Everything You Need to Know about Boating with a Dog Full-Time
Bringing your four legged furry friend with you on America’s Great Loop or any extended boating journey can provide an immense amount of joy, but not without some unique challenges. We have traveled with our dog, Ollie, on our trawler around America’s Great Loop for the past year and have learned a few things along the way. As we’ve traveled with Ollie, we’ve also met other boat owners who have told us their tips and tricks for having their dogs aboard their boats. Throughout this article, we’ll be sharing our experience and tips and tricks we’ve learned having our dog join us on our boat while we cruise America’s Great Loop.
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Our Salty Dog, Ollie
To begin, let’s tell you about our boat dog, Ollie. Ollie is a 7.5 year old, 30 lb., mixed breed dog. We got Ollie from the Atlanta Humane Society and potty trained her in a city loft where she frequented the building dog park as her “backyard.” During that time she gained a lot of socialization with other dogs and learned to hold her bladder as we had a 5 minute walk from our front door to the dog park. Ollie did not grow up around the water. We brought her with us to the beach where she played in the waves, but has not been an avid swimmer.
When deciding to cruise around America’s Great Loop, it was a clear choice for us to bring Ollie with us. Ollie likes to be around people, and prefers to join us on our outings rather than stay home. She enjoys playing in the waves at the beach, but has very little interest in swimming, so we knew she wouldn’t be the type of dog to willingly jump into the water. Ollie is a fairly simple dog and doesn’t require much although there are a few things we did to ensure her comfort on the water.
Should you bring your dog on the Great Loop?
That’s a very personal question, and the answer is something that varies from case to case, person to person, dog to dog. Many of these questions depend on how you plan on doing the loop (docking vs anchoring, having a boat with stabilizers vs a boat that doesn’t have stabilizers, and the dog’s physical state). Here are a few things to consider before deciding if your dog should accompany you on an extended boating journey or on America’s Great Loop.
A dog’s physical ability.
Is your dog physically able to do various tasks? Is your dog able to jump up a 2-foot wall from a dinghy to shore? Or are you able to carry your dog from place to place? Will you be able to carry your dog from the boat to the dock?
As we have traveled with Ollie, we’ve had to carry her onto our boat from our dinghy or swim platform onto our boat. So our ability to help her as well as her ability to jump, move, agility has been a key component to her comfort on the boat.
A dog’s vision/eyesight.
Your dog is blind? Having a dog who can’t see on a boat sounds like a challenging task. Not only is the boat always moving, but the height to which you may be at a dock will be constantly changing. Some docks are fixed while others are floating, making it a challenge for a dog to get on and off the boat. As you travel, you may be tied up to a dock on different sides depending upon current, dock master suggestions, and boat plans.
Dog size and boat size.
What is the size of your boat and the size of your dog? Will your dog be comfortable on your boat? We think a dog, just like humans, can adapt and adjust to various environments, however, it’s something to consider. We’ve seen multiple large German Shepards on medium-sized sailboats and everything in between.
Dog nausea and anxiety.
Does your dog get seasick, nauseous, or anxious on the water? Is there anything that can help ease your dog’s anxiety about rougher water or storms?
During our first two months cruising on America’s Great Loop in 2021, Ollie did great on the water. She didn’t experience nausea until November 2021. We took her to a local vet in Maryland who diagnosed her with Bilious Vomiting Syndrome. As a result, we started her on a 3x/day feeding schedule, which has significantly helped her vomiting. As we’ve cruised in rougher water, we’ve also noticed Ollie gets anxious or shakes uncontrollably when the boat is rocking a lot. So we try to make her comfortable and sit with her until we’re in calmer water.
Friendliness with other dogs.
Although boating can be thought of as a fairly isolated activity, the loop is fairly social from docktails to potluck meals. Traveling along the loop is filled with meeting other dogs at marinas, taking dogs for walks in new neighborhoods and places. Your comfort when meeting other boat dogs is something to consider when choosing to bring your dog with you on the Great Loop. We’ve enjoyed meeting other boat dogs and Ollie has enjoyed gaining new dog friends on the water.
Vet Recommendations for Boat Dogs
Before leaving for your Great Loop, made sure your dog is up to date on vaccines and shots. The Loop is a very social boating scene and your dog might be meeting other dogs at dog parks, marinas, and other public places. If you decide to bring your dog with you to Canada or the Bahamas, you’ll need to meet their pet requirements, which are explained in greater detail below. Before leaving for the Great Loop, you’ll want to have a full year of heartworm, flea, tick medication.
