It’s getting more common to see “Fido” on board with the family. A recent survey of boat owners in the U.S. showed that 70% of them own dogs. Not sure if your dog and your boat are a good fit? In general, a dog that is accustomed to noise, comfortable around water, well behaved, and listens to “down” and “stay” commands can make a fine boating companion. Excitable or skittish dogs may not be the best boating pals.
The first priority of a responsible dog owner should be the safety and well being of their dog. To keep your dog safe, you need to know your pet: Does he like water? Is he afraid of noise? Does he listen to you? Some dogs just don’t like water and some dogs don’t like to swim. If you don’t know how your dog will react near water or boats, you should find out before you actually plan a trip. Visit a boat dock or launch area and see how your dog reacts to the surroundings.
As a boat operator, you are also responsible for the safety and well being of your human passengers. Will your dog being onboard be a distraction to you? If your dog needs continual attention from you, or if any of your passengers are not comfortable with your dog, you should reconsider taking your dog onboard.
Ensure your dog exhibits proper behavior at all times while on a boat. That means staying in one place, which is especially important on smaller boats, no frantic movements, no distractive barking, etc. Be sure your pet knows where she belongs in the boat and stays there while the vessel is in motion.
If you’ve never had your dog on the boat, practice a “dry run” – where your boat is loaded with everything else you take on an outing. Be sure you have all the equipment on board you usually would and that it is stowed where you normally put it. Put the dog on board and determine where the safest and most comfortable place is for your pet.
Some safety professionals suggest counting your dog as a person in the boat because they can require space (taking up a seat) and can move on their own inside the boat. Definitely include their weight when calculating your boat capacity.
Make sure that you have a plan for when your dog goes overboard, whether that is voluntarily or not. If your dog is a swimmer, be sure you have practiced getting your dog back into the boat, whether you are in the water with him/her or not. Many pet flotation devices have a gripping handle incorporated into the design, which can be very helpful.
And just as you plan food, drink, and restroom stops for yourself and your passengers, make sure you are prepared for your dog. Have a water bowl and snacks for your dog, and bring her leash and bags for waste cleanup. You never know when a treat can come in handy, or when you will need a plastic bag.
PFDs for Dogs
It’s now common to see dogs of all breeds on boats and around the water outfitted with a specially designed canine flotation vest. The choices on the market today for dogs are similar in many ways to the options we have for people. They come in a variety of colors, have varying warmth factors, and offer different amounts of flotation.
Buying a flotation device for a dog is a lot like buying one for a human: The main concern should be getting a device that properly fits your dog.
Make sure the flotation device has the characteristics your dog needs, like added warmth from neoprene if water temperature requires it. Most have a gripping handle for lifting the dog back into the boat. Make sure you know the weight limits of the device.
You should consider taking your dog with you to the store so you can fit the device before buying , but be sure to call ahead to make sure that’s okay.
Following these few tips will give you and your canine bestie hours of safety and fun on the water! Be sure to pick up the next issue for more articles on boating with your dog.