Taking a dog or cat to sea needs extra thought on a cruising yacht, explains Erin Carey
Whether it’s a spilt litter tray or dogs overboard, sailing with your dog or cat can be a challenge.
But since a pet is often an integral member of the family, leaving them at home is simply not an option for some.
When we got a kitten, I spoke to past and present cruisers to find out the realities of living on the water with a pet.
Movement around the boat for your dog or cat
Whether the pet or the boat comes first, there are several considerations to keep in mind when it comes to reconciling the two to each other.
Moving between above and below decks on a monohull can be tricky.
Modern yachts tend to have less vertiginous companionways and bathing platforms aft.
Older yachts often have a companionway with five or six near-vertical steps, smaller living spaces and a lack of easy access to the water.
These design features can present problems for those sailing with a large dog, especially if you are unable to lift them regularly.
A plank with rungs is one solution for making a steep companionway climbable.
Adding marine carpet to your companionway steps might help by providing more grip.
Safe space for a dog or cat
Creating a safe space during rough weather on both tacks requires a bit of forethought.
A bed that will keep them secure is vital.
A simple crate with padded lining, the footwell beside your bunk lined with cushions, or a saloon settee with a lee cloth would all work for a dog.
Cats will naturally find hidey-holes to hunker down in at sea.
Safety on deck
If your pet prefers to hang out in the cockpit, enforce rules similar to those used when children are aboard.
Under sail, pets should always be tethered to the boat.
They must be trained not to leave the cockpit unless for using the toilet, accompanied by a human.
Space under the sprayhood or wedged between the cockpit seats and the steering pedestal works well for some pets.
Others are happy simply spreading out on the cockpit cushions.
Netting fixed to lifelines and training your animal to wait for commands before leaving the boat when in port, via a predetermined exit point, are all good control measures.
Should a pet go overboard in harbour, a good-sized net to scoop up smaller dogs is handy.
For cats, a length of carpet to dangle over the side, which they can sink their claws into to climb back on board, is useful.
When it comes to tethers and dog lifejackets, high-quality material, robust handles, covered buckles and clips that won’t get caught on things are a must.
Jackets need to fit snugly and shouldn’t hinder the animal’s ability to swim.
Standard tethers or leashes can be used to secure your pet to the boat.
But ensure they are not long enough to allow your pet to reach the edge.
Other accessories available include nautical leashes, carry bags and a light for after dark walks.
An identity tag with the boat’s details and contact information, cooling coats or gel pads for hot weather, dog potty pads and weighted blankets to calm pets in times of stress.
It’s also advisable to take an airline-approved pet carrier with you should you need to fly home with your pet.
Seasickness and health
Seasickness can be a genuine problem for pets.
It’s worth talking to your vet and trying the options available, in terms of both seasickness and anti-anxiety medication, to find what works for your creature.
Ensure you protect them from UV with plenty of shade and even hypo-allergenic sunblock.
Overheated animals feel hot, pant uncontrollably and may vomit.
Cooling pads and wet towels will help in hot weather.
Enjoying the destinations you visit will no doubt include taking your pets to shore.
Unfortunately, it is here that animals are most likely to injure themselves.
Stray dogs, broken glass, rusty steel, poison baits and fast-moving vehicles all have the potential to harm your pet.
While vets are accessible in most locations, it’s still important to bring along supplies to treat common occurrences.
These can include such cuts on paws, skin and ear infections, and dehydration.
A basic pet first-aid kit is vital.
Gauze, bandages, antiseptic cream and a saline solution will help control bleeding and infection in the short term.
Diet and provisioning for your dog or cat
If your pet has a special diet, or a favourite brand of food, bring as much as you can from home.
Sourcing high-quality pet foods abroad can be difficult and expensive.
What about their business?
What are often most taxing on pet owners are the numerous trips to shore each day so pets can do their business.
The most common toileting method for dogs on board involves a square of astroturf on the bow of the boat.
A dog can be trained to do their business here, though they may not oblige.
One cruiser I spoke to had a dog that would hold on for up to 48 hours rather than go on the boat.
Cat owners have a much easier time.
For Kach and Jonathan Howe, toilet arrangements were a cinch.
‘We had a litter tray on board which both cats were happy to share, and sourcing litter for their tray was easy.’
Sand from a beach can make an easy alternative.
While under way, it is recommended that you secure the kitty litter tray with bungee cords or tough Velcro.
International travel with pets
Owners sailing between EU countries can purchase an EU pet passport for around £60.
This document, filled out by an EU vet, allows your pet freedom of movement within the European Union.
It is also accepted in Turkey and Scandinavia.
The Cruising Association considers what a no-deal Brexit might mean for UK sailors
Essential information for sailors heading for foreign climes
Keeping a boat in Europe has offered easy adventure and warmer climates, but as regulations after Brexit begin to take…
Following the end of the Brexit transition period on the 31 December 2020, UK pet owners cruising from Great Britain to the EU with their animals have to register for an animal health certificate (AHC).
AHCs will be issued by a vet, will be valid for four months and must be obtained 10 days before travel.
AHCs will be valid for a single trip into the EU, onward travel within the EU for and re-entry to Great Britain.
Your pet must have been microchipped and have had a rabies vaccination and a treatment against echinococcus multilicaris (a type of tapeworm).
However, bringing an animal back into the UK after it has visited other non-EU countries is more complicated.
Cruisers must check with the relevant authorities to avoid complications.
The need to research the country you will be entering cannot be stressed enough.
In the rest of the world, pets must be declared to customs and immigration upon arrival into each new country.
You will have to provide proof your pet has all of his or her vaccinations up to date, a valid health certificate and rabies titer (antibody test).
In general, pet owners reported spending a £40-80 in customs fees each time they visited a new country.
Vet appointments cost £30-60 on top of that.
Blood work, a microchip, and tapeworm treatment are often required.
Animals could also be placed into quarantine and fees can be as high as £1,000 in places like Australia.
The absolute worst-case scenario is that your pet could be euthanised if you arrive in a country that strongly enforces biosecurity, so thorough research is a must.
Despite the challenges, there are many benefits to cruising with a pet.
Not one of the cruisers I spoke to regretted bringing their animal aboard.
Most said that sailing with a pet enriched their experience.
Let’s hope our new crewmember can do the same.
To make sure we always provide the latest information, this page was last updated on 1 January 2021
Have you thought about taking out a subscription to Yachting Monthly magazine?
Subscriptions are available in both print and digital editions through our official online shop Magazines Direct and all postage and delivery costs are included.
- Yachting Monthly is packed with all the information you need to help you get the most from your time on the water.
- Take your seamanship to the next level with tips, advice and skills from our expert skippers and sailors
- Impartial in-depth reviews of the latest yachts and equipment will ensure you buy the best whatever your budget
- If you are looking to cruise away with friends Yachting Monthly will give you plenty of ideas of where to sail and anchor