In our new eBook, How to Sail with Dogs — 100 Tips for a Pet-Friendly Voyage, we offer a comprehensive guide for sailors who want to share the sailing experience with their dogs. Our experiences sailing the world with dogs have taught us many valuable lessons. This guide provides detail about how to plan, prepare, and potty train for fun, safe sailing with your four-legged crew members. We share insight on how to keep dogs comfortable onboard, how to establish routines for them, how to make it through the customs requirements for dozens of countries, how to potty train them onboard, and most important, how to keep them SAFE.
We share all our insights, experiences, and research in this eBook, available right now to purchase as an interactive pdf.
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How to Sail with Dogs Survival Kit – SECURITY
Collar with ID Tags
This is kind of a no-brainer, but still worth mentioning. Just about any collar will work, but we like using our homeland flags since we are an international family! For the engraved tags, we recommend getting more than one just in case one or more of them is lost. Our Beagles love to run and play and wrestle and explore. Cap’n Jack has lost his tag twice, and Scout has lost hers three times. We haven’t lost the actual dogs yet, but we use “SV Seefalke” as our home address rather than our actual physical home address. This way, if the dogs lose their way anywhere near the marina, their “home” can easily be found. Of course, we use both our phone numbers and include the international code (+1 for USA and +49 for Germany). Don’t assume the person who finds your lost pet will know your country code.
When you obtain your official microchip, you will get a tag for your dog’s collar. Be sure to keep this handy if you don’t want to keep it on your dog’s collar. We sometimes attach these to Cap’n Jack & Scout’s collars, but we generally keep them safely stored in Michelle’s wallet so it’s always handy. However, we keep the paperwork that comes with it in our binder with other ship documents and dog paperwork.
We have several leashes we use. We love the Dog Whisperer leads for general walking. When the dogs have on their harnesses, we prefer leather leashes with a stainless steel clip. At times, we also use retractable leashes so the dogs can run and play a bit without being completely unleashed.
How to Sail with Dogs Survival Kit – SAFETY AT SEA
Man Overboard Indicator (Mobi)
We use a MOBi (Man Overboard Indicator) from NASA Marine. It’s a fail-safe transponder system that consists of a base unit and up to eight active transponders for crew. As soon as the base unit detects a drop in signal level it sounds a high intensity alarm to get everybody on board aware of the situation. The transponders are named so a quick glance on the base unit shows who has gone overboard. On SV SEEFALKE all two- and four-legged crew are wearing the MOBi transponder.
We believe strongly in having a proper sea fence to protect both the four-legged and the two-legged crew members. These are easy to install and not very expensive. The peace of mind you will have while at sea makes the time and expense completely worth it.
Human sailors aren’t the only ones onboard who need a proper PFD (personal flotation device). Our dogs wear one that attaches securely under the belly and around the neck. We can’t stress enough how important it is to have the two handles on top. Before you set sail, find a way to let your dogs practice swimming in their live vests. They will be uncomfortable at first, but it’s also important for them to have an experience swimming in them when there is not a stressful situation.
When we are at sea, we prefer to keep the dogs in a protective harness rather than their regular collars, or in addition to their regular collars. Harnesses used in combination with a strong tether is a safe way to keep them onboard if a huge wave hits unexpectedly or a serious conditions cause excessive heeling. The harness wraps around the dogs body rather than the neck, preventing choking or strangling if your dog slips overboard.
We use protective tethers that are reflective and strong enough to support weights up to 90 pounds (Cap’n Jack weighs 35 pounds, Scout weighs 25 pounds). The tethers we have are 25 feet long, which give the dogs room to roam on the boat, but they can easily be shortened if the dogs’ movement and access need to be restricted. These are perfect for keeping them in one spot on the deck or safely secured in the bow.
NOTE: When conditions are particularly heavy, we feel more comfortable keeping Cap’n Jack & Scout secure in the main cabin and not at all on the main deck or cockpit. We have a center cockpit that is four feet deep on all sides, so this is a better option than the deck in most cases. However, in general, if we feel the sailing conditions are not safe, they stay below in the main cabin.
How to Sail with Dogs Survival Kit – POTTY TRAINING
You can try to build a dog yard like Maik’s, but like ours, it may face heavy sea conditions. Ours got a proper burial somewhere in The Baltic Sea. Instead, we recommend a soft fake-grass mat that has the look and feel that is as close to real grass as you can possibly get. But whatever kind of mat you use, it’s important to establish one place on board that your dog knows is his “spot.” The secret is repetition and reward! We also recommend having a backup mat, just in case conditions are rough and you need to place one in the cockpit.
