Sun in the sky and wind in our sails!

At Travel Tails we like things that start with the letter ‘B.’ Beaches. Baseball. Beer. Bourbon. Henri likes Bitches and we both like BOATS! So with our eyes on the prize of a long Memorial Day weekend, we thought it was the perfect time to offer you some tips on orienting your dog to #BoatLife. Whether you’re paddling, sailing, or motor boating (we’ve done all three), there are some simple things you can do to ensure your dog’s safety and comfort on the water.

Let’s dive right in with the most important thing first…

Purchase A Canine PFD

Doggie life jackets are an important boat accessory

Safety First!

Even if your dog swims like Katie Ledecky, he needs a PFD in case things get rough. Henri doesn’t wear his all the time but we always have it. If the water gets choppy or the weather makes a sudden turn for the worse, we put it on. There are tons of them on the market and I don’t really have a favorite to recommend, just make sure it fits and HAS A HANDLE on the back. You’ll want that handle in case you have to fish your dog from the drink or help him in/out of the boat. I have a couple of friends with small pooches who use the handle for quick dips over the side.

Get your dog used to wearing his PFD and comfortable swimming in it before you actually need it.

Most brands have weight and girth measurements associated with various sizes, and last year Whole Dog Journal published a review of several designs. You’ll have to be a paid subscriber or purchase the article, but it’s worth it.

Introduce Your Dog To The Boat

Henri on the dock

Waiting for the “All Aboard!”

Don’t just jump in a boat and take off. Your dog might panic. Orient your dog to the boat while it’s on land or secured at the dock, and give him a chance to familiarize himself with the vessel.

Let him sniff and check things out in a controlled environment. Try running the engine to make sure he’s ok with the noise. If in a canoe or kayak, show him where to sit while it’s on land and rock it a bit. It doesn’t have to be a major production or all-day training event- it only took about 15 minutes to get Henri ready for our first ocean kayak– but do take a few minutes to let your pooch acclimate.

Teach Your Dog Some Basic Commands

Assuming your dog already knows some basic commands, ‘wait’ and ‘load-up’ are useful cues to add to a boat dog’s vocabulary. Henri has also learned, through no specific training, the term ‘Hang on!’ He will square off and steady himself as best he can when it’s yelled.

Take Fresh Water For Your Dog

You don’t drink lake/river/ocean water and neither should your dog. Ingesting a little bit isn’t likely to make him sick, but make sure you pack fresh water and a bowl. I shouldn’t really have to say this.

Create A Dog Safety Zone On The Boat

Create a space on the boat where your dog feels comfortable. On sailboats or cuddy boats, down below or in the berth is a good spot. On the ski boat, Henri likes it under the Captain’s chair; in a canoe, he rides between my feet. Whatever space you choose, make sure the surface is non-slip. For that, we use what I refer to as our ‘surf mat’.

Stand-up paddle boarding

First time on SUP together!

A surf mat is nothing but a cheap bath mat from Walmart. It rolls up and fits neatly in our boat bag. If we are on a boat with fiberglass and no carpet, the surf mat gives Henri a good place to stand. At this point, he is familiar enough with the mat that I can throw it on any boat and he knows that’s his spot. Super handy on a kayak or paddleboard!

If you own the boat and aren’t just a guest, you might want to consider applying non-slip shower strips to slick surfaces and using your surf mat for dog bowls.

Tethering Your Dog

To tether or not to tether? That is the question.

My answer? HELL NO!

If the boat goes over, I don’t want my dog tied to me or the ship. That goes for canoeing and kayaking, too. Henri and I once went over in a kayak and as I felt the boat starting to go, I was able to grab him and throw him clear. It’s actually a very funny story, but I would not have had time to reach for his line and unclip him. In a real emergency, it’s likely you won’t either.

It’s my opinion that your dog has a much better chance of escaping if he isn’t tied to anything.

That being said, if you do chose to tether your dog, then do it with a harness NOT his collar.

Buy A Dog Ramp

If your boat doesn’t have a swim deck, or even if it does, you may want to consider a portable, floating dog ramp. Again, there are lots of styles. So you’ll need to do some research based on your boat and your dog’s size. We’ve never used one of these but I can see how it’d be great to have. Getting in and out, especially if you have a bigger dog, would be safer and easier.

Additional Accessories For Boating With Your Dog

Here’s where I could make a very long list of things to have with you when boating with your dog. There exists everything from protective eyewear to sun visors, and though I did once spend a somewhat ridiculous sum on a Jolly Roger collar, much of that stuff just seems excessive.

Gel mat and cooling bandana

Staying’ cool!

Our boat bag basics are as follows:

  • First aid kit that suffices for both humans and dogs. In this you might want to consider including pet approved medication for motion sickness.
  • Gel cooling pad and/or cooling bandana. We bought both of these items last summer and it was some of the best money went spent accessory-wise.
  • Pet-approved sunscreen. Truthfully, I generally just wipe a bit of mine onto Henri’s nose but it would be irresponsible of me to suggest that you do the same.
  • Sunglasses straps. This is for me and if I could actually remember to use them, I’d save a lot of money.


If you’d like more tips that aren’t exclusively boat oriented, check out Summer Tips for Canine Trips and/or Ask the Experts, a post in which I asked several vets to answer the question: What do you consider to be the most important health and/or safety consideration when traveling with your pet?

Summer is just getting started and if you want to keep up with our adventures then LIKE us on Facebook at /TravelTails and FOLLOW us on Twitter and Instagram @mytraveltails. In addition, we’d love for you to SHARE your own tips or thoughts in the comments and TELL YOUR FRIENDS!