dog boat safety

Boating 101: Keeping Dogs Safe and Happy on the Water

Summer is the perfect time to introduce your dog to water.

But just because many dogs are naturally drawn to water doesn't mean you shouldn't take precautions, especially if you're going boating. Boats present their own challenges in an unfamiliar environment, which in turn increases the chance of accidents.

Start Slow

Not all dogs like water and it's hard to tell where on the scale your dog falls unless you give it a try and check his reaction. “Owners who have grown up around the water think nothing of being aboard all day, but your dog can get sea sick,” says Peter Jensen Kurki, the Commodore of Business Development for Bennett Brothers Yachts in Wilmington, North Carolina. “It's best for first time boating to take a short ride and see how it goes—sea sickness sometimes won't appear until after 10 or 15 minutes.”

Safety First

When stepping on and off the boat, make sure your dog does not try to jump onto the dock and accidentally miss—a very real possibility for smaller dogs. “It's best to carry the little ones and direct the larger breeds to exactly where to land,” says Jensen Kurki. “Floating docks will roll side to side and dogs might not anticipate the movement.” When dealing with salt water, you also have to worry about oyster beds and barnacles that could cut the soft pads on the dog's feet, according to Kurki. “Fresh water boating has its own set of issues, but salt growth on the docks, pilings, boat bottoms, and walkways can and will cut,” says Jensen Kurki.
dog boat safety ©istockphoto/zinchik

Practice Balance

Most dogs find boat movement troubling, so practicing balance in advance is a good idea. For example, you can try balance exercises such as walking on a balance beam or slightly raised board, recommends Sally Morgan, a holistic physical therapist for pets and people. “You can also put the front or back legs on a pillow or foam surface so that the dog needs to balance and use his abdominal muscles,” says Morgan. “Or you can put him on something like an outdoor furniture cushion as well and give him gentle balance challenges.” And, just let them find their balance on the boat before embarking. Since balance is such an issue on boats, you should also make sure your dog always wears a life vest, no matter how good of a swimmer he normally is. “If he accidentally falls into the water and is injured, the vest will save his life,” Morgan adds. “The vests often have many handles on them as well, so it is easy to hold your dog safely or pull them aboard more easily.”

Deal with Nausea From the Get Go

Unless your dog has a serious problem with nausea (dogs who get carsick easily might have trouble with boats), he probably doesn't need medication—especially since nausea medication can make your dog sleepy or dizzy, two things you don't want when you're on a boat. Instead, you can try feeding him some ginger snaps and see if that helps. “I sometimes use flower essences such as Safe Journey to also help my dog, especially for a longer boat trip,” says Morgan. She also recommends trimming the excess fur between the pads so the dog has more stability on slippery boat surfaces, which might help ease nausea and improve balance as well.

Hydrate Properly

Keep a bowl of water available at all times while on the boat. This is especially important if your dog is likely to jump into the ocean for a swim and be tempted to drink salty water—which can make him sick. “Be sure the water they lap is free from contaminants, fuel, bilge water, cleaning chemicals and anti-freeze,” says Jensen Kurki. “Engine coolant may smell attractive and because of proximity to the engine, could be present, so pay attention.”

Diana Bocco

Diana Bocco is a full-time writer and avid adventurer. She's gone hiking in Siberia, snorkeling in Thailand, and canoeing in the Mekong River. She also loves caves and has been known to get lost in one or five around the world. Diana's work has been published in the Discovery Channel website, Yahoo!, Popular Mechanics, and more. You can read more of her work on her website at
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