Boat dogs are the best. They’re excited to go, well behaved on the dock, chill and confident underway, and have the time of their lives running on the beach, island or sandbar. Some dogs seem to just be born that way. I’ve had a couple of them along the way, including a huge, oafish Australian shepherd/Rottweiler mix that liked nothing more in the world than dozing on deck with the wind in his face.

Regardless of whether you’re fortunate enough to have one of those born boat dogs or not, taking your dog on the boat can still be a lot of fun — for both of you. Just like taking kids boating, though, a little bit of forethought and planning can make it a better experience all around.

Here are a few tips for a pleasant and safe day on the water with four-legged friends.


  • 1. Keep Them Cool
  • 2. Bring a Leash
  • 3. Bring Something From Home
  • 4. Provide Some Traction
  • 5. Put Them in a Life Jacket
  • 6.Make Sure They Have Plenty Of Water
  • 7. Make it Fun!

  • Keep Them Cool

    On warm or hot days, providing some shade for your dog is critical. That can be under a Bimini top or T-top, or even just a beach towel stretched between a couple of seats.

    Regardless, make sure there’s a shady spot to sit or lie that’s also comfortable and secure.

    If you’re headed to a sandbar, beach or other destination without natural shelter, bring something to create some shade on shore — a tent, umbrella or canopy.

    Remember too that, shade on the boat is not the only part of the equation.

    Keep in mind that boat days can be cold too. If you and the rest of your crew are bundled up, your dog might need some extra insulation too — especially if they’re wet. That could be in the form of a favorite bed or blanket to curl up in, a normal dog coat or even a neoprene vest like those used to keep duck dogs warm on cold winter mornings.

    Bring a Leash

    This probably goes without saying, but even if your dog behaves like a saint, always bring a leash. Boat ramps are dangerous places with cars and trailers moving in all directions, drivers with their attention focused elsewhere, docks to slip off of, and often other dogs around. For those reasons and more, always leash your dog around the docks, ramp and parking lot.

    Most boat-in beaches, islands and sandbars tend to be de-facto off-leash zones, where dogs can run, swim and socialize at will. In many ways, that’s a wonderful thing. It also means you’ll run into an aggressive or otherwise an ill-behaved dog here and there, and a leash might come in handy to keep your own dog out of the fray. 

    Also, keep in mind that your neighbors at the sandbar or beach might not like dogs as much as you do. If your dog is walking on their towels, trying to grab their sandwiches, jumping on their kids or peeing on their beach tent, exercise some common courtesy and get out the leash.

    It’s great to have places where dogs can run and play freely, but, unless it’s designated as an off-leash area, other people have just as much right to not be pestered by dogs as you do to let your dog run.

    Bring Something From Home

    At least to begin with, the boat can be an unfamiliar and scary environment for some dogs. Bringing a familiar toy, bed, blanket or whatever can go a long way toward making it less uncomfortable.

    If your dog has something else that smells and feels like home, bring it on board. 

    If your dog has a bed that’s small enough to bring along, a towel from the bottom of their crate, or something else that smells and feels like home, bring it on board and put it somewhere they can get to it easily — preferably, as mentioned above, in the shade. Of course, treats also work to overcome nervousness. Bring an ample supply, and don’t be stingy.

    Provide Some Traction

    This isn’t an issue on boats with carpeted or vinyl-floored decks, but with fiberglass decks, it’s important for your dog to have somewhere to stand or lie that isn’t slippery. It turns out that nonskid isn’t nearly as effective for dog feet as it is for people feet, so on a fiberglass deck — especially a wet one — your dog is likely going to slide all over the place in rough water and even when you accelerate and decelerate.

    We all know that cringe-inducing sound of dog claws scrabbling for grip on wet nonskid. Non-slip mats specifically for dogs are widely available, but almost anything helps — a beach towel, door mat, a foam decking pad, a dog bed from home, even permission to climb up into a cushioned seat.

    Put Them in a Life Jacket

     The reasoning is the same as it is for humans. You might swim like Michael Phelps, but if you get hit on the head and knocked unconscious on your way out of the boat, that makes no difference. Even if you don’t get injured, hitting the water — especially cold water — fully clothed when you’re not expecting it is a whole different experience from jumping in on purpose.

    No matter how good a swimmer your dog is, putting them in a lifejacket while underway is still important.

    Your lab might have webbed feet, a propeller in place of a tail, and leave a foot-high wake when she’s swimming after a downed duck, but if she falls over the side of the boat at 35 mph in a choppy waterway, a lifejacket might very well save her life.

    Make Sure They Have Plenty Of Water

    An ample supply of clean, cold water is absolutely critical. It’s also important that you put the water down in the same place every time. Dogs are creatures of routine, and they’ll be happier if they know where their water is.

    Some newer boats are actually available with built-in dog watering and feeding stations, and aftermarket watering stations are available too. Short of that, though, just be mindful to keep the water bowl in the same place.

    If you get out of the boat on a beach or sandbar, don’t forget to bring the water bowl. It’s easy to overlook this, since if you get thirsty on the sandbar, you can just grab a drink from the boat. Your dog likely can’t get aboard with help, though.

    Make it Fun For Them!

    With the exception of leashing them at the ramp, taking dogs on the boat is a lot like taking kids on the boat. Bring plenty of treats and toys, put them in a lifejacket, make sure they feel secure on board, and don’t let them get hot, cold, hungry or thirsty.

    This last one is also the same: if you want them to come along willingly next time, make sure it’s fun for them too — not just you.

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