start the motor and do not leave the dock. Let the pet absorb this experience.

    Once you can see your pet is fairly comfortable take a short jaunt, keeping the harness and leash on your pet for safekeeping. Do this for several days; expanding the time spent on the boat, while keeping a watchful eye on your pet. If all goes well, you just might have a sailor on your hands.

    Many cats adapt to the life at sea very well, some do not. The same goes for dogs, some are world travelers, and others want to be home on dry land, where they feel safe and secure.

    Do not force your pet to become a sailor, if the desire is not there. Pets like people have their likes and dislikes and should be respected.

    If Miss/Mr. kitty has decided that life at sea is the place to be there are some things you need to consider for their comfort and things you will need for port entry.

  • Harness and leash needed on board and generally in all ports of call.
  • Medical records, recent vaccinations, rabies shot and a physical report that some ports require that it be very recent, have vet leave date bank and fill in when necessary before entering a port.
  • Identification with all phone numbers, boat name, call letters, etc. Microchip also advised.
  • Scratching post that is attached to something that will not move. Do not take a declawed cat on board. Cats need their claws should they fall overboard.
  • Litter box also attached, so it will not move. Use clumping litter for less cleanup and garbage.
  • Crate or carrier to be used when in port, to keep pets from wandering, also to be used in bad weather and secured against motion.
  • Life jacket, hard on cats as it restricts motion, but should have on board as a safety measure.
  • Plenty of fresh water and more than enough of its favorite pet food.
  • Pictures of the cat in case it gets lost.
  • Check all ports of call, if you are cruising to foreign port for their requirements in regard to pets being allowed in.

    If you are traveling with your dog many of the same things should be considered.

  • Harness and leash, take several in case one gets lost.
  • Identification, all phone numbers, call letters, boat name, dog’s name. Microchip is suggested also.
  • Training your dog to use “puppy pads” (they have them for large dogs, too) or an artificial grass patch is a good idea especially if you are cruising far from land.
  • Dog license, all medical records, recent shots and rabies certification, again you may need a very up to date physical exam statement from your vet, have him leave date blank so you can fill it in before you get to the port that requires it.
  • Pooper-scooper all ports require you clean up after your pet.
  • Crate or carrier to confine your dog when faced with bad weather or when you are in port. Some ports will not allowed a dog to run free.
  • Plenty of fresh water and usual food.
  • Life jacket to wear in bad weather or if your dog is an explorer on board.
  • Pictures of your pet, should it wander away.
  • Someone to keep a watchful eye on the pet at all times. The health of a dog should be watched carefully. Do not let it become over-heated, watch for motion sickness, do not let it drink the water, watch its traction on deck.

    The question is should you take your pet?

    The answer is yes, if you have the patience to put up with certain inconveniences, are prepared to handle both the pet and bad weather and can handle the possibility of losing your pet either because it wandered away or fell overboard and could not be retrieved.

    To make boating with your dog more fun and safer there are many products that can be purchase such as:

  • self adhesive paw pads that help a dog’s traction on deck
  • doggy-docks which are floating water ramps for dogs, makes climbing on board easier and safer
  • Dog boat ramp helps boarding when boat is in a slip

    These items can be found at or at any other pet store that sells pet boating products.

    Taking your pet when you are going out sailing just for a day or for an extended period of time can be loads of fun, providing you adhere to certain safety measures. For more information about boating safety and education contact your local Auxiliary Flotilla at or

    Enjoy the season, your pet and your boat.