If you dream of being out on the water and fancy some canine company, we recommend following these helpful tips to make sure that you and your furry first mate will have a fun and safe boating trip.
- Teach your dog to swim
While the idea of boating may be to stay inside the boat, when doing any kind of activity on water it’s important that your pup knows what to do in the event of a dog overboard situation. Remember, not all dogs are blessed with the aquatic prowess of a Labrador or Golden Retriever. Pups with short legs and muzzles would much rather be lounging around on deck than in the water. Whatever your pup’s breed, if he’s never swum before it’s always best to assume that he might need a few lessons. Check out our essential swimming safety tips for advice on how to teach your pup to swim before you head out on your voyage.
- Invest in a doggy life jacket
Even if your pup is a confident swimmer, a life vest is still an essential boating fashion statement. When choosing a vest, make sure the fit is snug and go for one that’s brightly colored so that your dog will be visible if he falls in. A handle on the back is also a useful feature as it will allow you to pull your pup out of the water if necessary. He may not like wearing it at first so let him strut around the house in it so that he can start to feel comfortable in his new threads. It’s also a good idea to practice swimming in it. Check that it provides enough buoyancy to keep your pup’s nose above the water. If not, he may need something more robust.
- Let dog and boat become acquainted
Just like humans, not all dogs are natural sea-faring creatures. If you’ve never taken your pup on a boating trip before, be mindful that he may not take to the experience straight away. You can help him by taking him to visit your boat when it’s in the dock prior to heading out on your trip. Give him some time to explore the new surroundings, perhaps letting him roam around on deck wearing his life vest to get used to the rocking motion. When he’s comfortable with that, try turning the engine on to let him familiarize himself with the sound and vibrations it creates. Be sure to keep your interactions positive and upbeat to teach him that there’s nothing to be afraid of.
- Practice obedience
Boating can be dangerous, especially during rough conditions. Add an unruly pup to the mix and you could have a recipe disaster. To make sure that you can focus on sailing safely, it’s extremely important that your dog responds correctly to basic commands such as sit, stay, on and off. Even if your pup is well-behaved at home, it’s a good idea to practice these commands on the boat before setting sail, just to be certain that he is not distracted by the new surroundings.
- Plan for mishaps
We hope that canine members of your crew will stay firmly on deck; however, in case they take a tumble, we recommend that you figure out a game plan for what you and your family will do to deal with the situation quickly, calmly and safely.
- Make your first trip a short one
Dogs get seasick for the same reasons we do. If it’s your pup’s first time on the water, keep it short and sweet. This will give him a chance to get his sea legs and grow accustomed to the motion before you embark on a longer voyage. Be aware that just like some humans, some pups may never enjoy the feeling of being on the water and may begin to associate this feeling of discomfort with being on the boat. If this seems to be the case, discuss this with your vet as they may be able to prescribe medication that will help to alleviate the symptoms of motion sickness, making the experience much more pleasant for your pup.
- Fresh drinking water
Boating is thirsty work. Help your pup to stay hydrated by making sure he has access to fresh, clean drinking water at all times. You can even buy specially-designed non-spill bowls that stick to the surface of the boat and won’t slide around. Remember, if you see your dog trying to drink over the side of the boat, stop him immediately as the water may contain nasties such as bacteria, algae and salt, which could make him very unwell.
- Be sun savvy
Chilling on deck in the sunshine may feel blissful to begin with but overexposure to the sun can quickly become dangerous for your furry friend. To prevent your pup from overheating, make sure there is a shady spot for him to cool off in onboard or take regular breaks on land. Don’t forget dogs get sunburned too so be sure to give your pup the protection he needs by applying dog-friendly SPF to his nose, ears and tummy.
- Check your surfaces
Some boats’ surfaces may be more paw friendly than others. If the surface of your boat is slippery, your pup may find it tough to stay on his feet, which can cause him some distress. If this is the case, give him a hand by laying down some grippy rubber mats to give him a place to stand comfortably. You should also be mindful that when the sun is shining, boat surfaces can become extremely hot and can easily burn your pup’s sensitive paw pads. Try to avoid boating during the middle of the day when the sun is strongest.
- Plan for potty breaks
No one likes to be caught short and the last thing you want is dog mess on deck. If the surface of the boat allows, train your pup to do his business in a specific spot on some newspaper, which you can easily clear away. If that isn’t possible, plan regular onshore comfort breaks.
Top boating safety tips
- Be alert
Keep an eye on your pup at all times but especially when you are in the dock as this is where accidents tend to happen. Whether he’s excited to hop aboard or can’t wait to get off, make sure that he knows he can only do this with your permission.
If you tether your pup whilst onboard, make sure this is in a secure area and never attach the leash to his neck. Instead use a harness, which will be much safer and more comfortable for him if he happens to get tangled up.
- Keep hazardous equipment secure
If you’re out on a fishing trip, make sure you don’t accidentally catch a curious pooch by keeping any containers of bait, lures and fishing line shut whenever you are not using them.
If you and your pup love being out on the water together and are looking for another fun aquatic activity to try, why not give stand-up paddle boarding a whirl. Follow our essential guide to SUP and you and your pooch will be pros in no time.