The only thing better than hitting the open water and feeling the wind on your face - and in your sails? Experiencing sailing with your four-legged friend.
Wait - can you bring your dog on a sailboat? The answer may surprise you...but yes, you can! And in this in-depth guide, we'll teach you everything you need to know about sailing with a dog. You'll learn how to sail with a dog safely as we discuss choosing the right sailboat, getting your dog comfortable onboard, making safety a priority, and much, much more.
By the end of this in-depth discussion, you'll feel confident in packing up your inflatable sailboat and heading out to the nearest lake or coast with your best friend. First - allow us to address the elephant in the room: is sailing with a dog really something you can - or should - do?
Can You Bring Your Dog on a Sailboat?
This is a common question we get asked all the time at Red Beard Sailing. And rightfully so. After all, dogs are called man's best friends for a reason - life's simple pleasures are just better with your loyal companion by your side. So it only makes sense that you would want to include them in your sailing adventures.
The good news is that yes - you can bring your dog on a sailboat!
But, don't head out to the water just yet. There are some things you need to keep in mind before hitting the open water with your furry friend. First and foremost, you need to ensure you have the right sailboat. Not all of these are created equal - you need one capable of withstanding your dog's nails without puncturing. Beyond just the durability of your boat, there are a few other considerations that make for a good dog-friendly sailboat.
And it's not just about choosing the right boat for sailing with a dog. As with any new adventure you bring your pup along for, you need to prepare them accordingly. There are some training tactics you can employ to ensure they're ready for this new setting. And as the owner, you'll want to take a few key safety measures.
We know what you're thinking...sounds like a lot of work! But, it's actually not as difficult as it may seem right now. In the section below, we've neatly organized every consideration you need to take when planning to go boating with dogs. And trust us - the fun you'll both have and the memories you're going to make together are worth all the work and then some. So - without any further ado, here's how to sail with a dog onboard...
How to Sail with a Dog Onboard: Tips for Sailing with Dogs Safely
We know you're eager to set sail with man's best friend. So, we've made this resource as concise as possible.
But pay close attention as you read the details below - because the stakes are high. The last thing you want is to put your fur baby at risk of harm. Or, damage your boat because you didn't prepare properly. And depending on where you take your dog sailing, there are legal ramifications to meet inadequate preparation.
We say all this not to scare you away from taking your dog boating - but rather, to ensure you take the safety aspect seriously. Let's start by helping you choose a sailboat that's not just resistant to nail punctures - but easy and safe to sail with your dog onboard.
Get the Right Boat for Dogs
Our sailboat buying guide is a great general resource for choosing the right boat based on your budget and preferences. But - what should you look for in a sailboat if you plan on sailing with your dog, exactly? First and foremost, the boat must be durable enough to handle dog nails. That's obvious enough - but, what exactly should you look for in a boat's material? HDPE is a strong, durable material - but EPDM rubber is perhaps the most puncture-abrasion resistant.
We know what you’re thinking…shouldn’t I go with a fiberglass or plastic sailboat? Are inflatable rubber boats strong enough?
Beyond the material of your boat, you should also look for a sailboat that sails flat and stable. This will make the experience less stressful - and less dangerous - with your dog on board. It should also be easy to de-power and slow down the boat.
You should also consider how you'll get your dog on the boat. If you're launching from a marina or dock, this is less difficult - your pup can waltz right onboard. However, if you plan on launching from a beach (or at least want the option to), choose a boat with a shallow draft. This makes it easier for your dog to climb onboard while treading water.
The good news is, you don't have to look too hard to find the best sailboat for your dog. At Red Beard Sailing, you'll find an incredible selection of dog-friendly small catamaran sailboats for sale. These are not only puncture-resistant - but they meet the other criteria we've discussed above. They're easy to sail with a dog onboard. And even on those days when you leave your pup at home, these boats offer incredible performance and versatile operation.
If you're looking for a specific recommendation, consider any of the following boats:
Make Safety a Priority
Beyond choosing a safe boat when sailing with a dog, you need to take some additional safety measures to protect your pup.
First and foremost, get your dog a life jacket. Yes - even if your dog is a good swimmer. In the unlikely event your dog falls overboard while you're in open waters, they'll only be able to tread water so long - that's without factoring in rough seas, too. Many dogs don't mind the presence of a life jacket, but if yours is particularly about wearing harnesses, sweaters, or other things, you'll want to take a closer look at the materials and construction to find a comfortable, lightweight option for your dog.
