Spending time on the water with your dog can be a wonderful experience. Many dogs love boating and are fun nautical companions.

There are a variety of dangers when boating, however, so it’s important to keep your pet safe. Here are five safety tips for boating with a dog.

Take Things Slowly

Some dogs are naturally fearless around boats, but others need more encouragement.

If you force a dog onto a boat without preparation, he’s less likely to enjoy the trip and may become stressed. Even worse, this experience could create a long-lasting negative association with boats.

For this reason, let your dog spend time in a boat on solid ground before heading onto the water. Give him plenty of treats and praise while he’s exploring, as this ensures a positive experience. Once he’s happy inside the boat on secure ground, you can progress to short trips on the water.

This is a form of positive reinforcement training, where the goal is to make every boating experience a positive one for your dog. If you do this from the beginning, your pet will learn to love spending time on the water.

Boating With A Dog: How To Keep Your Pet Safe On The Water

Wear a Dog Life Jacket at All Times

There’s a misconception that all dogs are natural swimmers. This isn’t true, as some breeds struggle to swim for even short periods – particularly those with short legs. Even the best canine swimmers aren’t able to swim for long periods and struggle in rough conditions.

All dogs should wear a canine life jacket whenever they are near water or on a boat. The best jackets provide plenty of buoyancy without restricting your dog’s movement. They also have reflective strips, making it easier to see your pet if he goes overboard.

A word of warning about canine life jackets though: they can be hot to wear on warm days. Be careful that your dog doesn’t overheat and provide plenty of drinking water. You should also never leave your dog swimming unattended, regardless of whether he’s wearing a life jacket or not.

Use a Stable Ramp If You Can’t Carry Your Dog

Jumping in and out of a slippery boat is a recipe for serious injury. Most dogs aren’t good at judging how much grip a surface has, which is why pulled muscles and even broken bones are common on boat trips. There’s also the risk of your dog falling into the water.

That’s why a boat ramp is essential. These provide much more grip and greatly reduce the chance of an accident. Of course, if you have a small dog, carrying him is the easiest option.

On a side note, it’s a good idea to secure your dog on a leash when the boat is in motion. A dog that’s riding at the stern, or with his head overboard, could easily be swept into the water by a large wave. Always attach the leash to a harness, as a collar could act as a noose if your dog falls overboard.

Beware of Swimming with a Dog

Swimming with your pet can be a fun experience. Unfortunately, many dogs have a habit of trying to climb their “human” when in water.

At best, this can leave you scratched and bruised. But with larger dogs there’s a real risk of drowning if your dog thinks he’s playing.

If you plan to swim with your pet, teach your dog to keep a safe distance in shallow and safe water. You can do this by praising him when he gives you space, then throwing a waterproof treat or toy away when he comes too near. Over time, he’ll start to realise it’s more fun to keep a short distance.

This is also why it’s important to have a plan if your dog goes overboard. Don’t jump into the water, as your pet might panic and try to climb onto your body. Instead, bring the boat back around to your pet, cut the motor when you get close, and calmly call him over.

Note: Don’t let your dog swim in water that contains blue-green algae. This is common in warm conditions, but can be toxic.

Bring a First Aid Kit and Other Equipment

Aside from a canine life jacket, here are some other essentials for any boating trip with your dog:

  • Plenty of water and a water bowl. Dehydration is one of the biggest dangers for dogs on summer days. You should always provide your pet with ample clean drinking water, along with shade to stay cool. Be prepared to cut your trip short if the weather is too hot for your dog.
  • Canine sunscreen. If your dog has light skin or a thin coat, he may be susceptible to sunburn. Make sure you only use sunscreen that’s approved for use with dogs, as some human sunscreen contains toxic ingredients.
  • Mat or bed. Boat floors are often uncomfortable to lie on. Bringing a dog bed or mat can help your pet feel more relaxed. On hot days, you may want to consider a cooling mat.
  • Medication. If your dog is on medication, make sure you bring more than you’ll need, just in-case there are delays or your trip lasts longer than planned. Antibiotic ointment and bandages can also be useful if your dog gets cut.


Boating with your dog can be a lot of fun, but it’s important that both you and your pet stay safe.

Always make sure your dog is prepared for the trip. He should feel comfortable on a boat, have a canine life jacket that fits, and a safe way to get onto the boat. You should also ensure everyone knows the plan if the dog goes overboard.

Guest post: Richard Cross, Editor of TheDogClinic.com