Boating with dogs is a lot of fun. Find out what you should plan for and what to bring to keep your dog safe on your next boating trip.
With these safety tips, your pooch will become the best first mate he can be. Let’s dive right in. Who wants to go for a boat ride?
Boating with your dog the first time
If you are boating with your dog for the very first time, there are a few things you can do in advance to reduce the dog’s stress.
Boating is a lot of stimuli for dogs. The sound of the engine, the speed on the open water, and all the new sights and smells are a lot to take in.
Before you head out for the first time:
- Put your dog on the boat and let him explore when the boat is not moving. This can be in your driveway, or just still in your boat slip. Having some exposure before your rev up the outboard will allow the dog to understand the space and feel a lot more comfortable when you do start moving.
- Let them smell and wear their life jacket on dry land. Like with anything you want your dog to get used to wearing, expose them to the life jacket in small sessions on dry land first. You can even go for a few short walks wearing a life jacket. This first exposure in small doses will prepare your pup for longer days wearing their new floating device.
- Practice getting on and off the boat. A few training sessions on safely getting on and off the boat can go a long way. Bring your dog to the dock and work with them in a controlled environment with plenty of treats. During these sessions, you are reinforcing with fido what is acceptable behavior on the dock and how you want them to get onto the boat.
- Practice using your dog boat ramp. If you have a dog boat ramp, let your dog practice using this in a controlled environment. Play a little fetch off the boat and even get in with him to show him where he can get back onto the boat safely. This will help avoid a panicking dog scratching at the sides of your vessel.
- Have a dog overboard plan. Make sure you and all your passengers know your dog overboard plan.
What to do if a dog falls overboard
If a dog does fall overboard, continuously point at him so you don’t lose his spot (dogs cannot wave or scream at you). Reduce the boat’s speed and slowly approach.
Once you are close enough, turn off the engine and the dog should swim to you. The easiest way to get him back in is to reach over and use the rescue handles on the dog’s life jacket to lift him back in.
Dog Life Jacket
A dog life vest is a must for any size dog boarding the boat. Even strong swimmers like labradors will eventually tire out in the water.
Also, if the dog falls overboard, the flotation device will help them safely get back to the boat and assist you in lifting the dog in if needed. Most dog life jackets have emergency rescue handles on the back for this purpose.
To make sure the jacket fits properly, you should be able to tighten the straps and buckles and still comfortable be able to fit a finger between the jacket and the dog. Dog life vests with adjustable straps are the easiest to fit because you can get within a size range, and adjust so it fits your dog exactly.
Dog Boat Ramp
Dogs are simply not built to climb a swim ladder. If you are planning on letting your dog go for a dip, invest in a boat dog ramp or dog stairs. This small investment will save the sides of your boat from major dog claw scratches.
Dog boat ramps and stairs are lightweight and designed to quickly and easily secure to your boat. They typically have an angled, slip-proof surface that enters into the water so dogs can easily climb up the ramp. Many of made of mesh, making them very light and easy to store.
These ramps make it possible to easily exercise and cool down your dog on the open water.
Drinking Water and Dog Food
Always make sure to have plenty of fresh water and dog food available for your dog on board. It’s nice to keep your dogs water in a cooler with yours to make sure you can regularly fill their dish with cold water. Just like you, your dog will appreciate a nice, cool drink on hot days.
To stop their bowls from sliding all over the deck, look for an outdoor-rated dog water bowl with a non-slip base. This will help keep them in place as your boat moves over a little chop.
Finally, your dog may not want to eat their kibble on the boat, so bring along a few tasty treats to entice their appetite if needed. My dog is not comfortable having a meal on our boat, so I always feed him before the trip and bring along treats to make sure he gets a little something down.
Dog sunscreen is a thing and some dogs need a little SPF protection. Even though most dogs are primarily covered in fur, they have sensitive spots on their underbellies and thin spots that are just as susceptible to sunburns as we are.
Make sure to get sun protection that is pet-friendly and does not contain zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), as these ingredients are toxic to dogs. Dogs may lick at the sunscreen, so it must be safe to ingest.
By far, spray dog sunscreen is the easiest to apply (think of the mess of trying to apply a cream-based formula to a dog). Simply spray on areas where you can see pink skin or that are thin with fur and rub in as needed. Avoid the areas around their eyes. Re-apply as directed.
Cool Place to Lay Down
Make sure you have a spot on your boat where the dog can lay down and cool down. A dog cannot be out on the water all day in the open sun (and nor should you).
If your boat has a bimini top or other covered area, set up a little spot for fido and you are good to go! You can also make some shade quickly for your pet with a pop-up sun canopy or outdoor dog bed with a shade canopy.
Because the deck of your boat can get pretty warm, having something like a raised mesh dog bed can provide a great spot for your dog to lay down while staying cool with good airflow.
You can also get cooling pads for dogs.
You will need to plan for dog potty breaks. To set yourself up for success, make sure your dog relieves itself right before you get on the boat. This will buy you some time. If your boat trip is within your dog’s comfort zone, you will be fine for the duration of the trip.
If your trip will be longer, you will need to plan for the dog to go pee on the deck or have scheduled stops where you can dock and walk them.
Training your dog to go pee on the deck can take some time. This usually works best with smaller breeds. For this, use dog housebreaking tools like puppy pads or an astroturf training base. I like the astroturf training base a little better because it has the look of artificial grass, which just looks a little nicer on the boat.
In the case that a little accident does occur, have some paper towels handy.
Dog First Aid Kit
As in all boating safety, you should always have a first aid kit on board for human passengers and for dog passengers!
I recommend picking up a dog’s first aid kit. These kits are inexpensive and contain veterinary items for your canine like vet wraps, styptic powder to stop bleeding, bitter spray, and veterinary splints.
Look for a kit that comes in a waterproof bag so you can leave it stored on your boat with your other safety supplies.
Becoming seasick on a boat is more common for puppies, but can afflict dogs of all ages. Just like people, seasickness or motion sickness is caused when the inner ear gets jangled.
Two over-the-counter options that may be used for motion sickness in dogs are Benadryl (diphenhydramine) and Dramamine (dimenhydrinate). Both products are antihistamines that can be given every 8 hours and may have sedative effects.
It’s always a good idea to consult your vet on what is best for your dog’s age, weight, and veterinary history.
Following these dog boating safety tips will help make sure you and your pooch have a doggone good time on the water.
Be consistent with your training and rules aboard, and your canine best friend will be your best first mate for years to come.
About Deb Sauvé
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