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Sailing Your Salty Dog

SCRUB the decks, matey!

By: Gordon Wilson

Last Updated:

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Photo by Jana Vackova

If you’re blessed with dual passions for both boating and dogs, you won’t want to leave Digger behind while you’re out enjoying sunsets on the water. But no matter where you choose to cruise, careful planning is essential if you intend to take your furry mate along. The seasoned salty dog will find it routine, but for those new to boating, here is a simple set of guidelines I call SCRUB.

S – Safety Safety is always the first consideration. Every year there are harrowing tales of dogs who go overboard or are left behind at ports of call. Last year while cruising on the spectacular waters of Desolation Sound, B.C., I heard the distraught pleading of a boater talking over the radio with the Canadian Coast Guard. Her Schnauzer, Felix, was “missing” somewhere between the Copeland Islands and Pender Harbour! While docking their 49-foot Grand Banks, they discovered that Felix was not on board. He had last been seen sound asleep as they left the Thulin passage; they had travelled four hours and 37 nautical miles since then.

This story has a happy ending. Felix was found by a sailboat passing Savary Island. He had been in the water for over an hour. While likely frantic his family had left him behind, Felix was fortunate they had at least put him in a pet flotation device. He was wearing a Ruffwear K-9 floatcoat with a lift handle, and the passing boaters were easily able to pluck him, exhausted and cold, from the water.

Felix’s story underscores the first basic rule: Know where your crew is at all times! To the owners’ credit, they had Felix in a life jacket. There are many good-quality life jackets available on the market today; check one out and make sure it fits.

C – Comfort Next to safety, comfort is paramount. For seasoned canine cruisers, the noise and smell of the engine, confined space, and constant movement of the boat won’t pose a problem. Those new to boating should grow accustomed to the boat while it is still tied to the dock. Dogs are susceptible to motion sickness, especially if the water is rough. Research doggie motion sickness medicines and have some on hand.

When the dog is comfortable getting on and off the boat and spending time on board, introduce her to a short day trip to find out if she is at heart a mariner or landlubber. Our Darcy loves the 12-foot runabout where she can feel the wind against her face and her butt in mine. But put her on our 57- foot converted fish boat and she is a nervous Nellie!

Her nervousness is partly due to the boat’s configuration. We like to steer from the flying bridge and Darcy can’t climb the ladder to join us. Even when we steer from the wheelhouse, the vibration of the boat is something new. If it’s a long voyage she prefers to remain ashore to be spoiled by dog sitters. (Of course, she’d ultimately prefer that we stay with her, but that’s not an option!)

R – Routine Dogs who take to cruising generally respond well to routine. Regular feeding times and places are a good idea. It is also important that your furry crew has defined quarters. For those who can afford a larger boat, designs exist for dog lovers. The Alaskan 65’ (a dream boat in my opinion) is completely dogfriendly, allowing four-legged access to all decks, even providing a doggie head—a box with absorbing, deodorized material covered with turf for that “landed” feeling.

U – Understanding It only takes one inconsiderate dog owner to spoil it for all. This is especially true when it comes to noise and the poop trail. Last summer, folks on a number of boats were enjoying the tranquility of Pendrell Sound when three boats travelling together anchored nearby. These boats were full of dogs— dogs that started to bark uncontrollably, initiating a chorus from other dogs that rose to an unbearable racket echoing throughout the Sound.

Be responsible for your dogs when they go ashore. Don’t leave their calling cards on established walking trails or on the docks, and don’t let them harm or harrass wildlife.

B – Be Aware Be aware when your dog boards or disembarks, especially if you are rafted. I witnessed a terrible scene where sudden movement caused a dog to fall between two rafted boats and get crushed by 40 tons of hull. Remember, a qualified vet is hard to come by when you are cruising.

Properly planned, a trip with your dog can be good fun. SCRUB up, and happy cruising!


Last Updated:

By: Gordon Wilson
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