Bring Your Dog Aboard

By Kathryn Jelinek, Last updated: 12/16/2020

Dog Life Jacket

Ensure your pet is comfortable around the water before boarding.

Have you considered bringing your dog on your boat? Before you do, here are some extra precautions you can take to keep your pup safe. Man’s best friend can be a great boating companion—but keep in mind that different rules, constant excitement and a new outfit can make your dog confused, disoriented and uncomfortable. Before you take your dog out on your boat, be sure to test his or her comfort level in and around the water. Try taking them aboard while your boat is docked to ensure they will be calm and happy on a rocking surface. If your pet panics, it’s probably better to leave them at home. For those dogs that love the water, there are a few things we recommend to help you keep them safe.

Safety First

Even if your dog can swim, they need to wear a life jacket when on your boat. Deeper, more turbulent water and a long distance to shore put even the best swimmers at risk. Pet life jackets are designed to increase your pet’s buoyancy and help them swim longer without restricting their natural paddling motion. These should be worn by all pets you plan on taking out to sea or across other large bodies of water. If your pup ever does go overboard, it may take some time to circle around for a rescue, all while your dog is probably confused and moving toward land or your boat. Your dog’s life jacket will improve visibility and keep them from tiring quickly. Most pet life jackets also come with a handle on the back so you can easily lift your pet back into the boat. Before purchasing a Small, Medium, Large or X-Large based on the size you think your dog is, you should weigh and measure your dog’s neck, girth (chest) and length from the back of the neck to the base of the tail. Because each brand is a little different, you’ll need these measurements to decide what size life jacket your dog needs.


Fitting a Pet Life Jacket

Dog Life Jacket

A well-fitted life jacket will be snug around the hips and under the front legs.

Before you take your dog and their life jacket on your boat, you need to ensure a proper fit. These life jackets are designed with inherently buoyant foam panels, attach in two or more places across the chest and belly, and usually have a buoyant collar that is minimally adjustable. To fit one to your dog, slip his or her head through the collar, placing the part with the handle on top of their back. The life jacket may come with mesh sides or additional side- or bottom-flotation padding. Wrap this snugly around your pet, connect the buckles under their chest and belly near their hips and tighten the straps. When done properly, the life jacket should be snug enough that, when you use the handle to lift your pup, they don’t slide out of the harness. Be careful not to overtighten the straps, and look for places the life jacket might rub on your dog. The life jacket should sit as far back on your pet’s back as possible without hanging over, and the straps should not rub against your pet’s limbs when they walk or swim.

Creature Comforts

Dog Bowl

Choose a pet bowl that won’t slide around on deck and is antibacterial.

Dogs don’t sweat. They aren’t used to the sensation of water evaporating off their bodies to cool them. Keep this in mind when taking your pet to any cooler bodies of water. It’s always a good idea to bring extra towels for them. If you have a long-haired dog, you know: fur that stays wet too long can end up causing irritation and hot spots. Alternatively, a wet dog with fine or short hair may get cold if they are left to air dry. If your pet is going to spend a long day in the sun, apply baby sunscreen to the top of their nose and anywhere with sparse fur to avoid sunburn. Also remember to bring fresh water, food and treats. If your dog likes to swim, your boating adventure may turn into a serious puppy workout, and having dinner and fresh water on hand will ensure you can stay out longer. That said, feeding or watering a pet on a rocking or moving boat can be a messy business. If you want to have your pet on board frequently, consider looking into nonslip pet bowls.


Dog’s Collar

Be sure to check under your pet’s collar for moisture to avoid hot spots.

When your boat’s in motion, your pet needs to be stationary or at least contained. If allowed to wander the deck, they may fall off or even jump off! Bring more than one leash. Whether you connect leashes end-to-end to lengthen your leash, or you just want two or more predetermined places you can easily hook up your dog to keep them safe while underway, you’ll be glad you have more than one. For frequent trips with your pet, attach more permanent leashing points in strategic locations. If you don’t have an extra leash, or want to offer your pet more freedom, pick up some rope or dock lines. Another alternative to point leashing is to run jacklines fore and aft, then attach your dog’s short leash to the lines. This will allow your pet to move along the gunnel of the boat without getting in the way. Remember that some places do not allow pets to be off leash, so if you plan to stop anywhere this may be enforced, go prepared with one.