Boating with the Pooch
Some safety items to think about
By Wayne Spivak
National Press Corps
United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
In the last ten years, I think my wife
and I have gone out on our boat only a handful of times without
our dog. That's a lot of hours on the water with our beloved
Over the years, we've hit some
bumpy seas, some very very hot and humid weather, and some ideal
weather. We've gone swimming in bays, coves and chop. We've
been lucky, but we also plan rather well.
Here are some tips that will
make your day on the water safe and enjoyable for all the participants.
First thing we do when getting
underway is make sure we have enough water for the dog. Dogs
perspire through panting, and while doing so, loose copious
amounts of body fluids. It's imperative to keep them hydrated.
We bring our water in a sports
bottle with a sports cap. Our dog learned to drink from the
sports cap probably around the same time she finished with her
shots. We also carry a dog bowl for her water.
Quite often, she snubs her water
while on the boat. Remember, you know better, and as responsible
pet owners, sometimes you need to force them to drink. It's
amazing what a little coaxing will do.
The slogan "Boat Smart -
Boat Safe - Wear It!" used in the Safe Boating Campaign
holds true for both humans and pets. Not all dogs can swim!
Not all dogs are great swimmers, and depending on where your
boat is located, should Fido fall overboard, he/she may not
be able to reach you before he/she suffers from exhaustion or
So, have your dog wear a Personal
Flotation Device (PFD). Pet PFD's are sold by all the major
marine vendors. Now, don't just buy the PFD; try it on the dog
once and throw it in the hold! Practice donning the vest, as
well as having your pet swim with the PFD! It's a new experience
for them, and unless they get used to it, you'll have problems
should they ever really need to wear the PFD.
The Boat/US Foundation did this
study on pet PFD's.
The New Pet
You've just gotten a new pet,
and you want to take them boating. What a great idea! However,
don't assume your pet will a) like your boat, and b) enjoy boating!
Dogs and cats (especially) like firm, stable surfaces. A boat
can be anything but stable.
When you get a new pet, first
thing you should do is acclimate them to the new environment
while the boat is tied up to its normal dock or mooring. Let
the animal get used to its surroundings. Have them wear their
PFD during this time. This will get them acclimated not only
to the boat, but also the PFD.
Next turn on your engines and
see if the sounds associated with them disturbs the animal.
My dog couldn't care less about the sound of an engine, but
thunder, a firecracker or any sudden loud noise, and she freaks
out. Better to be safe than sorry, for both you and the well
being of your pets.
Take short trips at first, again
to let your pet get acclimated to the pitch and roll of boating.
Remember, if you can get seasick, so can your pets!
Sun & Heat
We all hope, when we go boating,
to have a warm sunny day. That's fine for you, but special attention
must be paid to your pets! Too much sun and heat will cause
heat problems for the animal.
Dogs and cats (as well as many
other pets) can suffer the same types of heat emergencies humans
can. They include, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and sun stroke.
Make sure you have a shaded area
on your boat that your pet can hide under. Hopefully there is
air movement, to aid in cooling them down. Remember to make
sure they drink, and I find wetting down their coats also helps
them feel cooler -- or it helps us feel that they feel cooler.
Protect their pads. Dogs and
cats absorb cold and heat through their pads, and you need to
be careful that they don't burn them on the hot fiberglass.
Doing their Business
Just as you find after a couple
hours on the boat that you need to use the head, so will your
animal. You have a few options, depending on the type of pet
Cats - place their litter box
at the lowest level of your boats, and make sure its level.
This should induce them to use their litter box. Also, by making
a sort of castle with pillows at the same point (lowest level),
should you get into rough seas, kitty may feel more secure.
Dogs - you can train your dog
to do his/her business in a specific spot. Its hard work, but
it can be done. If you're going to cruise, this would be the
best bet. That way, you don't have to find land every few hours
so Fido can relieve him/herself.
On the other hand, you can always
go ashore and let them do their business. Remember, pick up
and properly dispose of the waste products left by your animals.
The Marine Sanitation Environmental Laws, should be respected;
even though this is not human waste - it still causes bacterial
problems. In fact, if you go ashore, there may well be animal
waste laws in effect!
Boating with the family pet is
a great way to enjoy this wonderful sport. By taking a few extra
steps, you can insure a fun safe time for all.
For more information about
boating safety, why not pursue your boating education by taking
one of the many courses that the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
provides to the public. You can contact your local Auxiliary
Flotilla by either contacting your local Coast Guard Unit (www.uscg.mil)
or the Auxiliary (www.cgaux.org).