Dogs on Deck: Make Your Pup a First Mate

By Natalie Friton

pets_underway-52Dog lovers Bill and Staci McLauchlan live and cruise aboard a trawler they named Tapestry. Included in their cruising lifestyle is their West Highland White Terrier Piper, who came on board when she was just 10 weeks old.

After six years of cruising, the McLauchlans are grateful for the continued fulfillment they get by having Piper with them as part of their adventures. Like so many of us, the McLauchlans are dog lovers and missed having a dog as part of their crew after their first dog, Andy, passed away.

“We found that living on a boat full time was definitely easier without a dog,” they say. “At the same time, we found that life was much emptier.”

Like Andy, Piper keeps them laughing, helps them explore new places and is the perfect complement to their cruising lifestyle.

There is something so exciting about picturing your dog’s ears blowing in the breeze and his snout happily taking in every new smell. Here are some basic dog boating tips and resources if you will be taking your canine companion out to sea.

pets_underway-3Many of our four-legged friends either have webbed paws, which make swimming a natural movement, or they discover the doggy paddle and are able to keep themselves afloat.

However, don’t take your dog’s ability to forge his way in the water for granted. One of the most common accidents aboard a boat is an unintentional overboard that can occur when you’re least prepared. For this reason, the most essential piece of gear for your cruising dog is a properly sized life jacket.

Life jackets are sized by your dog’s weight, length, neck girth and body girth. Most pet-supply websites and stores provide charts so you can find the right size for your dog.

Ideally, you want a bright jacket so that in a worst-case scenario you can spot your dog in the water. Many jackets also have a handle on the back, which allows you to easily scoop your pup out of the water or lift the handle with a boat hook.

Once you have your dog fit with the right size jacket, you should consider how easy it is for him to get on and off your boat. Depending on how your boat is docked and whether you will be boarding from the swim platform or through a side boarding gate, you may need additional equipment to safely and easily get your dog aboard.

Fortunately, there are a number of solutions available to ease the process of boarding a dog on a boat. A number of manufacturers have designed ramps especially for dogs. Many are multi-purpose and can also be used with cars, beds and decks. Just make sure that it isn’t too slippery or steep for your pup!

pets_underway1If your plans include travels to new locations such as offshore or non-U.S. territories, be prepared with proper forms and vaccines.

At every new location you travel to, your pooch will have new people to meet and places to sniff. As captain of the ship, you will get even more fulfillment by cruising to sea with your pups in tow. Having a doggy companion is truly the perfect complement to the cruising lifestyle.

Natalie Friton is an Arnold, Md., resident and owns a new-media focused consulting firm that provides customized public relations and brand management services to clients in the marine, travel and fitness industries. She shares an office with her husband and chocolate Lab-Pit Bull, Murphy. When they’re not working they can often be found running, sailing, playing beach volleyball or spending time outside with friends and family.

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