Dog on Boat
Summer’s here, and it’s time to get the boat out and head for the lake. If you’re a dog owner, you may be planning to bring your animal companion along for the ride. Before your load your pooch on board, take a look at our safety tips and make sure you’re prepared for the voyage.

Before You Get on the Boat

1. Develop a plan in case your dog goes overboard. Terri Parrow Botsford, vice president of Internet operations for BoatUS, suggests creating a game plan before you even bring your dog on a boat. “Talk about what everyone would do if your dog goes overboard,” Botsford says. “You’ll cut the engine, go to this part of the boat to call them, etc. Think about it ahead of time and practice if you have the chance.”

2. Invest in a life jacket. It’s important for your dog to have a life jacket before you take him out onto the water. You may think your dog is a strong swimmer, but depending on the conditions, including weather and currents, he could face problems. “If you need to pull your dog out of the water, you need something to grab onto," Botsford says. “Most life jackets have a handle so you can lift and pull them out. You don’t want to ever grab the collar,” she adds.

Discover Boating spokesperson Ellen Hopkins recommends checking the size on your dog’s life jacket before purchasing it and checking to see where straps and buckles fall to make sure it is comfortable. “Make sure your pet’s life jacket fits correctly and is a bright color for maximum visibility,” Hopkins says.

Hopkins also suggests giving your dog a chance to practice swimming in the life jacket before taking him out on the water. “Give your pet a chance to get used to wearing its life jacket before actually getting on a boat.”

3. Bring a first-aid kit. Make sure you have a stocked first aid kit on your boat. The Humane Society of The United States recommends a number of pet-specific supplies and useful items to include. For a boat-specific kit, Hopkins suggests bringing antibiotic ointment for minor scrapes, and of course making sure you have a good supply of any medications your dog may be on.

4. Visit the boat with your pet prior to your trip. Let your dog get acquainted with your boat before taking him out on the water. If this is his first time on the vessel, Hopkins recommends bringing him to visit it while it’s on a trailer or at the dock so he can get used to his surroundings in a safe, secure environment.

5. Check local laws about dogs and boats. While there are no national legal restrictions or requirements pertaining to having animals on your boat, double-check local laws, since regulations can vary by state. Also, if you plan to enter international waters, look for foreign laws regarding dogs on boats.

When You’re on the Boat

6. Keep your dog’s first outing short. Hopkins says it’s best to make your dog’s first boat outing brief so he can adjust to the ship’s movement. “The first time they are out on a boat they can also get seasick, so watch for that,” Botsford adds. If seasickness becomes severe, ask your veterinarian about possible medication for future outings.

7. Keep your dog hydrated. If you’re going to be out boating in the sun all day, be aware that your dog may be in danger of overheating. “Pets can get hot if they don’t have enough water, so remember to have plenty of fresh water on hand and put out a dish for them,” Botsford says. “Also provide shade.”

8. Don’t skip sun protection. It’s also important to remember that if your dog is spending time in the sun, he may need sunscreen protection. Hopkins recommends bringing a light, unscented SPF 15 spray. She also says to be aware that boat surfaces tend to become very hot in the sun. Know which areas will heat up, and protect your dog’s feet.

9. Use common sense. The best thing you can do when you have an animal on your boat is use common sense. If there are areas that may become slippery and cause your dog to fall, block them off. In addition, always knowing your dog’s location will help you be aware if he is in any danger.

“Pay attention to where you pets are at all times, just like you would with kids,” Botsford says.

Learn more about boating with your pets at BoatUS and Discover Boating.