We took Ollie to the vet before leaving for our Great Loop in April 2021 to make sure she was up to date on shots, had a year’s worth of medications, and spoke to our vet about our change of lifestyle as it pertains to Ollie. We highly recommend getting a professional opinion by speaking to your vet.
Boat Dog Accessories
As we left land life and transitioned to boat life, we wanted to comfortably transition Ollie to her new day-to-day life. There weren’t many things we did to transition Ollie, however, these are a few considerations we took into account:
1. Dog Life Jacket
We bought Ollie a life jacket with a handle on her backside. Just in case she did fall in the water either from the boat or the dinghy, we would have an easy way to get her out. This has been a total game-changer for us as she’s fallen into the water every now and then, but it no longer phases us or Ollie as we’re able to quickly and easily get her back on board. We highly recommend getting your dog a lifejacket and putting it on for every cruise or water excursion! BoatUS tested several dog life jackets on a variety of different aspects, which may help in your purchasing decision.
Ollie's Life Jacket
...she wears this everyday we're cruising!
We bought Ollie’s West Marine Deluxe Pet Life Jacket at a used boat parts store, but you can still find them here. If we were buying a dog life jacket new, we’d purchase the Ruff Wear Float Coat because it’s the same brand as her harness and we like the quality of it. You can find it here:
2. Dog Bathroom
One of the many ways we’ve tried to get Ollie to do her business on the boat was astroturf (see below for more on this topic). We built a 1’x3’ box with astroturf so Ollie can do her business. Although she doesn’t use it for its intended use and instead uses it as a bed, we continue to practice and work with her.
Ollie's Bathroom Mat
...Ollie doesn't always go to the bathroom on the boat but when she does, she goes here.
Buying an astroturf matt with a tray would have made our lives a lot easier.
3. Dog Jacket
Temperatures vary along the loop. Within one month you could be enjoying warm 75 degree weather in the Florida Keys and at the end, 40 degrees and raining in North Florida. A dog jacket will help keep your furry friend warm and comfortable as the weather changes.
... being warm on the water isn't just for the humans.
We bought Ollie’s life jacket prior to traveling full-time from LLBean. but you can still find them here.
If your furry friend sincerely dislikes water, you could get them a rain jacket!
4. Ramps or Dog-Friendly Ladders
Does your dog like to swim? If so, knowing how will your dog get from the water back onto your boat is crucial. Depending upon the layout of your boat, you may or may not have a dog-friendly swim platform, giving you leverage to get your dog on or off your boat. For us, Ollie is not a big swimmer, but for other dogs who love to swim, it’s important to think about how your dog will get back on board safely.
Dog-Friendly Swim Platform
...if Ollie swam off the boat, she'd probably want to get back on the boat.
Ollie does not enjoy swimming from the boat, however, if your dog enjoys jumping off the boat, it’s essential to consider how they will get back onto the boat. It might be difficult to carry larger dogs onto the boat, so getting them an inflatable ramp would allow them to get back on the boat without difficulties or posing any safety concerns.
5. Extra Water Bowl
Ollie has her primary food and water bowls inside, but we’ve also included a second water bowl on our flybridge so she always has access to drinking water to stay hydrated.
Ollie's Dog Bowl
Keeping Ollie hydrated, where ever she hangs out...
We bought Ollie’s extra dog bowl onto the boat, but if you’re in the market for another dog bowl, this dog bowl is spill resistant. Great for keeping your decks dry.
6. Outdoor Dog Bed
We added an extra bed on our flybridge so Ollie has a place to sit with us. It stays in our flybridge locker so we have easy access. Although it’s not specifically made to be outdoors, we designated it as her outdoor dog bed.
Ollie's Dog Bed
...one of her favorite spots to nap.
We bought Ollie’s bed from home and designated it as her “outdoor bed,” however, if you’re looking for a great outdoor bed for your dog you can find one here:
7. Cooling Pad
After we completed our loop in Florida, we spent 3 months hanging out in the Florida Keys with consistently warm weather. During that time, Ollie spent most of her days in the shade on our flybridge where she could get a cool breeze. There were many hot days that having a cooling pad for her to lay on would have made her a lot more comfortable. If you’re planning to cruise in Florida, the Bahamas, or the Caribbean outside of the winter months, consider getting a cooling pad for your dog.
