Fido on Board: Tips for Boating with your Dog

Dogs are man’s best friend, so taking Fido along when you go boating is natural. What dog doesn’t like the wind in its ears, splashing around in the water, rolling in the mud and spending a fun day with its two-legged companions?

Having a dog onboard shouldn’t be a problem, assuming your dog is well-trained. But there are a few things to think about and prepare for when boating with a pup.

Dog Safety

Yes, most dogs can swim, but having one go overboard in the briny deep is not fun.  You should get an appropriately sized personal floatation vest for your dog. The life vest will not only keep Fido’s head above the waves, but they have handles on the back for hoisting your wet dog back onboard.

It’s a good idea to practice for a dog overboard scenario.  Determine who will do what, and practice hauling your dog back into the boat so both you, and the dog, get used to the situation.

Stability Underway 

A dog’s paws are not really designed to operate on fiberglass, especially fiberglass that’s heaving and rolling on the ocean. 

Vets recommend buying a non-skid mat of some kind and make that Fido’s place on board. Most dogs can be easily trained to sit or lie on the mat when the boat is under way.  If you have several dogs or your pooch is excitable, you may need to keep them on their leads during the trip.


You know that old saying, water, water everywhere, and nary a drop to drink?  That’s what Fido would tell you if he could talk human. Have a water bowl on board and make sure the dog gets plenty of fresh water to drink. Depending on how long of a trip you’re planning, the pooch may also need feeding, or treats. But keeping him hydrated on a hot sunny day is imperative.


Yes, after drinking from his bowl, Fido will eventually need to go. Plan A is to schedule regular stops ashore so you can find the nearest tree or fire hydrant for the dog to use. Plan B is to have aboard a supply of pee pads or a square mat of artificial grass, and train the dog to use them.

SPF for Dogs 

You would think that, covered in hair and fur, a dog is protected from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. You would be wrong: dogs are susceptible to sunburn and all the bad effects on the skin that can result. Luckily, there are sunscreen products designed for dogs, available at pet stores or online.  

Dogs with light colored fur and those breeds with short hair are most susceptible to sunburn.  All dogs need extra protection in places like armpits, bellies, ears and nose. 

Also: dogs could use protection from insect bites, just like humans. And your boat’s first-aid kit should have bandages, disinfectant and other topical preparations in case Fido sustains a serious injury.

Other tips for boating dog owners are common sense.  Wash your dog off with fresh water whenever it comes aboard, especially after a swim or a rollover in the mud or on a beach.  Provide a shady place for Fido to keep out of the sun. 

And the last tip is for the captain: don’t get distracted when Fido is on board. Having a cute little puppy running around and yapping at everything is amusing. But not if you ignore where you’re going and what might be in the way. Drive the boat. You can play with the dog when you’re back at the marina or anchored safely.