You Old Seadog

Dogs and Boating

Wikipedia reliably informs us that ‘seadog’  can refer either to a sailor or a dog. Well, it  occurred to me that many of us have actual dogs, of all breeds, shapes and sizes that come out on our boats, so a few words about  them might be helpful.

Some dogs do genuinely love being out on a  boat and take to it like a fi sh to water (if that’s  not mixing metaphors). Others are less sure or even nervous about the whole adventure. 

This article is intended to help dog owners  acclimatise their dog to the boating life. Let’s start at the beginning. 


Most dogs are happy to go to a marina – even  they can sense the excitement. However, some dogs don’t like walking along the pontoons or up or down (depending on the tide) a linking bridge.

This is not a good start – before you have even got to the boat. I have seen owners trying to pull their small – but apparently quite powerful – dog by his lead along a pontoon. Even the offering of a tempting morsel of chicken would not get the dog to move.

Whilst amusing for onlookers (almost as entertaining as watching someone trying to berth in nice gusty conditions . . .), it can present a real problem. Often the issue can be quite simple – the dog is uncomfortable with the gaps between the wood on the pontoon, or the patterns of holes in plastic pontoons. Their claws can get (painfully) caught, especially in plastic ones.

Solution? Take it slow and steady. The first time you take your dog to a marina, have it walk just a few steps, and then get back on ‘dry land’. Reward its behaviour. Then try a
little bit of a longer walk along the pontoon. Again, use positive reinforcement so that the dog enjoys the whole experience.

Smelly Toys and Beds

OK – let’s assume that you have now got the dog happily on your boat. He will be more comfortable if he has some of his toys and his usual bed on the boat. Don’t make the mistake of buying him a new bed for the boat – use his existing one with its existing smell!

Yes, even if the smell is a bit strong – hopefully the sea air will take some of the smell away.

Your Dogs First Boat Ride

Get the dog used to the boat before you venture out on the water with him. Once he is happy with the boat, then he is far more likely to be happy going out on the water.

Be gentle with your dog on his first trip out. The noise, the ‘strange’ rocking of a boat can all be very worrying for some dogs. We suggest that your first ride out with your dog should be on a very calm day, in a very relaxed manner.

Act naturally, and give your dog a treat or two (or three . . .) What might work with some dogs, is to take them out in a small dinghy / RIB, so that he can put his paws on the tubes and look around the marina. We know that our own dog loves this.

Note that dogs can actually get seasick, so watch out for signs of this. If the noise of a boats engines seems to be worrying your dog, then just slow down to a speed and noise that he is comfortable with. Over time, you can get him used to faster
speeds and noisier engines!

Also, ensure that your dog is hydrated and has enough water to drink.

Safety First

The RNLI quite correctly say of lifejackets “useless unless worn”. The same applies to dogs. Dogs should have a life-jacket of the correct size, and must wear it (despite
their objections).

Some dogs have a habit of jumping into water at the fi rst chance they get. Labradors are real experts at this (and also at drenching bystanders when they get out of the
water and shake their fur).

Note that dog life jackets are really just floatation devices – they don’t automatically
inflate if (or when!) your dog jumps in the water. What they should have is a grab handle on the back so that you can safely (and unceremoniously) lift your dog out of the water. If you really want to embarrass your dog, lift him out with a boathook under the grab handle!!

Which Breed?

Different breeds react differently to the water. Naturally nervous dogs may not like their time on the boat, being concerned about strange noises and motion. Other breeds will love it.

If you are thinking of getting a dog to go with your boating, then there is a useful article on the suitability of a few breeds. Please remember though, that a dog is for life and has to fit in with all aspects of your life.


Treat your dog right, and train him well, and he will come to regard your boat as part of his home – even to the extent of guarding it and barking at strangers. He will be happy on your boat and look forward to his boating adventures with you.

However, you need to train him not to bark loudly in the middle of the night when he is guarding your boat against real or imaginary noises!

Responsible Dog Ownership

Of course, owning a dog brings responsibilities as well. The following tips may help:

  • Take ‘your’ dogs for plenty of walkies – but ALWAYS on a lead in the marina.
  • Consistently, encourage your dog to wait until you are in a dog-walking area before relieving himself.
  • If ever there is an accident, please clear it up immediately. I suggest always
    having a few ‘poop bags’ with you. If there are some doggie waste bins in the marina, please do use them. If there is any residue left, please wash it away thoroughly with the nearest water tap.
  • If your children take the dog for walkies, please emphasise to them the importance of following these tips.

I hope that the above is helpful, and gives assurance to non-dog owners that the majority of dog owners are responsible.

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