One of the great pleasures in life is having a dog as a companion. The other, many of us would argue, is being on a boat. Setting sail toward the endless horizon, leaving the world behind, with nothing but adventure in front of you.
However, many people seem to think these two great loves can’t go hand in hand, often forcing a choice between the two. The good news is this couldn’t be further from the truth.
You simply don’t need to choose between your love for dogs and that of the open ocean.
More and more people are setting sail with their partners, families and dogs and enjoying the best of both worlds. Whilst it’s irrefutably viable to take your dog sailing with you; if you haven’t done it before it can be a little daunting!
Okay we can already hear you say it, “hell, no! I’m not dressing my animal up in human clothes and parading them around like a show doll.” Well when it comes to jeans and t-shirts I would completely agree, but believe it or not lifejackets and/or harnesses are not just for humans, they form an essential piece of safety gear for your dog, and peace of mind for you.
Dogs should wear lifejackets at all times when your boat is under way or when you’re not able to keep your eye on them. Tethers are also a great idea, you can clip them to a shackle in the cockpit which means they’re out in the fresh air but can’t go roaming on deck when you’re on a heel. If your dog can’t swim I’d recommend they wear it whenever they’re above deck, or have a little grab harness like the one in the picture. The best ones have handles on the top so if they fall in the water they’re easy to get back out again.
Don’t underestimate how heavy your dog will be when they’re flapping around in the water!
Know your DOB drill. Any good sailor knows their standard Man Over Board (MOB) procedure, but it’s equally essential to know your DOB plan.
Unlike humans, you can’t just rely on being able to tell your dog what to do, so it’s best to do some training, teach them (in a fun, calm environment) what to do to get onto the boat from the water, so they know the drill beforehand. In an emergency they will be more likely to almost automatically do what they’re told.
For example you can teach them commands such as “off-board,” for heading away from the boat, “on-board” for coming towards the boat, “step” for approaching the steps, and so on. These simple commands will mean you can tell them to swim away if they’re too close to the propeller or come closer if you’re ready to pick them up. Training them to swim via a step ladder to be picked up is a great idea, this will mean they instinctively go where it’s easiest for you to grab them.
“We couldn’t go away without him, he’s part of the crew! Just not a very helpful one…” Amy Dickinson, Hallberg Rassy, Oban
I hear you laughing but no I’m not joking, just like us poor humans dogs also get sunburned, only they can’t tell you they’re burning! If your dog is fair or light haired, then it’s worth getting them some dog specific sunscreen. Keep an eye out, if their skin is going pink be sure to move them under the bimini or below deck if needed.
We taught our dogs to go to the toilet on the port aft deck. This way it was easy to wash off without running along the whole length of the boat. It also avoided smelly poo bags onboard! If you don’t like the idea of your dog going to the loo on deck then many people opt for puppy pads or fake grass, to simulate their dogs natural toilet environment. These can also be useful below deck or in the cockpit if you’re sailing and want to keep the toilet business in-board!
When it came to being under way we always had our dogs either below deck in the saloon or in the cockpit where we could keep an eye on them. If your dog is super active, it’s a good idea to tether them into the cockpit. Our dogs however were quite content to chill on the leeward cushions and be very unhelpful members of the crew! When coming into a marina it’s a good idea to keep your dogs below deck or in the cockpit. The excitement and smells of arriving somewhere new often over excites dogs.
Parking can be tricky enough without your dog trying to leap off the bow and into the arms of someone waiting to assist with your lines!
When it comes to taking your dog on a boat it’s worth considering what kind of dog they are. If they’re a big dog you’re going to want a boat that can accommodate them. But more than just that you need to make sure you can actually lift them when they’re wet or debilitated.
If they’re really hairy, that stuff will get everywhere! So you need to be willing to sweep up the hairs from the bilge on a daily basis and then start the process again by brushing out all that sand and salt water.
Does your dog like to swim? Because if they don’t you may want to invest in some good lessons, if anything for piece of mind but also because on a boat it’s the single best piece of exercise you can give your dog. If you have a greyhound who’s happy to sleep all day, exercise may not be such an issue but if you have a high energy breed or puppy that’s another thing all together!
I remember the story of my dad throwing a ball off his boat for his over energetic golden labrador who would spend all day jumping on and off the boat chasing a ball, whilst my dad sat in the cockpit. It was the easiest dog walks he’d ever do!
Before setting sail make sure you’ve looked up the regulation for boat dogs for each of the countries you’re sailing to. Rules vary from place to place and you’ll very likely need a dog passport and a list of shots. Rabies is an especially big problem worldwide and you may be denied entry in some places without the right paperwork.
If you’re going to be offshore for a while it’s a good idea to carry dramamine in case your dog gets seasick. Antibiotics, shot records, flea medicine and any other medication your dog is on,
There’s no emergency vets halfway across the atlantic.
In a house it’s easy to have a set location for your dog’s water bowl. So this should also be the case on a boat. Have a bowl, tied down if necessary so your dog can always stay hydrated. It’s easy to forget on a boat and remember they have no way to ask you!
Most importantly have fun! Remember dogs are super adaptable, teach them the rules of the water and they’ll be settling in as a member of the crew in no time.
We’d love to see pictures of you and your boat dogs so please send them through to us if you’re happy to share, and have some WiFi!
Hannah and the savvy navvy crew