Are dog’s good sailors? Do many liveaboard cruisers go sailing with a dog on board? What’s it like sailing with man’s best friend? These are all questions I get asked often. Many singles, couples, and families are interested in taking a year out to go sailing or hitting the sea indefinitely, but what about Fido?
In our 20,000 nautical miles of travel around the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic Ocean, up the east coast of America and over to Bermuda we’ve seen every type of dog on every type of sailing vessel. We’ve seen tiny Shiatsu’s and massive Great Danes afloat (yes – a Great Dane on a boat!).
Sadly, we don’t have a dog on board. My daughter and I would love a pet but hubby say’s ‘no’. We’re still working on him but in the meantime, Meg from K9 of Mine sent me a fantastic infographic (located below) about boat safety for dogs. I asked if I could reprint the graphic and ask her some questions.
Sailing with a dog on board – Q&A
Kim: Thank you Meg for helping to answer some questions about dogs on board. I love the infographic you sent me.
Meg: Thanks for the feedback Kim. And thank you for providing me with the opportunity to share our information with your readers. Obviously dogs adore being out on the open water with their favorite humans, but there are a fair number of safety considerations to keep in mind when boating with a pooch. That’s why we created the Dog Boating Safety Tips Infographic – we want to help keep all canine crew safe this summer!
Kim: Safety for all life is the number one importance on our boat. So speaking about safety, do dogs really need to wear a lifejacket?
Meg: Yes, all dogs need life jackets when they go out to sea!
Ocean water is choppy and rougher than your local pond, and even strong swimmers could get pulled under.
While dog life jackets are no brainers for owners of snub-nosed breeds, who are usually poor swimmers and have a difficult time keeping their heads above the water line, they’re essential for strong swimmers too.
Even H20-obsessed breeds like Labradors may have trouble swimming in rough, open waters and could easily get pulled under.
Don’t risk it – make sure your dog is equipped with a canine PFD (Personal Flotation Device) before leaving the dock!
Kim: So, what does a dog owner do if their dog falls in the water?
Meg: It’s pretty key to make a game plan on what you’ll do if your dog falls in the water before it happens so I’m pleased you asked this question, Kim.
Since your dog is (hopefully) equipped with his doggy PFD, there’s no immediate risk of drowning, but of course you’ll need to rescue your dog as soon as possible.
It’s key that you assign one individual to keep an eye on the dog’s spot in the water, while the other person navigates the boat. Remember that dog’s don’t have the ability to wave their arms to help signal their location to you. A dog’s small, bobbing head can be easy to lose track of in the waves, so have the person tasked with spotting your dog point their finger out in order to have visuals on your dog at all times.
Then navigate your boat close to the dog, cut the engine, and yell to your dog to get them to swim over.
Kim: Yes – it’s the same procedure for humans. One member of crew keeps pointing at the person who fell overboard while all the other crewmembers work together to get the boat close enough for a pickup. People, dogs and anything that goes overboard can be lost in seconds.
Meg – this might sound like a silly question, but one of our biggest issues is keeping out of the sun. I was wondering if dogs get sun burns?
Meg: Yes, dogs can get sunburns, just like humans!
While fair-skinned humans know to load on the sunscreen during sunny days, we often forget that dogs need sun protection too.
Dogs with very thin or very light colored fur are especially at risk for sun burns. If you can detect your dog’s pink skin under their fur, they definitely need sun protection.
Luckily, there are a good number of sunscreens specifically designed for dogs. They come in different application forms too – with wipes and sprays being very popular. Choose the method that works best for you, and get your pup protected!
Kim: Wow! I never knew that there was such a s think as Dog Sunscreen! And I think it’s also very important to note that having a bimini or some sort of area on the boat that’s shaded is very important. We often see people on vacation sitting in the direct sunlight sailing around and think it’s nuts. Furthermore, it’s a good idea to plan trips to land when the sun is not at its hottest.
Now Meg, I’ve heard that it’s a dangerous time for dogs when docking a boat. What’s that all about?
Meg: Docking can be a dangerous time for dogs and their owners, as dogs get very excited and may attempt to jump on or off the boat in the middle of the docking process.
This can be quite dangerous since a dog can potentially fall between the boat and the dock – a recipe for disaster. Docking is when most boating accidents with dogs occur, so always keep an eye on your pooch during this time!
We actually recommend teaching your dog the “on boat” and “off boat” commands to keep your four-footer safe.
Kim: I love the “on boat” and “off boat” commands. What a great idea. Friends of ours usually close their dogs down in the saloon while they’re docking. It’s often such a stressful procedure – adding anything that can distract the skipper and crewmembers is not a good idea.
I have one last question for you Meg. Where do dogs go to the bathroom on the boat?
Meg: Dog bathroom time can definitely be more complicated when out to sea.
Dogs that are housetrained will refuse to simply go on the deck. Most dogs are taught at a very young age that going potty anywhere that’s not outside makes them a bad dog – and they hate the thought of that.
When I volunteered at a dog shelter, I learned that some dogs are so housebroken that they won’t go potty even in the outdoor portion of their kennel. Some dogs will hold in their pee for so long that they’ll actually injure themselves.
Of course you don’t want your pooch to hurt himself, so you’ll want to create an appropriate potty space on deck.
Most owners opt for astroturf, plastic puppy pads, or even real grass potty pads. The best material will be something familiar to your dog. Try practicing with the boating potty pads now and then before you set out to sea so that your dog has time to get accustomed to them.
Even with bathroom pads, some dogs may refuse to relieve themselves on anything expect dry land. In this case, be prepared to make frequent visits to the shoreline so your dog can relieve himself in peace!
Kim: Awesome information Meg. I really appreciate you taking the time to provide us with all this great information. If our readers have any further questions about canines aboard how can they find you?
Meg: Visit our website at K9 of Mine and feel free to contact me through the Contact Page.
Kim: Or…if you want to leave a comment’s about sailing with a dog below please do so. If I can’t answer you I’ll bring the question to Meg on your behalf.
Just wondering what other people do with regards to there protocols for abandoning ship with a dog on the ocean, as a large dogs claws will shred a raft in seconds. Even a small sized dog not in a crate which creates its own difficulties will shred rafts so what solutions have others come up with, for the unthinkable abandon ship call.
Kim Brown says
Wow…that’s a very good question. I never thought of that. Anyone out there ever hear of a solution?!
Chad French says
Kim, hope you still get these replies but I just wanted to say hi and thanks for the article, as we have a Great Dane on our 51 foot Aleutian Ketch and we leave for Baja Ha Ha in November. We’ve lived on board with her for the last 8 months and we’re all adapting well (two kids and me and my wife) + Great Dane Quincy. She’s featured every Sunday on the website and we’re all kind of learning as we go- I read your articles and appreciate your website and posts- Thanks – Chad
Kim Brown says
Chad, Great Dane’s are my absolute favorite dogs. You better watch out…if we sail by I might just have to take Quincy (or at least borrow her for a bit). Big smiles, Kim