Cruising With a Dog

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2011 • all rights reserved

Taking your dog on your boat?  Whether it's for a day or a lifetime, check out these resources!Do you have a dog aboard?  Thinking of taking one with you on trips or long-term cruising?

Two years into our cruising, we adopted Paz — and consider her to be the best thing that came out of our years aboard Que Tal.  A number of the articles I’ve written touch on topics related to having a dog on board.

I’ve listed these below — the one that seems to get the most interest is Training a Dog to Be a “Boat Dog”, which refers to teaching them to use a piece of carpet on the bow instead of needing to go ashore when nature calls.

Additionally, as I find other resources for boating with a dog, I’m adding them in a list.  If you know of other web sites, books, helpful products or anything else that should be added, please put a note in the comments below — comments come to me as an e-mail — and I’ll add items to the list so that others can benefit.

The Boat Galley Articles:

Other Online Articles:

Useful Books:

No, I don’t own these — I wouldn’t recommend the books we did pick up along the way.  These have been recommended by other “cruising dog families” and also get high reviews on Amazon.  Links are to Amazon, unless otherwise noted.

  • The First Aid Companion for Dogs & Cats — highly recommended by a couple of friends, particularly for its use of things that you’re likely to have on board, a list of human medications that can and can’t be used on your pet, and what should be in your pet’s first aid kit.

Web sites:

Several of the cruising forums also have had discussions about various issues in cruising with pets — some of the information is helpful, other bits are questionable.  Above all, remember that you know yourself and your dog and make decisions accordingly.


Warning:  like many other “marine” products, some of these items aren’t cheap!  The only special item we bought for Paz was a life jacket (other than always using a harness instead of a collar that could potentially break her neck).

For a larger dog, however, the ladder or ramp could mean the difference between being able to cruise and not, as they could also be used to get the dog in/out of the dinghy.

  • Help ‘Em Up Harness — the solution for larger dogs who need help getting aboard with a special hip lift device
  • Paws Aboard! A number of innovative products such as a boat ladder for dogs that I haven’t seen elsewhere.
  • PupGear — dog boat ramps and a number of “indoor potty” products.
  • CrittersInflatable — yep, an inflatable life jacket for your dog.  See more info (including a testimonial on how it saved one cruising dog’s life) in the comments, below.

Please be sure to add more resources in the comments below — and also let me know if you have a blog with stories about your boat dog, so that others can read what it’s like with a dog aboard.

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  1. Mary Dixon says:

    I tried many methods including the used carpet which didn’t work on our dog. I’ve now trained 3 of our boat dogs to “go.” Waited 1 day so used dog food was in their colon. Took dog up to foredeck, husband held dog, I lifted tail and inserted suppository. It might take 2 suppositories, but it will work. Waited minute or so, they then “went” and received praises and treats. They were “trained” from then on because they knew it was o.k. to go on foredeck. We used to keep the poop in bags and take ashore, but then started putting it in the head, which works just fine.

  2. Critter’s Inflatable pet life jacket

    Now is a great time to buy your dog a Critter’s Inflatable life jacket for his/her Christmas or Hanukkah present, because I just activated our Holiday Special. If you go to our Website at you will see the following: “HOLIDAY SALE! (Limited Time Only) ALL LIFE JACKETS ONLY $99.99”

    Critter’s Inflatable® life jacket is a fully automatic inflatable life jacket that provides your pet the same improved safety and comfort that humans have enjoyed for years. In addition to it being automatic, it can be orally inflated as needed to save on rearm kits. When inflated, it provides additional buoyancy directly under your pet’s neck to keep its face and mouth out of the water. Also, the bright yellow color of the inflation chamber and the retro-reflective tape on the lifting handle make it easy to spot a pet in the water. This life jacket has adjustable neck and collar straps, and two adjustable harnesses (each with upper and lower sections that can independently be repositioned) to ensure proper fit, safety and comfort. The wrap around straps can be secured so the ends do not hang. The strong lifting handle has retro-reflective tape and a D-ring for a leash attachment making for quick and easy pet-overboard rescues. The cover is a sturdy tear-resistant fabric. This product is the perfect solution for all pets that go in the water, especially those that are muscular (don’t float well), those that need extra buoyancy while undergoing water therapy, or those of advanced age.
    To learn more about Critter’s Inflatable and view videos, please visit our website at:
    Best Regards,
    Dan McCormick

  3. Carolyn Shearlock says:

    Two comments were left on Facebook about the CrittersInflatable — one credits it for saving the life of her dog:

    Mary: I boat with two dogs and can testify to this product. The dogs wear them without even noticing, unlike the old hot ones they had to wear. Prior to using I inflated them and let each dog swim around. You should have seen the Bassett, lik…e she was a real queen! Most importantly they work and I credit the Critter Inflatable with saving the life of my Beagle who decided he would go for a dinghy ride while underway only of course the dinghy moved away from the boat. I didn’t hear him at first or even notice he was gone. He just paddled along in his infltable!!! With the handle on top I was able to easily lift him aboard. Don’t go anywhere without them on!

