Boating with Dogs: Expert Shares Top 10 Water Safety Tips

dog wearing a life vest

Pets are members of our family, and more often than ever, they go wherever we go – even for an outing on the water. Whether your boat passengers have two legs or four, you’ll want to do all that you can to keep everyone safe as you sail or motor across the waves.

To compile a list of the top boater safety tips, we asked passionate animal lover Lindsey Wolko to share her recommendations. Wolko follows trends closely as the founder and CEO of the Center for Pet Safety, a nonprofit research and consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving the safety of pet lives and products.

Here are Wolko’s 10 safety tips for taking your dogs on water excursions:

  1. Train your pets to swim. Some breeds love to swim and seem to know what to do instinctively. Others are not natural swimmers and need help to become acclimated to the water. If possible, get your dog used to the water and ready to swim with sessions in a baby pool. A controlled environment is safer than a pond or lake. Depending on the size of your pet, fill the pool to no more than halfway up the length of the dog’s leg. Start with a three- to five-minute lesson. Repeat and increase the time gradually until dog is more relaxed. Encourage your dog to have fun and play with floating toys. The next step would be to introduce your dog to deeper water.
  2. Take your pets for a tour of the boat, so they’re more familiar with their surroundings before you head out.  
  3. Secure a crate in a shady area on the boat to provide a place for your pets to take a break from the sun and to help them stay safe if you encounter rough waters. The crate can also serve as a sanctuary from a hot deck or steamy sand, which can be uncomfortable for a dog’s paws. Finally, always keep in mind that sunstroke can happen in minutes at any outdoor location, so be sure you provide a safe and cool place for your pet to rest.
  4. Plan your trip to allow for frequent pit stops for your pet. For small dogs, have a designated location on your boat that your pet can go to go to the bathroom.
  5. Pack cleaning materials. Unfortunately, your pet can get seasick, too.
  6. Bring pet identification, including pictures of you with your pet. It’s also a good idea to bring your pet’s medications and medical documentation with you when boating. 
  7. Always bring food/treats, lots of fresh water and extra collars and leashes when you travel with your pet. Never let your pet drink from the ocean, lake or puddles.  
  8. Stock up on an FDA-compliant sunscreen made for pets. Dogs with light-colored coats or noses can be especially sensitive to the sun and their skin can burn easily.
  9. Bathe your pet after your day in the water. Hidden pests may linger in your dog’s fur.
  10. Buy a pet life jacket. For breeds that are not typically swimmers, a canine floatation device (CFD),which can give your dog extra support if it falls in the water. But make sure you pick a good one. Keep reading for information on what to look for in a CFD. 

Tips for buying a pet life jacket 

Dogs are a lot safer with a life vest, but when you’re shopping for one, choose carefully. Turn to resources like the Center for Pet Safety or the U.S. Boating Foundation  for information about pet safety vests.

“Unlike flotation devices for people, the U.S. Coast Guard does not govern pet life jacket performance, and there are no test standards to ensure appropriate or adequate buoyancy,” Wolko says.

What’s even more alarming is that in a pilot study conducted by Western University College of Veterinary Medicine, the findings indicated that some pet life jackets might increase the risk of drowning. Some of the tested jackets had uneven buoyancy, causing the dog’s head to tip into the water or the dog’s body to rock unsteadily from side to side.

So what can pet parents do? The study’s findings suggest that an inflatable dog life jacket would likely perform the best should Fido fall overboard. These life vests are compact but have a sensor that automatically inflates when they are submerged in water.  

The CFD also should be bright yellow in color rather than black. A dark CFD can be hard to spot in the water and it can increase your pet’s body temperature. It should have a handle on the back to make it easy to pull your pup from the water.

“Remember, that if you jump in to save a person or pet who has fallen overboard, your risk of drowning increases,” Wolko says. “Always travel with a friend and dive in to save someone or a pet only as a last resort.”     

Boat insurance is not required in every state, but having a boat policy can help protect you financially should an accident occur. Erie Insurance can also help protect your furry family members with pet injury coverage that’s automatically included in ERIE auto policies (not available in all states). Contact an Erie Insurance agent in your community to learn more.

Whether your boat passengers have four legs or two, you’ll want to do all that you can to keep everyone safe as you sail or motor across the waves. /blog/water-safety-for-pets Erie Insurance