Pet Over Board!


As many of you know my Husband and I will be living aboard our sailboat (Chuffed) and doing a lot of travelling. Since our decision to make the move we have had a lot of questions about keeping pets safe on a boat, so in this post I will discuss the safety precautions one must take to prevent a pet over board!

Boating with Dogs

First some dog training 101 – make sure your dog has been trained to sit, stay, come when they are called and is generally well behaved with other peoples and pets. When cruising you can come across many unexpected situations and you need to know that your pooch will respond when you ask them too.

Some more advanced training that is an absolutely necessity for long voyages is potty training! Dogs that are used to going outside on grass to toilet can take quite some time to learn how to use your preferred on board toilet system. Most yachties have a patch of Astroturf that they have trained their dog to use on land, and then it is moved on board and cleaned regularly. Smaller dogs can be trained to use litter trays or similar.

The K9 Float Coat is recommended by many cruisers.

The K9 Float Coat is recommended by many cruisers.

 Last but certainly not least is boat SAFETY! In my opinion all dogs that are not below deck should be wearing a life jacket at all times, especially if you are underway. Doggies can get excited about the silliest things and if they were to ever jump over you have to know they can be easily retrieved and can stay afloat. I love the “Ruffwear K9 Float Coat” because it has floats beneath the chest as well as on top, is brightly coloured and has a strong handle that can be used to lift your dog out of the water when needed (not a paid advert just a good jacket!). When underway on long voyages you should also consider clipping your dog onto a tether, trying to turn a sail boat around in 20 knot winds to retrieve a dog in the middle of the ocean is no mean feat!

You should also test your dogs swimming ability and help them feel confident in the water. Training them to use a ladder to climb in and out of the water can also be very useful if they ever go over.

You also have to consider the general ups and downs of living on board with a pet. For example your 13 year old lab may not be able to climb up and down the stairs to get on/below deck. You also need to consider the lack of veterinary attention during long trips, just like for people with medical condition, ensure you have all the medication and supplies your pet might need for their travels. For more information on treating motion sickness check out the ‘Road Trip’ blog post. You also need to make sure you can provision enough food and water for your pet over a long voyage.

Always make sure you travel with your pets documents, and if you are doing a passage between countries ensure you know the laws of each place you are going. Some ports for example won’t let your dog off the boat!

Boating with Cats

Cats can make great on board companions – in fact cats have been sailing and boating for centuries and were used in the days old to catch rats and mice on big ships!

Once again some Cat Training 101 is so important. Making sure your cat will come to you when called can help avert a major disaster on board. You also need to ensure your cat is comfortable using a litter tray on board. A covered litter tray that can be anchored is ideal – the last thing you want is a big kitty mess everywhere after a big wave!

Teaching your cat to be comfortable wearing a harness can be a life saver on board!

Teaching your cat to be comfortable wearing a harness can be a life saver on board!

Just like a dog, cats need to be wearing life vests when on deck; alternatively they can be harnessed and tethered in. Generally cats are cooler about staying below deck for long periods of time, and some boaties only let their cats on deck when they are at anchor or docked. You can also install cat ladders that hang over the edge of your boat and train your cat to climb up them just in case they ever go over.

Some cats can get motion sickness, especially on boats. Check out the ‘Road Trip’ blog for more information on options available to help ease motion sickness.

And once again make sure you always travel with your cat’s documents and know the animal import laws of any country you travel too. Make sure your boat is provisioned with enough water, cat food and kitty litter to get your through a longer voyage, and of course any medication your pet might need.


Check back later in the week for a post on flying with pets, and how to travel around the world with the least cost/quarantine for your pet! If you have any hot tips on pet travel please share them in the comments!


Many happy tails to you and your fur friend,

Dr Sheridan x