Get Your Dog Boat-Ready With These Easy Steps

There’s pretty much nothing cuter than spotting an adorable doggo out on the water with his or her owners for a boat day. But, you need the proper preparation if you’re going to bring your own furry friend out on the water.

If you’re not sure how your dog feels about the water, don’t make boat day the first test. Bring them to a dog park with a water area or take a walk along the beach to see how they respond. Most dogs go nuts for the water, but some are scared off by the unfamiliarity.

On the boat, there won’t be anywhere for your good boy to go if he starts getting nervous, so testing his swimming abilities ahead of time is super important. Here are some other tips to follow before you venture out for a day on the water with your dog.

Invest in a Doggie Life Vest

This is super important. Furry boat-riders need the right boating gear just like you need the right beach clothes for the day. A dog that’s new to the water may get over-excited and jump straight into the water without realizing the depth.

The last thing you want is a doggie overboard. Find a good quality life vest and be sure that it’s properly fitted.

If you’ve never purchased one before, any retailer should be able to show you how to slide it over your dog’s body and adjust the straps to keep them safe and happy. Even if you’re confident in your dog’s swimming ability, the vest is so, so important because water conditions can change quickly and drastically once you’re away from the shore.

Bring Plenty of Fresh Water with You

Everyone’s done it. You’re messing around in the ocean or going for a backflip off the boat, and you swallow a mouthful of saltwater.

I don’t think we need to tell you it is not a pleasant experience. But humans are aware enough to avoid drinking saltwater at all costs.

Your dog is not going to have the same realization. She’ll probably notice a huge body of water and think, “Oh my gosh, WATER. I love water,” and quickly try to lap some up.

Of course, a lot of dogs are going to take one sip and realize—gross, I do not want that–but some dogs might just keep on drinking. Saltwater can make humans and our furry friends extremely sick, so keep an eye on your doggo while out on the water to keep them from drinking too much ocean water.

And be sure to bring a lot of fresh water and a bowl to give them something to drink during your outing.

dog on pool chair with sunglasses

Dogs Need Sunscreen, Too

Okay, we were shocked to learn this too, but some dogs actually need extra protection from the sun just like humans do. If your dog has really thin or short fur, you should throw on some light doggie-safe sunscreen to protect their skin, especially if they’ve never spent a day out on the water before.

Because dogs have such a strong sense of smell, look for unscented sunscreen to keep your pup’s nose from getting irritated. (Reapply sunscreen all over after swimming and apply again as needed throughout the day to sensitive areas like the nose and tips of ears.)

Bring the Doggie Bags Along

Surprise, surprise—your dog is still going to have to go to the bathroom even while boating. It’s a pretty easy mistake to forget the compostable doggie bags at home, but you’re for sure going to need to pack them in your boat day bag.

If it’s doggo’s first time on the water, plan to anchor up near a beach or dock to give him or her a familiar place to go. And please keep the beaches clean by picking up after your dog.

If your pup can’t hold it until your final destination (or they just get so excited about the new adventure that they have an accident), be prepared to clean up the boat.

dog swimming in pfd

Have a Plan in Case They Fall in

Here’s where the importance of your pupperoni’s life jacket comes in. Even the strongest doggie swimmers can get swept up in a particularly strong current or fall in while the boat is still moving and get left behind.

Keeping a close eye on your dog can prevent this from happening, but you still need a plan just in case your pal takes a dive straight into the ocean. If you have time, you can practice your doggie overboard drill.

The first and most important step is to cut the engine immediately. Then, try calling to your dog and make sure that you are visual so they see a familiar face.

If they still can’t make it back to the boat, you can jump in and use that life jacket to keep them afloat while you help them back to safety.

Make the Visit on the Water Short

Don’t overcommit to a long ride if your pup’s never spent a day out on the water. You never know how your dog is going to react to the ride until you’ve given it a shot, and they might feel a little seasick on their first ride–just like humans.

Make sure you’ve gotten them familiar with both the boat and the life jacket before taking them out. This might mean visiting the boat while it’s out of the water to let doggo sniff all the things and help him recognize the scent of the boat.

Once your pup is used to the water, you can start taking him or her out on longer trips. If they really enjoy the boat, you can even pick out a nautical dog collar and leash so they’ll always look the part when out on the water.

Go for a Little Doggie Paddle

We know that feeling of guilt as you head out the door for a boat day and your furry friend is left alone in the house, staring at you with eyes that say, “Will you ever come back?”

This summer, try bringing the pup out on the boat with you for a day. As long as you’ve got a good, well-fitted life jacket, a plan for what to do if your dog goes overboard and all your usual supplies, it should be smooth sailing!

Shawna Newman

Shawna currently lives in Las Vegas where she gets in lots of great hiking at Red Rock Canyon and Valley of Fire State Park. When she has time, she visits National Parks in a quest to visit each one in the U.S. Shawna’s favorite outdoors activity is hiking and her favorite National Park (so far) is Badlands National Park in South Dakota.

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