This summer, many people will head out to open water with their pets. Whether a day trip or a sailing vacation, bringing pets allows us to keep them close – as well as to not have to worry about boarding them for an extended time when we embark on longer trips. When we bring a cat or dog on the boat with us, however, we must make special arrangements and take extra precautions – just as we would with anyone on board who is a “non-sailor”. Therefore, you will want to be aware of making sure they don’t fall overboard, have a contingency plan if they do, protect them from the sun’s rays, seasickness,and more.
Personal flotation devices (PFDs) are available for pets of all sizes. Experts say to find one that fits the pet snugly but allows for complete freedom of movement. Allow the animal to wear the PFD around the house to get used to having it on, and then walk the animal into a soft body of water (if they will go) to be sure the PFD can support the animal. A small flashing red light can be attached to the animal’s harness to be able to spot them in the dark up to a half a mile away. You may wish to have some drills on the boat before the journey so that they know not to jump off the boat without permission; attaching a swatch of carpet or a thick rope to each corner of the boat can also give them something to climb on should they fall in.
Pets are as susceptible to sunburn as people are, and their eyes are even more prone to sun damage. Treat animals with sunscreens, and cover any bare spots or exposed skin with zinc oxide. And although pet sunglasses may look a little silly, they really will help to protect Fido if you can get him to wear them. To determine if your pet will get seasick, take it out for a shorter trip first. To keep their stomachs as steady as possible, bring their food and water from home – and also bring any beds and blankets that they may feel comfortable resting in. If you find the animal is prone to getting sick, don’t feed them for two hours before setting out; once they seem steady, give them both food and water. Check with your vet to see if any medications can be given, often the same anti-seasickness medication we use will work on the animals. If feeling ill, provide them with a little milk after to settle their stomach once they have their sea legs. Remember that most dogs will not soil their dens, so make sure to walk the dogs every time you are on land, and it is best to paper train them (or train them it is OK to use a piece of sod or AstroTurf that you provide) prior to a longer journey so they will not get constipated.
Make sure your pet is properly tagged, and micro-chipped if possible. If you are traveling outside of the country be sure to check the rules about bringing a foreign animal into port. Many animals love traveling with their owners, and it just takes a little preparation and diligence to make sure that Fido or Fluffy are comfortable and safe. To make sure the humans are safe and secure, don’t forget your Sign and Glide membership, for all those unexpected situations.