12 Tips for Safely Taking Your Dog Boating

Don't Hit the Water Without These Important Safety Tips

Dog in life jacket standing on boat in front of tree-covered mountain.

Nattanart Prasomsri / EyeEm / Getty Images

Thinking of taking your dog boating?

Lots of dogs enjoy fun in the sun just as much as their humans do and are glad to hop on board for a boat ride. But to make sure that it’s a safe experience, it’s important to follow a few essential safety tips both before and during the trip, keeping in mind that the better you plan in advance, the better off you’ll both be.

Here’s what to know about safe and responsible dog boating, including lots of helpful tips for making sure you and your pup’s outing is as ship-shape as can be.

Before You Go

1. Get a Canine Life Jacket

Even if your dog can swim, it’s still smart to get them a canine life jacket, which is a buoyant, padded vest much like the ones that we wear. A life jacket can be a true lifesaver in the event that your dog falls overboard and starts to panic or if you hit a strong current, and is recommended attire for any and all dogs that go out on the water. Make sure to get one that’s sized appropriately for your pup, and provide lots of positive reinforcement after you buckle it on so they know it’s no big deal.

2. Pack Fresh Water and a Travel Bowl

Have a steady supply of fresh, cool drinking water available for your dog, since being in the sun can be quite dehydrating and lake or ocean water isn’t safe for them to consume. That water can contain algae and parasites that are harmful to dogs. How much water you should bring depends on how long you’ll be out, but make sure you bring along a cooler to keep it cold and a travel bowl for easy drinking.

3. Pack Treats, and Maybe a Meal

If you’ll be on the water over mealtime, you’ll want to bring along some food in that aforementioned cooler as well, plus an extra travel bowl. (Hint: if you don’t want to buy collapsible travel bowls just for one day of boating, you could also use a shallow plastic food storage container.) And of course, don’t forget treats.

4. Have a Plan for Shade—and Sunscreen

Does your boat have a covered area where your dog can relax out of the sun? If not, find a plan B, such as a canopy or large umbrella that you can set up for them. As for sunscreen, it’s recommended that dogs have proper sun protection if they’re going to be on a boat, especially if they have light skin and/or fur. Use a dog-friendly sunscreen only, and be careful to keep it out of their eyes.

5. Take a Stroll

Before boarding, take a short walk and give your dog ample opportunity to do their business. A lack of grass can be a major issue if your dog needs to go to the bathroom later on, though you should also be scheduling in time on land every few hours in case they need to relieve themselves.

6. Work Out Safety Protocols

It’s always better to prepare your safety plan in advance, rather than trying to wing it in the moment. For boating with dogs, this means having a plan for what to do if your dog jumps ship or otherwise has a freak-out moment. In the former case, cut the engine immediately, circle back, and lift your dog back onto the boat by the handle of their life jacket. Have a first-aid kit on board, too, just in case.

While On Board

7. Get On Safely

Don’t be surprised if your dog is wary of getting on the boat. Small dogs can be carried, but for larger dogs, use treats and praise to slowly guide them aboard, and be careful not to pull or force them. Once they’re on, give them time to explore and acclimate before you rev the engine and get going.

8. Have a Designated Dog Space

Set up a comfortable shaded area where your dog can go to relax and where you can put them when you need them to stay in one place, such as if they start to seem nervous or overexcited. It’s best if you can practice recall to this space prior to heading out, but if you can’t, use positive reinforcement to guide them and encourage them to stay put when necessary. Having a leash handy is helpful, too.

9. Watch Your Body Language

Dogs are pros at reading human body language. Try to remain as calm as possible so that your dog knows there’s nothing to worry about, especially when boarding, hitting the engine, or speeding around a corner—all of which could be fearful times for your furry first mate.

10. Keep Your Dog Off the Bow and Stern

The very front and back of the boat—a.k.a. the bow and the stern—aren’t ideal places for your dog to hang out, since a large wave or other sudden change in motion could cause them to slip or fall. Instead, have them stay in the main body of the boat, where they’ll still get plenty of opportunity to feel in the wind in their fur.

11. Practice Safe Swimming

If you stop to swim, let your dog decide if they want to join you rather than trying to force them—and never just toss them in. Water toys are a great enticement. Just be sure to keep an eye on your dog at all times, and keep that doggy life jacket on and secure.

12. Know When to Call It Quits

Even a dog who loves to boat may hit their limit at some point. If you notice your dog seems too hot or tired, or if they’re just unable to relax, head back to shore and either call it a day or try again after relaxing for a bit on dry land. You’ll both have a better time if you don’t push your pup further than they can go.