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Boating with dogs can be challenging. You’ll want to curb your best friends’ natural desire to dive into the water, keep them out of danger on the boat, and still enjoy a sunny day with them. Managing all of those challenges can be tricky, so you’ll want to be prepared before you cast off. Here’s a list that can help you and your dogs enjoy boating together.

1. Outfit your pup with a dog life jacket

A canine floatation device (CFD) can save a dog’s life if they aren’t proficient swimmers (we’re looking at you, pugs and basset hounds) or in case of a boating disaster. Because the U.S. Coast Guard doesn’t set standards for CFDs as it does with life vests for people, turn to other trusted resources, such as the Center for Pet Safety, for help choosing a CFD.

2. Teach your dog to swim

Boating with dogs
Beach-goers go boating with their dogs | Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Not all dogs are natural swimmers. In fact, most brachycephalic breeds (those with smooshed faces like boxers and bulldogs) and many sled breeds don’t innately know how to swim. Plus, some dogs are fearful around water. That’s why you should teach your dog to swim before heading out on the water.

3. Let your dog get used to the boat while it’s docked

Give your dog an opportunity to explore the boat and get familiar with the rocking motion while the craft is docked and help is nearby in case of an accident. If you’ll be towing your boat, let Fido get used to it in the driveway. Either way, your pet will feel more relaxed and at ease when you launch the boat.

4. Ensure your dog’s safety

Always keep your pet’s contact information in the microchip registry up-to-date. Your dog should wear a collar or harness that fits properly and has ID tags firmly attached. Carry clear photos of your pet in case your dog gets lost. And don’t forget your pet’s medications, medical records, and first-aid kit.

5. Plan ahead for potty breaks

You can train a small dog to use a piddle pad in a designated area of the boat. The same is true for larger dogs, but they’ll need more pit stops or pet pads to relieve themselves.

6. Provide your dog with a safe, cool spot to rest

A crate secured in a shady location on the boat serves many purposes. It’s a comfortable place for your dog to rest and cool her paws after standing on a hot deck. And it’s a safe spot for your pet if you encounter rough water.

7. Pack dog-friendly food, treats, and water

A day on the water can stoke your appetite — and your dog’s too. Bring their regular food and plenty of healthy snacks. Any water source contaminated by wildlife can pass on a parasitic infection (giardia) to a pet that drinks from it. So carry plenty of fresh water for your dog, and never let them drink from rivers, lakes, or even puddles, Erie Insurance explains. Of course, seawater is also off-limits.

8. Remember the sunscreen

Dogs with thin or light-colored coats or pink noses, ears, eyelids, or lips are susceptible to sunburn. So bring plenty of pet-safe, FDA-compliant sunscreen. Then apply it to your dog regularly. 

9. Be prepared for messes

Unfortunately, pets can have potty accidents on a boat just as at home. Some dogs might also experience seasickness. Pack cleaning supplies for dealing with any messes that might occur.

10. Bathe your dog when you get home

Your dog’s coat can trap sand, salt, and other hidden irritants. A warm bath with a soothing shampoo will eliminate the irritants and leave your pet’s coat feeling smoother and smelling fresher. And you’ll both enjoy those results.


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