Our Beagles love just about anything that can be called a treat! Just be sure to have plenty on hand, especially for the long sailing journeys. If you run out, try a small cracker with a little dab of peanut butter! These are some of Cap’n Jack & Scout’s favorites.
It’s important to clean up after your pet. This is simply the courteous thing to do, especially when you are a visitor in a new country. Keep plenty on board! These are also handy to have while at sea. Throw the poo overboard, but please do not throw the bags overboard! We purchase these in bulk because we ALWAYS need them!
How to Sail with Dogs Survival Kit – TRAVELING BY AIR
Airline Approved Crates
These must be IPATA-approved for airline travel and they MUST be the correct size for your dog. We used crates by PetMate. They proved to be sturdy and airline tested. The 360-degree ventilation keeps pets comfortable with better visibility and air flow. Cap’n Jack and Scout had to travel in separate crates, but the airline put them next to each other so they could see, hear, and smell each other.
Water Bowls with Handles
Especially for long flights, be sure to buy extra bowls for fresh water for your dog’s flight. The small water bowls that come with the crates are not big enough. This is important! Your dog will need good hydration for the flight. We really loved these water bowls because we also can hang them out of the way onboard the boat. They rarely spill thanks to the secure handles. We highly recommend these. We are still using the same water bowls that Cap’n Jack and Scout traveled with on the airplane from the U.S. to Germany.
How to Sail with Dogs Survival Kit – KEEPING COOL
High-Tech Cooling Pads
We have never used these, but we know other sailors who travel with dogs who love them! This cooling pad keeps your pet cool and comfy with pressure activated gel technology that absorbs body heat and delivers relief for pets from heat or joint pain. This cooling pad features a lightweight, portable, and puncture-resistant material that requires no electricity; no need to freeze or chill to maintain a cool surface.
Evaporative Cooling Vests
This is another item recommended to us by other sailors, although we have never tried it. This dog cooler comes with a 3-layer cooling fabric. Soak it in cold water, wring it out, and put the cooling vest on your dog. It has an evaporative cooling principle. During the phase transition from liquid water to water vapor, temperature drops, the mesh material helps wicking water, and the middle absorbent cotton holding water isolates from the dog’s skin.
To remove dead hair, this device was also recommended to us by other sailors. For large dogs with long hair the Furminator removes loose hair. It reaches through the topcoat to remove loose undercoat hair without cutting skin or damaging the topcoat (when used as directed).
Obviously, plenty of fresh water is critical to keep your dog healthy while on land or at sea. There are some large bottles that automatically dispense water, but we don’t like these. We often sail in extreme heat, making it important to consistently provide new, fresh, cool water for your dogs! We love the bowls that have handles or the ones that are weighted on the bottom to prevent accidental spills at sea.
This is another item that we don’t use, but we want to include it since we know other sailors who love it. Giving your pet water to drink in a moving vehicle or boat is a dodgy proposition—most bowls are tippy, shallow and the water winds up on the floorboards of seats more often than in your dog’s mouth. This device holds up to 3 quarts of water in its reservoir, and can be placed flat for easy pet access on the go. Other sailors like this, but we don’t like the idea of our dogs always drinking from a plastic container.
Another item recommended by other sailors, although we can’t personally recommend it. This is another option if you want a water bowl that is not as likely to spill.
How to Sail with Dogs Survival Kit – A FEW MORE COOL IDEAS
We don’t use one of these, but we’ve seen them and think they are cool! Especially if you have a small dog or one who gets seasick, place them in one of these slings to limit the motion for them and keep them feeling secure. It’s kind of like a hammock for dogs. Once could easily be made from a blanket or sheet.
Be sure to have balls, chew toys, and bones onboard to keep your dogs active and healthy. Exercise on board can be limited. We are lucky that our dogs play, wrestle, and chase each other so this gives them some exercise when we are at sea and can’t take them on walks or unleash them at parks or beaches. Our dogs mostly sleep at sea. Since they don’t get as much exercise, we also don’t feed them as much as we do when we are on land. But having toys available will give them some exercise.
Our Beagles eat really fast. We love these puzzle bowls that not only make them work for their food, give them a little exercise, and give them a challenge, but they also are better for digestion since the dogs can’t devour their food quite so quickly. We have been big fans of these puzzle bowls since long before we set sail!
Boat Ladder and Ramp
Another product recommended by some of our sailing friends, the Doggy Boat Ladder is an excellent choice for use with arthritic, older, or overweight pets. Your pet will find it easy for him/her to get out of the water and back aboard your vessel. This unique dog boat ramp can be attached and removed in seconds and includes a universal grip that fits almost all boat ladders with three or more steps.
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