Dog Cooling Pad
...Ollie would have appreciated this on those hot days.
Although we didn’t get Ollie a cooling pad, we wish we did for those scorching hot days.
Boat Dog Rules
We have a few spots where we’ve implemented “Ollie rules” to keep her safe. Here are a few examples of our Ollie Rules:
- Any time we’re cruising, she must wear her life jacket at all times. This is for both our trawler and our dinghy.
- In any water activity (i.e. paddle boarding or kayaking), she must wear a life jacket.
- Ollie is not allowed to have four paws on the wooden area by our anchor while we’re cruising. It’s to make sure she doesn’t slip and fall.
How Often We Take Our Dog to Shore
On land with traditional 9-5 jobs, we took Ollie out to do her business about 3x/day. Cruising full-time and trying to keep a certain pace while on America’s Great Loop means we can’t stop 3x/a day for her to use the bathroom. We would waste a lot of time finding a spot to anchor, anchoring, preparing the dinghy, going to shore, walking Ollie, going back to the boat, unloading the dinghy, and pulling up our anchor. As a result, we take Ollie out twice a day. With each of those trips, we try to give her a decently long walk to give her and us some exercise, stretch our legs, and allow her to get all the good sniffs in while on land. Depending upon our cruising schedule and weather for the day, Ollie goes to shore at various times of the day.
Where to Take Your Dog to Shore
There are two main ways to take your dog to shore: anchorages and marinas. Marinas are pretty self-explanatory, but finding a dog-friendly anchorage can be a bit more of a challenge (see below). During the times we can’t take Ollie to shore for a lack of shore access, we have a few emergency options for her to do her business on the boat (also explained below).
How to find Dog Friendly Anchorages
We make it a priority to search for dog-friendly anchorages as we travel. Sometimes it’s easier said than done. We take Ollie to shore twice a day; once in the morning and once at night. Overall, she does well with her two-a-day schedule, however, she can hold her bladder longer. Taking Ollie to shore twice a day has become our normal routine.
Ollie rarely does her business on the boat even though we’ve tried to encourage her to go. Some areas on the loop are more dog accessible than others to take a dog to shore from an anchorage, but this is our general strategy for searching for dog-friendly anchorages.
- Public boat ramps
- Free city docks
- Dog-friendly, sandy beaches
We use Active Captain to look for dog-friendly anchorages. By clicking on the green anchorage symbol, you can gain information about the amenities of that anchorage, including pet access. We also read the comments to see what others have said about the anchorage and accessibility for pets.
How to get your dog to do “Business” on the Boat
In our experience having a dog do its business on the boat is a rarity. We’ve gotten to know a lot of other dog boat cruisers in our year of cruising, and the majority of boaters have similar challenges with getting their dogs to do business on the boat. As we’ve spoken to more cruisers about their dogs, we’ve picked up a few tips and ideas for how to get your dog to do their business on the boat. We’ve tried various techniques including ideas from other cruisers. Here are some of the different ways to get your dog to do business on the boat:
This recommendation came from a fellow boater. Coil a piece of rope on the stern or bow of the boat and encourage your dog to do its business there. The benefit is once the dog does their business, you’re able to clean off the rope by tossing it into the water for a minute and then bringing it back on board and recoiling it. We did try this method, however, it did not prove successful with Ollie.
We built a 1×3 foot box with astroturf for Ollie to do her business. She has only used it a handful of times when we’ve pushed her “holding capacity,” as she would much prefer to go to land. She often uses the astroturf as a bed, but it’s something we’re continuing to work on with her. We have tried putting her urine and feces on the astroturf to make it smell enticing, but it hasn’t done the trick.
This recommendation came from another fellow boater. Their suggestion was to purchase an old rug and lie it on the bow or stern. Practice with the dog to use the rug as their spot to do their business.
This recommendation came from another fellow boater. They bought a bush and kept it watered for several hundred miles because their male dog liked to pee on things. We did not try this suggestion.
Dog Pee Pads.
We bought dog pee pads in hopes of the “smell” that comes from the pee pads would attract Ollie to do her business. Since she was not trained with pee pads, this method did not prove successful.
We bought dog pheromone spray and used it on Ollie’s astroturf pad in hopes of enticing her to go. Although the smell does entice Ollie’s curiosity, it has not proved successful to get her to do her business on the astroturf box.
Practice, Practice, Practice!