You should also keep a first aid kit on board your sailboat. This is just good boating advice in general. But, be sure you have the essentials packed for your dog. That includes any of your dog's medication along with antibiotics, medication in case they get seasick, and supplies for cuts, abrasions, and breaks.
If you haven't gotten your dog microchipped, bringing them sailing is a great reason to do so. Again - if you have ample experience sailing and you follow all our safety precautions, the likelihood of losing your dog overboard is practically nonexistent. But, if for no other reason than peace of mind - get your dog microchipped. To further decrease the likelihood of losing your dog overboard, you can put up guard rails around the perimeter of your boat. You can also add a heavy-duty harness with tethering lines to restrict your dog from getting too close to the edge in certain situations. There are all sorts of inflatable boat accessories you can invest in to protect your pup.
Another important safety consideration is to factor in cold weather/wind & hot weather/sun. On hot summer days, you need to make sure you have drinking water for your dog so they don't get dehydrated - especially if they're hopping off for a quick swim here and there. You also need to consider a shady place onboard for them to escape the sun. On the opposite end of the spectrum, make sure you have a sweater or blanket packed for those cold, windy days at sea.
One final piece of safety advice for boating with a dog? Practice a few times before a large expedition in shallow water. Give them a quick 5-10 minute journey and see how they do. You don't want to thrust them into a day-long journey on their first experience. This will overwhelm them - and you'll probably feel their stress, too. This leads us to the next point we want to make in teaching you how to sail with a dog - getting your dog comfortable on the sailboat.
Get Your Dog Comfortable on the Sailboat
Training your dog to be a good sailor is not much different from training them for car rides, for the dog park, or for any other experience outside of the home. You want to socialize them and get them used to the boat with a short positive experience - like we just mentioned above. Then in future sails, they will be excited to get on the boat.
If you really want to get your dog comfortable with your sailboat before hitting the water, you can take things a step further. Inflate and set up your boat at home in your yard. Then, bring your pup on board and simulate the process of mounting, dismounting, and sailing. After this, you can work up to a lake, and then more intense waters as they get more comfortable with the boat. Don't try and rush out to the nearest coast - as with any form of dog training, it's all about incremental progressions.
You can always seek professional help if you're struggling to get your dog comfortable on the boat. Trainers are experienced at working with pet owners and their pets on handling new situations gracefully.
Bring Food, Snacks, & Water
Earlier in our discussion of safety, we mentioned bringing enough water for hot days on the water. But this is an important factor in bringing your dog on a sailboat in general. Even if you only plan to hit the water for a quick couple of hours, pack food and snacks - along with more water than you anticipate needing. Trust us - it's better to have more than you need than not enough.
If you plan on taking multi-day trips with your dog, it's even more important that you carefully provision enough food and water for the entirety of your expedition. Don't bank on local stops having dog food in stock for you.
Factor in Bathroom Breaks
Speaking of eating and drinking, you also need to factor in the bathroom breaks that will follow. While you may be keen to drop an anchor and float around in the water while you relieve yourself, your dog may not be. It's more likely they'll want to stay on board for these bathroom breaks.
As such, you need to bring a portable dog potty wherever you sail - no matter how long the expedition is. The last thing you want to deal with is a mess onboard. Many sailors report great success with fake-grass mats. Again - you can train them at home to use the mat, rewarding them for handling their business politely. This way, they've developed the habit by the time you're on the water - and the likelihood of an accident will be much lower.
Consider Regulations & Vaccinations Anywhere You Visit
Finally, it's important to consider regulations and vaccinations anywhere you visit. While the US and Canada are very dog-friendly, other countries are not. So, if you plan on sailing abroad with your dog, be sure to do your research on local regulations and required vaccinations anywhere you visit. The last thing you want to do is break local laws and land in hot water.
Ready to Set Sail With Your Four-Legged Friend?
That concludes our guide on how to sail with a dog. As you can see, bringing your dog on a sailboat safely is entirely possible. And, once you’ve both experienced what fun you can have together on the open waters, you’ll make a habit out of adventuring together! Whether you’re sailing in Chesapeake Bay or a local lake, or even planning a cross-sea excursion - you should be equipped with everything you need to know for safely sailing with a dog on a sailboat!
Just remember to put safety above all else when sailing with a dog on a sailboat. And if you have any questions about boating with dogs, don’t hesitate to reach out - we’re happy to help!