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Boating with Pets

Because it’s summer time and that means a lot of us are out on Okanagan lakes, we should address the issues surrounding taking a pet with you on board your boat. Some of you might even be thinking about taking a longer term ocean cruise with your sailboat and your pet. As a matter of fact, my sister and her husband left May 18 to sail from near Nanaimo, B.C. to Alaska and back again on their 40 foot cruiser over the next 3 months and, you guessed it, Charles, the fearless cat, is on board!

Below is an excerpt from their blog May 21, 2007 about poor Charles!

We left Comox Harbour this morning, the sky beautiful and clear! Our winds were a blustery 11 knots, but we had 4′ swells, some crashing over our bow. This did not go over very well with HRH Prince Charles. It was his first day of being seasick. These swells formed yesterday and over night as the winds changed direction from the SE to NW. But the good news is that the swells have calmed down now, Charles is sleeping in the bright sunshine and feeling much better.

Cats and dogs adapt to onboard living quite well, in other words, when the boat is stationary, but travelling is another matter. Pets rarely do well offshore, but that is not meant to discourage you from boating with your pet. Just take the time to do the research so you can do the right thing for you and your pet.

Cruising for long duration trips is much different to what we might do right here in the Okanagan and we certainly don’t get 4 foot swells! If you can acclimate your pet to boating, start with small trips, even just getting on and off the boat at the dock several times (treats make this a fun game) and go for very short cruises, stop and float, cruise a little more. Even if you think your pet is a good boating candidate, there are some things you should take into consideration before embarking in any boat or on any trip with your pet.
Questions to ask yourself before boating with pets:

1. Does your pet tolerate a harness and leash?
2. Does your pet get over-excited in new situations?
3. Does your pet get seasick easily?
4. Is your pet old?
5. What would you do if you had to depart and your pet went missing? The safety of the vessel and crew would have to come first!
6. Have they been given a clean bill of health by your veterinarian and have up to date Rabies vaccine certificates if you are traveling cross border?
7. DOGS:

Does your dog respond to commands (come, stay, heel)?
Is your dog prone to barking, or nipping at strangers?
Will your dog use newspapers if there is no “land”?

8. CATS:

Does your cat respond to commands (come, down, up)?
Is your cat a fussy eater?
Is your cat an “indoor” cat?

Of primary concern is that your dog or cat does not create a situation that could endanger the lives of anyone on board. Restraint may be necessary in some situations, but more cumbersome in others.

Life jackets… May or may not prove useful. Apparently, for some they can be more of a nuisance, but for others, they have been life-saving. Cold water, fast currents, and fatigue can get to dogs just as they can get to people. Your use of life jackets will depend on your dog’s swimming ability, age, health, and the type of boating you are doing. I just bought one for my little dog for this summer’s boating, but my Irish Water Spaniel definitely will not be wearing one, as she can swim for 2 hours straight!

Garbage… Plan what to do with pet poop if you are in a location where garbage disposal is either not available or expensive. On a long-distance cruise, you may have to carry your garbage for weeks at a time. A litter box will be necessary for Kitty on long term trips and should be located near the centre of motion of the boat, out of traffic, and in a corner if possible. Secure it well (shock cord) so it doesn’t move. Be forewarned – clumping litter will create a disaster if mixed with your bilge pump!

Docking… Arriving at new docks is a perfect example of when a pet needs to be shut in the cabin or tied up in a manner that does not restrict the crew. This is a perfect opportunity for a pet to sneak off without being noticed, so secure them to something out of the way before you get close so you don’t forget in all the commotion.
While it may seem to be an easy task to put Rover in the dinghy and row him ashore, that isn’t always possible. Aside from private property issues, you could find yourself anchored in mangrove swamps where there simply isn’t any terra firma upon which to set Rover. Anything you can do train him to use facilities on the boat will obviously be worthwhile. If you can’t re-train your dog, marinas are an option.

Don’t declaw your cat! His life may depend on being able to climb out of the water! The thought of bringing some sort of scratching post should be entertained for their general scratching pleasure. Whatever you use, fasten it securely, or your cat won’t use it.
Should you take your Pet?

For short day outings here in the Okanagan, why not? They are fun to have along and most really seem to get a kick out of it. If you have a really (and I mean really well-adjusted) cat, you could take them too. Try to be sure that you have plenty of water for them, shade if they are not going to be going in the water and that the day looks like it will be calm from start to finish. Don’t load them up with food and water just before you go! And if they do get onshore with you, be responsible, pick up after them and dispose of the waste properly.
Your pet will alter your boating experience, mostly for the better, but it will also impose some restrictions on destinations, heavy weather sailing, choices about going to marinas or anchoring out. Housekeeping chores will double. Some pets just don’t adapt to traveling on any kind of boat or react badly to the stress of wild motion. On the other hand, a pet is better than valium for the crew! just remember, once you make the decision, it’s pretty much cast in stone if you are going on a long distance cruise.

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