    And Hannah said: we use it w/our cat. its amazingly well constructed. every aspect is clearly designed for safety and comfort.

  4. I’ve sailed with Rudy from LibertySails and his new younger sister, Gretchen. They are great little sailors!

  5. Sounds like our pooch, Kemah! Chief Security Officer, Chief Cushion Warmer and now, thanks to you, he’s got an official new title: Galley Clean-Up Officer – I love it!

  6. Hi Carolyn!

    I thought your readers with big dogs might be interested in our affordable solution to a pet ladder to get our 70lb dog from the water onto the boat. So, here’s the deal:

    Here’s a link to a video we made of our dog getting off and on our 3400 on
    a dog ramp we made:

    We made it with 3 pieces of 3″ PVC (with elbows and caps so it’s airtight &
    floats) in a ‘U’ shape, with a square anti-slip mat (like the kind that
    bartenders use behind the bar) attached with zip-ties underneath the PVC
    frame at a slight angle starting tight at the “bottom” of the ‘U’ (nearest
    the boat) and ending up hanging about about a foot below the “opening” of
    the ‘U’ (furthest from the boat). Works great and all the supplies were
    less than $50 at Home Depot; way cheaper (and more effective for Gems, I
    think) than any pre-fab dog boat ramps. And none of the supplies needed any
    cutting or sizing: the mat and PVC are already sold in sizes that works for
    this design.

    The PVC seems to mark the entrance “channel” for him, and though it took
    him a few tries to “get it”, now our pup jumps on and off the boat whenever
    he feels like it, and without any help from us (supervised, of course)! Our
    pup is 70lbs, so this design would probably work for most large dogs.

    Also, our dog has decided that he likes to chill on the ramp from time to
    time, so sometimes we’ll tie an extra line from a davit to the tip of one
    of the PVC ends for a little extra support.

    Hope that helps!

    Damon & Laurie
    S/V Mother Jones
    Bocas del Toro, Panama

  7. BTW – I thought I should add that since this video (“First swim off Mother Jones”), Kemah has spent the last 7 months LOVING using his swimstep and is practically in the water before we are!

  8. Her primary title is “Goodwill Ambassadog” — and it perfectly describes her. Security Officer, she’s not . . . she’s NEVER met an enemy (at least in her opinion).

  9. Sounds just like my doggy, also she always gets the best seat in the house/boat.

  10. I really enjoy your website and your book. It was a great addition to our galley.

    Now I really need advice from you and your readers! Our dear 10 year old chocolate lab Roux weighs 115 lbs. According to our vet he is not overweight just really tall and big. He is also having hip and knee problems. We would really appreciate ideas on how to get him down into the cabin of our sailboat. He cannot handle the companionway steps and he is too heavy for us to carry. So far the only thing we have tried is a ramp from the cockpit to the galley countertop and then the same ramp to the aft cabin. This makes him incredibly nervous. Thanks in advance for your suggestions!

  11. Our dog gets to sleep on our yacht for the first time tonight.. as do we 😀 On our way to pick it up!

  12. Paz is seriously so stinking cute!!! Thanks for including our “boat dog” links. Life aboard wouldn’t be the same without our poodlepants Oliver. :)))

  13. Carolyn Shearlock you’re so great at keeping your info current from your feedback. Love your site!

  14. Pack ‘N Piddle works great on boats. It’s collapsible so you can leave it out or fold it up and tuck it behind the console of most boats. It’s perfect for smaller breed dogs and cats too, placing the cats litter box inside keeps the litter from being tracked around. It’s designed to use with potty pads but I would imagine reusable potty pads would work best for boating lifestyle. If you live on a boat, a Pack ‘N Piddle would be a great potty option to consider.

  15. Enjoying your website. Lots of excellent ideas. Wanted to pass along that, after nearly 10 years, I have just completely revamped my own website ( and added a blog. Would like you and your readers to know that, with the change in my website, not only have I included the blog, but I also have posted my SevenSeasU webinar “Cruising with Pets” (three one-hour segments) which I have done for the past several years online for the SSCA. It’s now available free for anybody out there who is getting ready to shove off. Your people may find it useful.
    Also I am trying to spread the word among the pet cruising blogs that in the past I have received a number of messages from cruisers regarding veterinarians who are not willing to dispense medications despite the potential need for them on a cruise. Would be nice to put together a clearinghouse of veterinarians by name and location who willingly cooperate with providing contingency meds for cruisers. What do you think? Keep up the good work. Happy sails! captdrdave

  16. Sharon Leiter says:

    Hi I really enjoy all the info you share on this page. I would like to add that I purchased a Dog on Water Ramp for my German Shepherd and find the product is amazing! Gunther can get on and off our boat easily with no stress to his joints. It is bulky but easily breaks down for storage and/or is easy to tie to the bow or stern for travel. Please check it out.

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