Boating with Dogs

10 Tips for Boating Safely with Your Dog


At Freedom Boat Club, we think that family time should be spent with the whole family – even those with four legs and a tail. Why not bring your dog out on the water so they can experience the joys of boating alongside you? At every Freedom Boat Club location, boaters and their dogs are welcome aboard our fleet of steady and secure vessels. That’s why we’re sharing 10 safety tips to ensure a safe boat ride with your furry first mate:


1. Get a canine life vest


A canine personal flotation device (PFD) is essential if you plan to bring your dog aboard a boat. You can find them at almost all pet shops and marine supply stores. We highly recommend purchasing a leash compatible, brightly colored PFD with a handle for visibility and control. Make sure it fits comfortably and consider getting your dog used to wearing it on land first. 


2. Train your dog to swim


Many dog breeds are natural swimmers and love going for a dip. But others need help adjusting. Before taking them out on the boat, we recommend getting your dog comfortable with water, even if you don’t plan for them to leave the boat. You can do this with a baby pool, regular pool, or at the shoreline. Encourage them to play and have fun while gradually guiding them into deeper waters.


3. Provide shade and drinking water


To prevent your dog from overheating, stock your boat with plenty of fresh water and never allow them to drink from the body of water you’re boating on. Allow them to sit in a shaded area of the boat to keep them protected from the sun’s heat. You should keep an eye out for signs of dehydration such as excessive panting, dry mouth, and lethargic behavior.


4. Train your dog to reboard from the water


If your dog falls overboard or goes for a swim, they will need a safe way to get back on the boat. This may require a special pet ramp or training your dog to use the ladder attached to the boat (although this option is not available with all boat models). Practice your reboarding procedure until they get the hang of it. You’ll also need to practice your role in reboarding, especially if the dog is large and you’re boating alone. For smaller dogs, this is where a handle on the canine life jacket will come in handy.


5. Bring canine sunscreen and insect repellent


Just like humans, dogs can get sunburns too. Stop at your local pet store for sunscreens specifically designed to be dog friendly. You can also find dog-safe insect repellent to prevent them from being bitten by pesky bugs. Always test these products beforehand to ensure there are no allergies.


6. Use standard training methods aboard the boat


Train your dog on the boat using the same commands and methods you would at home. You never want to force a dog to stay aboard the boat. Instead, you can use treats and praise to reward them for positive interactions with the boat, just as you would for training other behaviors. Just be careful not to overfeed as some dogs can experience seasickness from the boat’s motion.


7. Be prepared for when nature calls


It’s very possible that your dog will need to pee or poop during a boat trip, especially for an all-day venture. We recommend having them take care of business right before boarding the boat. You can bring puppy pads aboard the vessel, which are also a good solution in case of sickness. But don’t forget to bring a trash bag or another disposal method to ensure they are not discarded in the water. And if your dog doesn’t like potty pads, simply be prepared to return to shore when nature calls.


8. Create a safe space


It's a good idea to designate a space for your dog out of the way of humans onboard. Not only will they feel safer, but they won’t be underfoot, which is especially important in case of emergency. Designating this space will relieve anxiety and help your dog better acclimate to boat trips. Make sure it is in a shady spot to keep them comfortable and give them a favorite toy. We also recommend giving them a chance to become familiar with the boat and designated space while it’s still docked.


9. Ensure familiarity with guests


If you have guests aboard, make sure they mix well with your dog beforehand. Some dogs can be apprehensive of strangers especially when in an unfamiliar or stressful environment. This also applies to guests bringing their own dogs aboard.


10. Assess weather conditions


As a precaution, always check the weather ahead of time when planning a boat trip and re-assess conditions the day-of. Days with rain, heavy wind, and/or choppy seas aren’t appropriate for bringing a dog on a boat.



As always you must be compliant with all other boat safety regulations and best practices - including having PFDs for each person, a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit - just to name a few. In most cases, dogs and boating are a great mix. So, apply these 10 tips the next time you take your pup out on the water to create a great experience for them and a more relaxing time for yourself. For more helpful boating tips, check out our previous blog: How to Anchor a Boat in 10 Steps


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