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Pets on the Go™ members can log-in now for immediate access to companies that will charter boats to people with pets. Find it all in our Recreational Fun database.

A Salty Dog or a Curmudgeonly Cat?

Our suggestions won't help your pet walk on water, but they will help make boating a much more pet-friendly activity.

Land and Water Training

  • Pets need to be outfitted with a personal flotation device or PFD. Not all pets like being contained this way, and so you might want to start by putting your pet in a PFD on dry land and then letting her walk around in it to see what she thinks. Try this a few times before heading down to the dock.
  • Make certain that your pets are comfortable in the water. Let them test the water first by dipping their paws in it. Once they are acquainted with the idea, then slowly work toward getting them used to almost total submersion (keeping their heads out of the water).
  • Make certain that your boat is pet friendly. You don't want your pet slip sliding away once you are underway. Provide areas where they can maintain stable footing. Some people do this with rubber-backed rugs. You can also create soft nests with cushions and towels so that they feel safe. Make certain that you provide shady areas where your pet can cool off. Finally, there are times when you cannot go ashore so that your pet can relieve himself. Provide a litter box and anchor it securely to the boat. Boat owners tell us that Astroturf or a piece of grass works well, or you can paper train them as well.

At the Dock

    A great way to ensure your pet is comfortable on the water is to take him down to a boat that is tied to a dock (your boat or a friend's boat). Help your pet board the boat and familiarize him with the layout. You may discover that your pet is either completely at ease or shows some apprehension about boarding and/or being on a boat. It is important to also pay attention to your pet at dockside, as they can slip down the ramps or fall into the water.

    Shivering while on board or showing nervousness about venturing from one part of the boat to another are clear indications that your pet is anxious. Moreover, many pets have an instinctive fear of the water and it can be difficult for them overcome their innate apprehension.

    If your pet is anxious, even after a number of attempts to acclimate her to a boat, then it is probably better to leave her at home. If, on the other hand, your pet is completely at ease and happy on the boat, then you are ready for stage two.

    K-9 Float Coat
    $12-35

    You wear a life jacket,
    shouldn't your dog, too?

    You may think your dog is a strong swimmer, but river currents can be too much of a challenge. The K9 Float Coat is the best dog life jacket we've found. A generous ergonomic cut allows him comfortable room to move (he won't mind putting it on.) Properly positioned flotation cells allow your pup to remain upright while swimming. The coat fastens securely in three places and has a handle on top for easy owner-assistance.

    First Aid —You may find it worthwhile to purchase a pet first aid book, such as Pet First Aid by Bobby Mammato. The American Red Cross endorses this informative guide and we won't go anywhere without it. While it is not meant to replace a veterinarian's treatment, a good first-aid guide can provide valuable advice when faced with an emergency at sea.

    The Maiden Voyage

    Start your engines — See how the loud boat noises affect your pet. If your pet is comfortable after hearing the start of your engine, the sound of an air horn or other noisy aspects of being on board, then it is time to take the boat out for a short spin.

    Secure your pet — You may find it is better to harness or leash your pet in an attempt to secure him during these initial voyages. The waves and slant of the boat as it is getting up to speed (motoring) or heeling (sailing) could cause your pet to slip on the decking and hurt himself or fall overboard. Ruff Rider makes the only U.S. government approved safety harness. Even if your pet is a great swimmer, an unexpected fall into the water could cause confusion, panic, and a potentially dangerous situation. Putting them in a PFD allows them to float and the handle makes it convenient for picking them up out of the water. Please note that dogs instictively paddle hard to stay afloat, even with a PFD, therefore it is important to look out for their claws when reaching into the water for your pet.

    Setting the sail — If you are sailing, slowly let out the sail. Many pets are apprehensive of the sail's large undulating motion and slapping sound.

    A little green…and it's not envy — Just as people get seasick, so too can your pet. Look to see if your pet shows any indication of being overly tired, disoriented, or clumsy. We like to give our dogs a little ginger to settle their stomachs. Some vets will recommend a mild seasickness medication for pets like Bonine or Dramamine. Please consult with your vet for appropriate dosages.

    Hazardous temptations — As with a child, ensure that any potentially toxic or dangerous materials (fuels, cleaning solvents, hooks, bait, etc) are out of your pet’s reach.

    Sun and fun — Make sure your pet always has a shady place to retreat to and plenty of fresh water. Most pets also have very sensitive pads on their feet that help them cool off. If you are able to cool off the deck (with some water) they will be much happier. If your pet begins to pant profusely you may want to cool her down by drenching her with cold water or immersing her all the way into the water. This will help to avoid the onset of heat stroke.

    If you successfully master each of these stages, then we expect that your pet is most likely ready for a seafaring adventure. There are a number of charter companies that will rent to people with pets, but before you put down a large deposit on a water-oriented vacation, we suggest that you take your pet out on several more voyages to ensure they are truly comfortable at sea.

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