Boating Basics: Tips to Keep Your Dog Safe

Terrier on a boat
Make sure you put a canine lift vest on your dog before and during boating.

If your favorite part of summer is taking the boat out, you might be thinking about inviting your canine best friend along for the day. But is your dog the right dog? Possibly — any breed or mix can be a sea dog, but some have more of an affinity for water than others. Some breeds can be natural water babies — think Golden or Labrador Retrievers, Boykin Spaniels or Portuguese Water Dogs. Others simply love doing whatever you’re doing, even if it involves getting wet.

There are dogs who are more inclined to love the water. In addition to the above breeds, dogs who are especially likely to take to boating include Airedales, American Water Spaniels, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Irish Water Spaniels, Keeshonden, Newfoundlands, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers, Otterhounds, Poodles and Schipperkes. And there are breeds who really should stay on the beach or dock, like Pugs, Bulldogs and other barrel-chested, short-nosed, top-heavy breeds.

No matter what the breed, though, the most important trait is adaptability. Your dog should be okay with confined quarters, especially if you’re planning a long-distance voyage. Highly active dogs may demand regular opportunities to swim or may respond well to learning chores, such as bringing you a line or acting as lookout for dolphins or other boaters.

Whether your craft is a kayak or a yacht, your dog can be the perfect boating companion. But before you cast off, make sure your furry first mate is a seaworthy companion. Here are some simple tips to help ensure that your pooch is as comfortable on water as on land.

Ship Shape and Ready to Sail

Choose the right boat. Your dog should have enough space to move around, and the gunwale (the railing along the side of the boat) should be high enough to keep him securely on board. A canoe, kayak or rowboat is best for small dogs or well-behaved larger dogs.

Practice on dry land. For a small craft, such as a kayak or canoe, accustom your dog to getting in and out of it on dry land first. Let him jump in, and then have him sit and stay until you release him. Then practice in shallow water until he seems comfortable. Go for a few short paddles before you try longer distances.

Get him used to the boat. For a powerboat or sailboat, let your dog explore the boat and get used to the rocking motion while still at the dock. Some dogs may balk at crossing a gangplank or jumping from dock to boat, but letting an experienced dog lead the way or luring with a treat can help.

Brush up on important commands. On any boat, dogs should know and respond to the commands “sit” and “stay.” These can be essential if you run into waves or rapids, especially in a small craft, such as a kayak.

Secure your safety line. Prevent a dog-overboard situation with a safety line. Run a jack line along the port and starboard sides of your boat and connect it by a ring to safety lines that attach to your dog’s harness. This will keep him secured while allowing him to move freely about the boat. For added safety, put up netting between the stanchions all the way around the boat.


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