Thinking of planning a sailing holiday or even buying a boat? While you might have no problems finding your sea legs, things are not always as simple for your four-legged friend.
If you want to take your dog sailing, make sure you follow my five top safety tips, so both you and your pet have a great time onboard.
Tip: The most important thing is to take things slowly. Don’t expect your dog to go from never being on a boat to being comfortable on a long trip. Start with short boat trips, then gradually build up as your pet becomes more confident.
1. Buy a Dog Life Jacket
Even if your dog is a strong swimmer and just can’t get enough of the water, you must invest in a well-fitting dog life jacket.
Ideally, your dog should wear this whenever they are on deck. It’s also a good idea to plan when your pet must always be wearing their jacket, such as in strong currents, stormy weather, or trips miles out from the shore.
Just as for all your boat’s human occupants, you also need to come up with a rescue plan for your dog should the unthinkable happen and they end up overboard. So buy the jacket and plan for all eventualities.
I thoroughly recommend getting your dog used to his or her life jacket long before your trip using positive training techniques. If possible, set up a practice session involving getting your dog out of the water while wearing their jacket.
Make sure that everyone on board is aware of when your dog should be wearing a life jacket and what to do should your pet go overboard.
2. Pet-Proof Your Boat
Obviously, if you’re chartering a boat for a week, you’re not going to be able to make any extensive changes.
That said, most charter firms will provide you with safety netting – essential for small children too, plus it will help to keep your equipment on deck in rough conditions. So make sure you install safety netting all around your deck railing before leaving port, otherwise your dog could easily slip off deck and overboard.
Another easy addition to help your pet get used to life on your boat is to put down some non-slip mats. Whether your dog bounces around on deck, or has more of a placid character, non-slip mats will help them to feel at ease and prevent them from sliding from one end of the deck to the other.
For your dog’s safety and your peace of mind, you should also invest in a heavy-duty harness and tethering line. This will help to keep your dog safe when the water gets a little choppy but you still want to bring them on deck for some fresh air.
Lastly, make a doggy den below the deck that is completely safe for your pooch. It needs to be fully secure so you can safely keep them there should you encounter any problems.
When the weather gets rough, the last thing you need is to be worrying about what your dog is getting up to when you need to be focused on sailing.
3. Provide Shade and Water
Dogs suffer when in the heat, so it’s essential they have plenty of fresh water at all times.
Look out for a water bowl that isn’t going to easily tip over on deck and make sure that it is always topped up. You’ll also need another suitable bowl for your dog’s sleeping quarters below deck.
Shade is essential for your dog, as well as yourself. Make a couple of shaded areas around the deck so your pet always has a way to get out of the sun. If your dog is overheating, move him to a shaded area and place cool damp cloths around the neck, groin, or armpit areas.
Dogs with light-colored fur and pink skin can be prone to sunburn, so you may need to purchase some dog sunscreen before you head off. Dog cooling vests can be a great option if your dog likes to be by your side all day keeping an eye on the horizon.
Alternatively, during the hottest part of the day, I like to soak a towel then place it in a shady spot to help my dog stay cool while sailing.
4. Make a Dog Toilet
One of the biggest challenges when taking your dog sailing is providing them with a safe place to relieve themselves. Ideally, you’ll be making frequent land stops, but this may not be possible for every day of your trip, or if you’re traveling further afield rather than hugging the coastline.
Many dogs refuse to go onboard and may hold themselves in until you take them on land. To help with this, I recommend trying a dog potty mat made from synthetic turf, such as those designed for apartment balconies. To get your dog used to the idea of peeing on the mat (something that is likely to be ingrained in their mind as “wrong” behavior) you should try to get the mat “used” as much as possible before your trip.
If your dog refuses to pee on the mat at all, your best bet may be to take it out with you and place it down just as your dog is urinating. Alternatively, get a friend’s dog to “use” the mat, as most dogs will instinctively cover the scent of another to mark their territory.
I’ve also had success with using puppy training pads on deck. The soft texture and pre-scented composition appeal to my dog more, although you’ll need to dispose of and replace the pads, so they are less suitable for long trips.
Once you’ve successfully used them for the first couple of days, your dog should get used to the idea and location, meaning you are able to replace the training pads with a washable pee mat.
For sailing trips when you’re going to be spending a considerable amount of time without stopping on land, it’s really important to make sure that your dog will use their onboard toilet before heading off. If your dog is not comfortable relieving himself onboard, he could end up with a urinary tract infection from holding in for too long.
While in theory, creating an onboard doggy toilet shouldn’t be that complicated, for some dogs it can be a major issue. As with everything dog and sail boat-related make sure that you plan well ahead and introduce your dog to life onboard slowly with plenty of stops at first to facilitate the adjustment period.
5. Pre-Plan Your Docking Routine
Docking is one of the most dangerous times for your dog on deck.
You’re going to be focusing on maneuvering your boat, and your dog is probably getting ready to relish being on dry land and having a good run around. In the excitement, some dogs may even try to jump ashore, which could result in serious injury.
The best solution is to either use a tether with a harness, or to place your dog below deck. If your dog tends to get excited, barking and jumping around, the latter may be best so you’re not distracted.
It’s always better to be safe than sorry, and even the best-behaved dogs can lapse when approaching dry land after a while at sea, so make sure that your pet is always secure before you start to dock.
Before docking, aside from having a routine planned for your dog you’ll also need to plan well ahead, especially if you are sailing internationally. Find out what vaccinations and certificates your dog will need, as well as how dogs are generally accepted in the local area. Some countries may require a quarantine period or not accept dogs at all, so all this needs to be factored into the planning stages of your trip.
If you’re going to be coast-hugging, you can plan your dog’s exercise and toilet trips around your stops, so make sure they are as well spaced out as possible. Planning and practicing are key to making the most of your time on board with your dog.
Sailing with your dog can be a great bonding experience and most dogs will relish the time spent in close quarters with their owners. However, not all dogs will take to life on board, so before planning any long trips or investing in a boat, take a short sailing trip with your dog to test the water.
Applying the above dog safety sailing tips will help to keep your pup safe on board, making their entire trip much more comfortable and enjoyable. So, get your dog life jacket ordered, and make sure you have safety netting, water, shade, and a safe place for your dog to shelter.
Most importantly, plan well ahead – from emergency recovery procedures to stops in port, to make sure that your sailing trip is optimized for your pet’s needs.