There’s no secret sauce or magic pill; the best thing is repetition, practice, and patience. We’re consistently working with Ollie for her to use the astroturf and do her business on our boat. During extended times of not having dog shore access, Ollie has had accidents inside. It’s not fun cleaning up her accidents which lead to the bilge, but we know we’re all doing our best. In the two times she has done her business on the boat, and on the astroturf, we have showered her with treats and high appraises.
As you can see, we’ve tried a variety of methods with Ollie. During our trip from Chesapeake City, MD to Staten Island, NY, over the course of nine full days, we did not go to shore once and she did her business on the boat seven times. Here’s what we did and learned:
- This time allowed us to practice working with Ollie. We walked her to the bow, multiple times throughout the day, showing her the astroturf mat at our bow.
- This extended period of time surpassed the time she could hold her bladder and therefore she did her business on the boat.
- Every time she ended up going to the bathroom on the boat, we would reward her with a ton of dog treats! Reinforcing the behavior we wanted.
- After this extended period on the boat, Ollie did continue to use the bathroom on the boat only after not going to shore for 24 hours or more.
Today, we continue to take Ollie to shore twice a day, once in the morning and once at night, each with a decently long walk. If you have any tips or suggestions for getting your dog to do their business on the boat, please let us know in the comments below!
Key takeaways: what works or doesn’t work for our dog, Ollie, may or may not work for your dog. It’s all about trial and error. Through experimentation, practice, and a lot of patience, we hope you’re able to find success in having your dog go to the bathroom on the boat. We’d highly recommend that you try out several of these techniques with your dog prior to leaving on your grand adventure as it will make the transition a lot smoother.
International Dog Travel
One of the really neat things about traveling with your dog on America’s Great Loop is having them join you as you travel to different countries. Traveling to Canada and the Bahamas is a personal choice in someone’s travel itinerary, and not required by any means, however, it can be a real highlight of the trip. Here are a few resources for the travel requirements for Canada and the Bahamas.
Traveling to Canada with your Pet
You can find out more about bringing your pet with you to Canada on their . The main consideration with bringing your pet into Canada is that a valid rabies vaccination certificate is required. With a few questions, you can find out additional information as it pertains to your pet and specific situation.
Traveling to the Bahamas with your Pet
You can find out more about bringing your pet with you to the Bahamas on their . The main consideration with bringing your or into the Bahamas is that your pet needs to be up to date on vaccines and have a recent vet health check-up. An application and fee is required before arriving.
Although we have not traveled to the Bahamas with our pet, our friends from Abroad Reach Travel have! They live full-time aboard their 37 Tartan Sailboat with their dog, Aiden. In their experience, the pet permit takes 7-10 days to get approval. Once you get approval, you need to get your pet a health certificate 48 hours before your planned arrival. They have personally worked with Wellington from Bahamas Pet Permit twice. Bahamas Pet Permit requests 10 days for turnaround, however, in their experience, they receive the permits within about 4 days. The price is cheaper than if you did it through FedEx to mail it yourself. The permit is good for up to a year so you can apply at your convenience and then do the health check no more than 48 hours prior to your arrival.
Dog Packing List
Ollie is a fairly easy dog and doesn’t require much. The three things we made sure we had with us prior to entering Canada were:
- Extra Food – Since dogs do best eating their brand and type of food consistently, we made sure to have an extra bag with us.
- Medicine – We made sure to have anti-pain, anti-nausea, and antibiotics prescribed by our veterinary back home prior to departing for this trip.
- Documentation – We made sure to have original copies as well as digital copies of Ollie’s medical information.
Not all Dogs are the Same
Not all dogs are the same, so it’s important to know your dog. Does your dog like it warm or cold may depend on if your dog has long or short hair. We know that Ollie doesn’t do well in super hot weather, so when we do have hot days aboard PIVOT, we make sure to get our fan out and point it on her, make sure she’s in the shade, and ensure that she has plenty of water to drink. We don’t leave her on the boat for extended periods if the weather is too hot. Our go-to rule is “if it’s too hot for us, then it’s too hot for Ollie.” Knowing what your dog likes and dislikes is important for transitioning them from a life on land to life on the water.
We decided to take our dog with us because we felt Ollie will have just as much fun as us, except more! She doesn’t get stressed out with the various challenges that we’re faced with on the water and enjoys the little things just as much as we do. She’s a great addition to our life on the boat and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Do you have any questions? Leave us a comment below and we’ll try to answer them! Do you know of a boater with a salty dog that might find this information helpful? If so, send this article their way.