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Taking Your Dog on a Boat

Updated on June 14, 2016

“The more I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.”

Charles de Gaulle-French President

What would the world be without man’s best friend?

Fiercely brave, friendly, and loyal to a fault, dogs know their loved ones in the dark. They dance for joy when their masters open the door and mourn horribly when they leave. Dogs are patient with kids on a saintly level; and they have an intuitive sense about the quality of people they meet. If a dog growls at me I figure it’s because I did something to deserve it.

Dog-owning boaters have confided in me that they often prefer the company of their dog over people. This makes perfect sense: how many people do you know who love you unconditionally and would lay down their lives for you, all for the price of some food, water, and a daily walk around the block? When asked why she sails with her wiener dog Rudy, marine writer and live aboard sailor Suzanne Giesemann answers that, “he brings a whole new dimension of love to our lives.”

Canines can, however, be a chore to have on board. Once at a raft up on the Chesapeake I heard someone remark that, “I love dogs, and I love boats, but I hate dogs on boats.” I was recently reminded of this credo while sailing with friends on a newly purchased 37-foot Hunter. Milo and Sidney were basically lap dogs who were abruptly removed from their cushy existence to a life afloat. And though they enjoyed the increased time with their masters, they had difficulty adjusting to the exigencies of ocean sailing.

The trouble started early when Yip and Yap discovered that they were unable to traverse the companionway ladder. They would bark until they were carried above or below, which raised the blood pressure of the already stressed-out owners. I’m no Dr. Doolittle, but those dogs clearly communicated to me that they did not like being cooped up on that boat.

Of course the dogs desired to be close to the action and would park themselves underfoot at the worse times, hoisting sails, tacking or jibing in a heavy seaway, or while cooking. And approaching the dock—this was the worst, they would bark like the boat was on fire.

Their kindly owners were loathe to treat them as anything but mischievous children, and enabled their disruptive behavior with soothing baby talk. When they barked for attention they just couldn’t tune it out and I worried that they would crash the boat. And there were times when we had to leave them on board. The guilt was palpable as we motored off in the dinghy with both dogs yapping wildly. When we returned an hour later they were still yapping. Our neighboring boats could not have been pleased with that.

And then there was the potty training. A large Astroturf welcome mat was placed on the “poop” deck to coax them to do their business, but after three-weeks of effort the dogs only stared at it, flummoxed. There were several loud and embarrassing failures until the dogs finally trained their masters to bring them ashore twice daily for relief and a walk.

I left them at a marina in Boston with both dogs patrolling the deck, barking at anything that moved. But even with all the trials, it’s patently clear that my sailing friends are far better off with the kids on board, for better or worse, a family.

Converting Your Lap Dog to a Sea Dog

*Even if your dog is a good swimmer have it fitted for a life preserver—and use it.

*Bring current health records to show authorities.

*Attach ID info and your cell phone number to dog’s collar.

*Dog meds and preferred food may be hard to find as you travel, bring along a good supply.

*Bring leash and plastic bags when you go ashore, pick up after your pooch!

*If your dog is a barker, try to drop your anchor far from other boats.

*Teach your dog to stay below when commanded.

*If you must leave dog on board, it should be below with companionway closed.

*Praise your dog profusely when it does business in the correct place.

Robert Beringer’s first ebook, Water Power! a collection of marine short stories, is available at For a free sample go to


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