6 Tips for Boating Safely with Your Dog

Humans aren’t the only ones on board who need life jackets, water and shade!

September 2022 Feature Mercury Marine Dockline

A family boating outing can be even more fun if you bring your dog along. It certainly makes for some great photo ops! There are many dog breeds that absolutely adore being on the water. But it’s just as important to put safety first for your pet as it is for your human crew. Here are some tips for making sure your pooch is happy and secure on board your boat.

1. Get Your Dog a PFD
That’s right, they make PFDs (personal flotation devices) for pups, too. Even if your dog is an excellent swimmer, wearing a life vest can provide much-needed flotation if he or she accidentally falls (or jumps) off the boat, particularly if the water is cold. Equally important, most canine PFDs come with a handle that can help you hoist your pet back on board. Look for a vest that’s brightly colored and has reflective trim, to help you spot your pooch in the water. Take your dog with you to the pet store when you shop for the PFD, so you can make sure to find the size that fits best.

2. Make a “Dog Overboard” Plan
Before leaving the dock or the boat ramp, talk about what you are going to do if your dog falls overboard, and make sure everyone on board knows their part. One person should keep his or her eyes on your pet in the water at all times, while the captain circles back to the dog and cuts the engine before getting too close. Do not jump in after your pup! A panicked or struggling dog could drag you under. Instead, lean over the side or the swim platform and hoist your pet into the boat by the life-vest handle. If you have a boat equipped with the 1st Mate® Marine Safety & Security System, you can enjoy another level of peace of mind. By clipping one of the system’s wearable fobs to your dog’s collar, you can receive a notification if your pet goes overboard. The 1st Mate mobile app will even show you where the overboard event occurred to help you safely recover your dog.

3. Ease Your Dog into Boating
Spend some time introducing your pup to the boat before you get underway. When the boat is on plane, be sure to keep your pet securely inside. Don’t allow your dog to stand on a seat with his or her paws on the rail. A stray wake might launch your pup overboard. Limit your first outing to a couple of hours and observe your dog’s behavior. If he or she looks uncomfortable on board, is too distracting for the driver or tries to jump out, boating may not be the right pastime for your pooch.

4. Make Sure Your Dog Stays Hydrated
Apart from panting, your pup can’t tell you when he or she is getting overheated in the hot sun. Make sure to keep a bowl of fresh water on deck at all times and refill it often. (Avoid using lake water, particularly when algae is present.) If you have an ice maker or a cooler full of ice on board, pop a few cubes into the water dish as well. Consider purchasing a collapsible dog bowl, which is sold by most pet stores and some marine supply stores. It can come in very handy for keeping your pup hydrated both on the boat and the beach.

5. Protect Your Dog from the Sun
If your boat’s deck gets very hot, hose it off frequently so it won’t burn your pooch’s paws. Try to provide a shady spot for him or her on board. If the boat doesn’t have a hard top, bimini top or cuddy cabin, drape a towel across a couple of seats to make shade. Did you know that pet stores offer doggie sunscreen? You can also find a sun balm specially formulated for your pup’s nose and paws. Dogs with light skin are particularly susceptible to sunburn.

6. Plan for Potty Stops
Make sure your dog does his or her business before you board the boat. Depending on how much time you intend to spend out on the water, your pet probably is going to need to go to shore for at least one rest stop during the day as well. Plan your itinerary accordingly. Look for marinas and restaurants offering transient slips or take a break at a beach or sandbar. If you have a large dog, you might want to invest in pet stairs or a ramp that you can attach to your boat’s swim platform so he or she can re-board the boat more easily. Be sure to pack a leash and pet waste bags, along with treats and toys to keep your dog occupied during the day.

Dogs can enhance your boating experience with their unbridled enthusiasm for joining the family for a day of play on the water. If you plan ahead for their safety, health and happiness while they are on board, they will reward you with magical memories for years to come.

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