Taking a dog or cat to sea needs extra thought on a cruising yacht, explains Erin Carey

Whether it’s a spilt litter tray, pet passports 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.

two labradors on a yacht

Once used to the boat, many dogs love being on the water

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.

Julia Jones with her son Bertie and dog, Solo

Helping pets feel secure and relaxed will make sailing more enjoyable for all. Credit: Richard Langdon

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.

Accessories

When it comes to tethers and 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.

A dog sleeping in a cubby hole on a yacht

First things first. Find a safe space and introduce them to it

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.

A cat lying on the deck of a yacht

It is worth talking to your vet about seasickness before cruising with you pet

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.

A corgi sniffing astroturf on the bow of a yacht

A square of astroturf on the bow can make a good ‘dog toilet’

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.

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Although the UK has left the EU, the current transition period allows pets to travel on an EU pet passport.

This will change from 1 January 2021 so check the latest Government guidance.

However, bringing an animal back into the UK after it has visited other countries is more complicated.

UK EU Pet Passport

UK Pet Passports for travel to the EU will only be valid until the end of 2020

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).

Erin Carey

Erin Carey, from Australia, left the rat race to sail Roam, a Moody 47, with husband Dave and three sons around the world and writes about the adventures online and on social media.

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.