Updated: Aug 20
Taking your furry best friend boating can be a fun adventure; make sure it’s a safe one as well!
We all love having our best friend with us as much as possible. It would be great if they shared our love of boating. But there are several things to consider and you must be prepared to have a successful boat trip with your dog.
As always, make sure your boat is equipped with all the necessary safety equipment, see the NJ State Police’s Check List at Marine Services | Did You Remember? Equipment Checklist | New Jersey State Police (nj.gov), file a float plan and make sure the weather forecast is favorable before heading out on the water. Since the sun is at its peak from about 10 am to 4 pm, set out either earlier or later in the day to avoid those peak sun hours.
Here are some guidelines to ensure a safe and enjoyable boating day with your dog.
Know your dog. You want them to be comfortable with water and boating. Every dog breed, and dog, is different. That Labrador, which is known as a “water dog”, may love swimming and hate being on the boat. That yorkie may love being on the boat but refuses to go in the water. So, depending on the type of dog you have, they may not be built for swimming or boating, in which case, don’t push it.
Take the time to train your dog. Have your dog practice swimming in the life jacket before the first big outing! Teach them to get on and off a boat, and give your dog a chance to get familiar with the boat before you take off. Also, make sure to train your dog how to get in and out of the boat from the water. Most boat ladders are not created with dogs in mind, this may make it difficult to get your dog back in the boat if they go for a swim. Keep your first outing short, so your dog can get used to the boat’s movements. Pay attention to how your dog reacts and make sure they do not get seasick (look for signs: drooling, vomiting, diarrhea). If you find your dog is too uncomfortable on the boat, it’s best to leave them at home. Boating is supposed to be fun, not stressful. Perform periodic check-ins with your dog to see if they appear happy—or looks like they prefer dry land. If your dog still decides that boating isn’t their thing, forcing it will only make things worse.
Keep plenty of fresh drinking water available. Your pup is going to get thirsty! It is critical to make sure your dog stays hydrated while boating. Being in the heat all day will result in a thirsty pup and you do not want them drinking seawater or lake water. Make sure to bring fresh and clean dog water aboard with a pet dish.
Take care of “business”: - Bring a leash, walk your dog to make sure they do their business before boarding and plan for potty breaks. As always, make sure you have waste bags with you and deposit them in approved areas.
Pack your dog’s safety gear and get your dog a life jacket*, even the strongest swimmers can get fatigued. Even if they are not swimming, your dog should have the life jacket on at all times while on the boat and dock. The life jacket you buy must meet your dog’s size and weight measurements. Just as with humans, the jacket needs to support your pup’s weight and keep them afloat, so make sure to check sizing before you buy. Give your furry pal a chance to get used to wearing the life jacket before getting on board. Have a dog first aid kit, and bring sunscreen and insect repellent. Don’t forget to protect their paws too. Dogs absorb heat through their feet, and boat surfaces can get hot in the sun. If the boat deck is too hot for human feet, it’s too hot for your dog.
* Dog life jackets should include these features:
Full-torso coverage: more flotation material means a more buoyant pet—which will be greatly appreciated if there’s a dog overboard situation.
Bright colors: make your dog easier to spot with a vibrant color.
Reflective accents: these also help with visibility and can make boating during low-light times safer.
A durable top handle: at some point, you might need to scoop your dog out of the water. A strong handle will help.
A sturdy D-ring: the ability to attach a leash makes your dog’s life jacket more functional and versatile.
Have a “Dog Overboard” Rescue Plan. Before you shove off, you need a solid rescue place in place. Should your dog go overboard, don’t panic. Circle back, and cut the engine, and use the handle on the life jacket to bring them in.
Provide a shaded rest area. Excessive exposure to the sun is not good for animals. Dogs can overheat easily, so check in and watch for signs of heat exhaustion throughout the day. And make sure there’s a secure place for your dogs to rest. You may also consider some non-slip mats on board to give your dog some traction.
Dog proof your boat: If you are fishing, keep lures, bait, and hooks safely stored and out of reach from your dog. Just like at home, you should secure the things your dog can get into and get hurt by. Since most dogs cannot resist the yummy smell of bait, keep any tempting bait or hooks stored in a secure place.
Boat safely and smartly! Pay Attention to your dog, but don’t get distracted. Being responsible for your pet and operating the boat may be too much to handle alone. It would be much easier, and safer, to have another human aboard to help with the responsibilities. Losing focus on either can be deadly.
Eventually, you’re going to have to come back to dry land. Make sure dogs are allowed where you are going, know the local laws, and make sure your buddy is up to date on their vaccinations. Whenever you travel with your pet, it is smart to have proof of your dog’s vaccinations.
Of course, don’t forget the treats and toys. This will help your dog understand the boat is a safe, happy place.
Hopefully, these guidelines will keep you and your furry friend have an amazing boating journey for a long time.