Taking a dog on a boat requires some forethought. A dog that adapts to a boating environment is a wonderful companion and an extra playmate for the kids, adding to the fun of going out on the boat. If your dog has never been out on a boat, don’t assume the dog and the boat will be a good mix.
Not all dogs will be comfortable on a boat.
Dogs, and animals in general, prefer stable surfaces and many are fearful of water. If your pet trembles at the sight of water, don’t force or stress it. Before taking your dog boating, allow it to get acquainted with the boat while it’s on the trailer or at dock.
Get your dog accustomed to wearing its own PFD.
People aren’t the only beings who should wear a PFD (personal flotation device or life jacket) while boating. Make sure the PFD fits your dog securely; if possible, allow your dog to practice swimming while wearing it. If your dog has never worn a PFD, it may resist at first.
A sudden dunk in the water may frighten and panic your pet.
Don’t assume all dogs can swim, because they can’t, or may not be great swimmers. Any dog or cat on a boat can tumble overboard when you’re not looking. Most dogs can naturally doggie paddle but not indefinitely! Hypothermia or a blow to the head can make their “swim” life-threatening. Dogs with short legs such as toy breeds will struggle more to stay afloat, and large dogs will be harder to pull out of the water. A harness or flotation vest with a lifting strap is recommended.
The next step is to start the engine. The noise of a boat engine may be unfamiliar to your dog and may make it crazy. Your dog’s hearing is much more sensitive to engine noises than your own.
The dog’s first trip on the boat should be short, to introduce the dog to the boat’s motion when underway. Dogs on boats can get seasick, as people can. While the dog is on the boat, look for any signs of fatigue, clumsiness or disorientation.
Some dogs take naturally to boats and water.
Golden Retrievers, Labradors, Newfoundlands and web-footed Portuguese Water Dogs seem to thrive around water and often make good dogs with boats, evident from centuries of breeding to retrieve waterfowl, pull fish nets, tow dinghies and even rescue the drowning.
People and dogs on a boat face risks not encountered on land, so precaution is recommended.
Pets and dogs on a boat need fresh drinking water at least three times a day, more if the weather is hot. Bouncing boats may not be the most practical place for a dog bowl. An alternative is a dog sports bottle, which is less messy and you can squirt water right into the dog’s mouth. Don’t be afraid to force your dog to drink water while on the boat. A boat for a dog can become sweltering. To a dog or pet, boat surfaces, such as fiberglass, can get extremely hot in the sun. Dogs absorb heat through the pads on their feet so be sure to protect them. Dogs and cats do not sweat, and panting is the primary means to rid excess heat for dogs.
Providing a shaded area on the boat for the dog is a good idea.
Heat stroke, heat cramps, and heat exhaustion are real dangers for dogs on boats, especially for overweight animals. Again, a dog on the boat needs plenty of water. Excessive panting, drooling, and abnormally rapid pulse are danger signals that your pet may be suffering from heat stroke. You could save your pet’s life by immediately immersing it in water, allowing it to cool down.
A dog ladder/ramp is designed to provide a ramp approach to your watercraft, attaching securely to the ladder of most any boat, boat platform, dock, or swimming pool. It allows dogs of any size and weight to safely and easily climb out of the water. The dog ladder/ramp can support the biggest and heaviest breeds of dogs.
Some breeds can get sunburned, especially those with light colored noses or muzzles. Eyelids can sunburn, and dogs can suffer eye damage from too much sun exposure. Keep on board some topical antibiotic ointments for cuts and scrapes, and regular “people” eye wash.
Dogs on boats need nails trimmed so not to get caught in deck hardware. Dogs taken on the boat should be walked ashore at least twice a day. Some dogs on boats can be trained to poop on the deck in a certain area, so have a washdown bucket on hand. With a little common sense, you and your dog can have a great time boating.