If you are a dog owner, then you’ll understand that sometimes it’s really tough leaving your best buddy behind when you set off cruising – after all our four-legged friends are often a huge part of the family. So in this blog we will take a look at the practical, administrative and fun (!) processes of sailing with a dog.
Sailing with a dog, The Administrative Bit
For this article we will look at sailing in Europe and the EU. Outside of the EU every country has its own rules and regulations and will have to be researched independently. This is important as the rules vary hugely from country to country. Some will insist on quarantine, others have an outright ban on animals from outside the country landing, and some may even destroy your dog – so research is absolutely critical. A good source of information is www.pettravel.com
Leaving and Entering the UK
The UK permits travel with no documentation between:
- The UK and Northern/Republic of Ireland
- The UK and the Isle of Man
- The UK and the Channel Islands
Although documentation is not required for these movements you may wish to travel with your pet’s passport if you have one. This will cover you should you have to make an emergency stop for repairs anywhere outside these areas, and avoid your dog having to go in to quarantine on return.
It is not permitted to bring pets into the UK from another country by private boat (other than Ireland). They must arrive by a DEFRA approved transport company on an authorised route. This is to keep the UK free from rabies and other diseases. The current regulations have been in force since 2012 when the UK brought its procedures into line with the European Union. Details of authorised routes can be found on the DEFRA site
Obtain a Pet Passport
To go sailing with a dog in Europe you must have a Pet Passport. This can be obtained in the UK from a certified vet and will involve your dog having the following:
- Microchip (or legible tattoo imprinted prior to 3 July 2011)
- Rabies vaccination (pet must be at least 12 weeks of age)
- 21 day wait before being eligible to travel to other EU countries
- Some countries will also require tapeworm treatment.
Further information about the Pet Travel Scheme is available by calling T: 0370 241 1710 or visit the UK government website
Help on filling out your pet passport can be found on the DEFRA website
These rules may change after Brexit, to keep up to date check to government website UK government website
Sailing with a Dog – The Practical Bit
All Paws on Deck!
If your dog is young, now is the time to get them accustomed to a life on the water. Give your pet a chance to get acquainted with the boat before setting sail and make the first trip a calm and short one. If your dog has been frightened by something, it can be very difficult to get them to try again.
Much as dogs enjoy swimming in the water, it is still dangerous should they get into difficulty, so a dog floatation device is a must. Give your dog a chance to get used to wearing its life-jacket before actually getting on a boat. It’s a great idea to allow your pet to practice swimming while wearing its life jacket in shallow water.
Most jackets have a handle, so a small/average sized dog can be pulled out of the water manually. However depending on your vessel and the size of your four legged friend, it may be worth having some sort of lifting system. I once saw the boom swung out and the main sheet clipped to the handle of a dog flotation jacket. This was then used to lift a very wet and super heavy Newfoundland back onboard.
Another advantage to a jacket with a handle is that it can be clipped on to the jackstays or a D-ring in choppy weather. Safety netting all the way round is also a good idea as paws and claws do not always grip well on a GRP deck. Any unexpected movement could be enough to send your dog over the side and no one wants a COB (canine over board)! Some people attach a Raymarine Life Tag or similar in the event that the worst happens. The R.Y.A have produced a good video on choosing the right jacket for your dog can which can be found here
Choose your weather wisely
On yacht deliveries the objection is usually to get to your destination as quickly and safely as possible, which can mean carrying on in uncomfortable weather. If you are cruising, your objectives are of course different. No dog will enjoy being thrown around in rough seas, but even with the best intentions we can all get caught out in unexpected weather.
In these circumstances try to keep your dog as calm and comfortable as possible. Do not tack without preparing them first. A dog being thrown from one side of the cabin to another is likely to be nervous of getting on a boat again!
For smaller dogs, some yacht owners have used a suspended pet sling which acts like a hammock and keeps them level. However all dogs are different and you might need to try different things to find out what is most comfortable for your four-legged first mate.
Just like us, dogs suffer from the cold and the heat. There are lots of warm jackets available for the colder climates but the extreme heat of a Mediterranean summer can be more of an issue. For occasions like this, always ensure there is some shade on deck. A cool mat is a great idea and you might also like to consider canine sunscreen.
Remember in hot climates teak decks can get very hot, if your bare feet burn on the deck so will your dog’s paws.
Do Dogs get Seasick?
Just like humans, dogs are all affected differently and some acclimatise much faster than others. This is one thing that you can only find out from experience.
Food and Water
Stock up on your dog’s favourite food when you can. Although supplies throughout Europe are good, there may be some remote islands that do not have supplies. Always make sure there is plenty of water available for your dog. Like people, dogs can quickly become dehydrated at sea. I highly recommend you purchase rubber non-spill dog bowls – they are an essential piece of kit in a rolling sea.
Have Games for your Dog Onboard
Sailing with a dog can be great fun but just like people, dogs can easily get bored on long passages, so it’s a good idea to have some games and toys available to keep them occupied in between stops. Puzzle toys which you can hide treats in are great for this. Active brain = happy sailing dog!
Where does he ‘go?’
Most boat owners designate a place for the dog to do his business usually on the bow. The area can then be then washed and disinfected. Your dog can be toilet trained using a treat and reward system, encouraging them to use a piece of artificial grass or a ‘wee post’. It’s a good idea to get them used to using it on land first, before moving it onto the boat.
There are also lots of dog toilets on the market, often using artificial grass. A quick search of ‘dog potty UK’ brings up lots options for all sizes of dog.
Keep that Doggie Routine Going!
Always remember dogs love and need routine to feel secure and happy, so try as much as possible to keep feeding times, trips ashore and cuddle time(!) as regular as possible. That way your four legged first mate will always keep the wag in his/her tail!
With a bit of preparation and planning sailing with a dog should be a fun and rewarding experience.