Boating with the Pooch
Some safety items to think about
by Wayne Spivak

In the last ten years, I think my wife and I have gone out on our boat only a handful of times without our dog. Thatís a lot of hours out on the water with our beloved pooch.

Dewey at the helm with ďDaddyĒ (Thom Burns)

Over the years, weíve hit some bumpy seas, some very very hot and humid weather, and some ideal weather. Weíve gone swimming in bays, coves, and chop. Weíve been lucky, but we also plan rather well.

Here are some tips that will make your day on the water safe and enjoyable for all the participants.

Drinking water: First thing we do when getting underway is making sure we have enough water for the dog. Dogs perspire through panting, and while doing so, loose copious amounts of body fluids. Itís imperative to keep them hydrated.

We bring our water in a sports bottle with a sports cap. Our dog learned to drink from the sports cap probably around the same time she finished with her shots. We also carry a dog bowl for her water.

Quite often, she snubs her water, while on the boat. Remember, you know better, and as the responsible pet owners, sometimes you need to force them to drink. Itís amazing what a little coaxing will do.

PFDís: The slogan ďBoat Smart - Boat Safe - Wear It!Ē used in the Safe Boating Campaign holds true for both humans and pets. Not all dogs can swim! Not all dogs are great swimmers, and depending on where your boat is located, should fido fall overboard, he/she may not be able to reach you before he/she suffers from exhaustion or hypothermia.

So, have your dog wear a Personal Flotation Device (PFD). Pet PFDís are sold by all the major marine vendors. Now, donít just buy the PFD, try it on the dog once and throw it in the hold! Practice donning the vest, as well as having your pet swim with the PFD! Itís a new experience for them and unless they get used to it youíll have some problems, should they ever really need to wear the PFD.

The Boat/US Foundation did a study on pet PFDís. Hereís the URL:

Dewey is always safe with his doggy PFD.

The New Pet: Youíve just gotten a new pet, and you want to take them boating. What a great idea! However, donít assume your pet will a) like your boat and b) enjoy boating! Dogs and cats (especially) like firm, stable surfaces. A boat can be anything but stable.

When you get a new pet, first thing you should do is acclimate them to the new environment, while the boat is tied up to its normal dock or mooring. Let the animal get used to its surroundings. Have them also wear their PFD a while during this time. This will get them acclimated not only to the boat but the PFD.

Next turn on your engines and see if the sounds associated with them disturbs the animal. My dog couldnít care less about the sound of an engine, but thunder, a firecracker or any sudden loud noise, and she freaks out. Better to be safe than sorry, for both you and the well being of your pets.

Take short trips at first, again to let your pet get acclimated to the pitch and roll of boating. Remember, if you can get seasick, so can your pets!

Sun & Heat: We all hope, when we go boating to have a warm sunny day. Thatís fine for you, but special attention must be paid to your pets! Too much sun and heat will cause heat problems for the animal.

Dogs and cats (as well as many other pets) can suffer the same types of heat emergencies humans can. They include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and sun stroke.
Make sure you have a shaded area on your boat that your pet can hide under. Hopefully there is air movement to aid in cooling them down. Remember to make sure they drink, and I find wetting down their coats also helps them feel cooler -- or it helps us feel that they feel cooler.

Protect their pads. Dogs and cats absorb cold and heat through their pads, and you need to be aware that they donít burn them on the hot fiberglass.
Doing their Business: As you find after a couple hours on the boat that you need to use the head, so will your animal. You have a few options, depending on the type of pet you have.

Cats - place their litter box at the lowest level of your boats, and make sure its level. This should induce them to use their liter box. Also, by making sort of a castle with pillows, at the same point (lowest level), should you get into rough seas, kitty may feel more secure.

Dogs - you can train your dog to do his/her business in a specific spot. Its hard work, but it can be done. If youíre going to cruise, this would be the best bet. This way, you donít have to find land every few hours so fido can relieve him/herself.

On the other hand, you can always go ashore and let them do their business. Remember, pick up and properly dispose of the waste products left by your animals. The Marine Sanitation Environmental Laws should be respected; even though this is not human waste - it still causes bacterial problems. In fact, if you go ashore, there may well be animal waste laws in effect!

Boating with the family pet is a great way to enjoy this wonderful sport. By taking a few extra steps, you can insure a fun, safe time for all.

For more information about boating safety, why not pursue your boating education by taking one of the many courses that the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary provides to the public. You can contact your local Auxiliary Flotilla by either contacting your local Coast Guard Unit ( or the Auxiliary (