What to Know Before Setting Sail
Many dogs love sailing just as much as their humans. With the wind in their fur and the smell of salty air on their noses, dogs are just as drawn to the ocean as their two-legged shipmates. However, it’s easy to forget that even dogs need to be suited up with the right safety gear before heading out on the open waters. For example, even the most water-loving Labrador should wear a dog life jacket, as rough waters can pull under any canine. There are plenty of considerations to keep in mind when you bring your furry skipper out for a sail.
1. Create an Emergency Plan
Make sure you consider an emergency plan of what you’ll do in the event that your dog falls overboard.
Choose who will steer the boat and who will keep visuals on the floating dogs. Dogs don’t have the ability to wave to signal where they are, and their small floating heads can easily get lost among the waves. This is why it’s essential to assign specific people to the task of keeping an eye on the dog’s location if they fall over.
Once you get near the dog, cut the engine and yell for the dog to swim towards you. Do not jump in to help, as even a medium-sized panicked dog may accidentally pull you under (panicked humans do the same thing – it’s simply instinctual). Instead, call your dog over and pick them up out of the water (most dog life jackets are equipped with a top handle for this very purpose).
2. Pack a Doggy First Aid Kit
Keep a First Aid kit on hand for both your human and canine crew. You’ll want to have a few different items on hand for your pooch, including:
- Flea and tick medication
- Medications your dog is currently taking (have extra in case you get stuck in an emergency)
- Antibiotic ointment for scrapes or minor cuts
- Dramamine in the event of seasickness (make sure to talk to your vet about this)
3. Know the Rules
If you’ll be boating across state lines or internationally, make sure to read up on local legislation regarding dogs on boats, as different areas may have different rules on what’s allowed and what’s not.
4. Get a Canine Life Jacket
Most dogs tend to like water – some, like Labradors, are quite famous for their water-loving spirit. Even though dogs enjoy water, they may not all be great swimmers. Dogs aren’t exactly the best as judging their own skill level, so it’s your job as the fur parent to watch out for them.
When out at sea, all dogs should wear life jackets (yes, even those H20-obsessed Labs). Ocean water is choppy and rougher than your local pond, and even strong swimmers could get pulled under.
Extra precaution should be taken with snub-nosed breeds, as they have a much more difficult time keeping their nose above the water level. We don’t really recommend letting these breeds swim much at all, outside of a small, contained pool. If you do allow them to swim, of course make sure they are wearing doggy PFD (Personal Flotation Device) and be extra cautious in not letting them overexert themselves.
5. Bring Doggy Sunscreen
The majority of humans (especially the pale kind) know to lather up the sunscreen in the summer. What you may not know is that dogs need sun protection, too! Dogs with very thin or very light fur are especially at risk. If you can see your dog’s pink skin under their fur, they definitely need to be protected!
Make sure to stock up on dog sunscreen before you cast off. Dog sunscreen comes in a number of different forms, from wipes to sprays, allowing you to pick an application method that will work best for your pooch.
6. Teach Your Dog “On Boat” and “Off Boat” Commands
Before getting your boating on, definitely make sure to brush up on your basic canine commands like:
- Leave it
- Lie Down
Listening to and following commands is extremely important for keeping your dog safe in unexpected situations. In addition to becoming a star obedience pupil, you should work on teaching your dog the “on boat” and “off boat” commands.
The on and off boat commands are key for the docking process. It’s during this time that most accidents occur, as dogs – in enormous excitement – may try to jump on or off the boat in the mid-docking procedure.
7. Pack Plenty of Water
Dogs can quickly become dehydrated while hanging out on a hot, sunny boat deck during the summer. Be sure to bring plenty of clean, fresh water for both you and your dog. Also, make sure to bring along a portable dog water bowl and/or a dog-friendly water bottle so your dog can easily lap up that liquid.
8. Give Your Dog a Potty Spot
Bathroom time can be a bit tricky on a boat. Dogs that are house trained won’t relieve themselves on deck, so you’ll need to create a special space for your dog to do his business.
There are a number of different materials you can use: astroturf, plastic puppy pads, or even real grass potty pads designed for your dog’s bathroom needs. Ultimately, you’ll want to choose a material that is familiar to your dog.
Some dogs may not even relieve themselves on these pads, and may only be able to go on land. In this case, be prepared to make numerous shoreline visits so your pooch can let it all out!
Practice and Prepare
For smooth sailing, practice your boating routine with your pooch and the other humans in your family. Go through what will happen if your dog falls overboard and practice your docking procedures. You’ll also want to familiarize your dog with the boat extensively before actually going out on the water. Give your dog several chances to spend time on the boat while safely at the dock. Do your best to get them acquainted with their new potty practices on the vessel, and ensure they’ll be comfortable relieving themselves on that material.
Making sure your dog is comfortable with your boat and life aboard the high seas will do wonders for making your trip as smooth and stress-free as possible.
Adventure on the seas awaits – happy travels!
Meg Marrs has loved dogs since she could walk.
Editor’s note: This article originally appeared at K9ofMine.com (where it can be viewed with additional Dog Boating Safety Tips infographics) and is reprinted with permission. Based in Boston, MA, K9 of Mine is an excellent resource for dog lovers.