If you’re a dog lover who loves water adventures, chances are you’ve considered taking dogs on a boat. After all, our furry friends are our constant companions, making them adventurers just like us.

Plus, there’s just really something cute about dogs on boats.

But while boating with dogs is surely a fun and fulfilling activity for you and your canine friend, you should always consider first their well-being onboard your watercraft.

Labrador retriever on a boat

Introducing Your Dog to Boating

Most dog breeds are natural swimmers, but that doesn’t mean you should neglect a well-planned safety course before embarking on your adventure. 

Whether you plan to take your pet on a recreational boating adventure, canoeing, or light kayaking, you should first start by gradually introducing them to the watercraft.

Here’s a quick process you should follow.

Getting Your Dog Comfortable With Water

Not all dogs can swim instinctively, so it’s vital to help them become comfortable with water. Whatever boating safety course you take, the risk of a boating accident, going overboard, or drowning is always there.

Getting your dog comfortable with water can help them keep calm while on the water and is the first step in dog water safety. Follow these steps:

  1. Begin by introducing your dog to shallow water, allowing them to wade and get their paws wet.
  2. Use positive reinforcement, such as treats and praise, to create a positive association with water.
  3. If your dog shows interest in swimming, encourage them to go further by gradually taking them to deeper water.
  4. Fit your dog with secure life jackets or personal floatation devices designed for dogs to provide buoyancy and safety.
  5. Gradually introduce your dog to swimming with the assistance of a life jacket, allowing them to build confidence and enjoy the water.

Familiarizing Your Dog with the Boat

To ensure a positive boating experience for your canine companion, it’s essential to start slow and build up. Follow this process:

  1. Begin by gradually introducing your dog to the boat, canoe, kayak, or whatever personal watercraft you have. Start on land, and allow them to explore and sniff around.
  2. Reward your dog with treats and praise for calm behavior near the boat, creating positive associations.
  3. Once your dog feels comfortable on land, move on to introducing them to the boat in the water.
  4. Start with short trips close to the shore, ensuring your dog feels safe and secure.
  5. Gradually increase the duration of the trips as your dog becomes more at ease.

Essential Equipment for Dogs on Boats

A critical part of dog-friendly boating is having the necessary safety equipment in case the worst comes to pass. Here is the list of the must-haves.

  • Properly fitted lifejacket: Ensure your dog’s safety with a lifejacket, lifevest, or whatever inflatable floatation device you have. Just ensure that it’s designed for dogs and has straps that fit snugly to your pet to provide buoyancy in emergencies.
  • Water and food bowls: Pack collapsible bowls for your dog’s hydration and meals during the boating adventure.
  • Leash: Keep your dog secure and under control with a sturdy leash, especially when docking or in unfamiliar areas.
  • Waste bags: Responsible pet ownership includes cleaning up after your dog, so carry waste bags to dispose of their waste properly.
  • Dog-friendly boat ramp: If you plan to embark or disembark from the boat at a location without a dock, a dog-friendly boat ramp can make it easier for your dog to access the boat safely.

By ensuring you have these essential items, you can provide for your dog’s comfort, safety, and well-being during your recreational boating adventures together. You don’t need to have fancy and expensive ones, but just make sure to cover all your bases.

Boat Safety Tips for Dogs

Now that you know the essentials, you’re ready for the specific boating tips for dogs you can implement to keep you and your fur baby secure while afloat.

Pre-Boating Preparations

Safety starts with prevention. Before heading out on the water, ensure your dog’s safety by updating their vaccinations. This will protect your pets against potential diseases.

Also, consider microchipping your dog and attaching identification tags to its collar as an added layer of security in case they accidentally get separated from you during the boating adventure.

Onboard Safety Measures

To keep your dog safe and comfortable on the boat, secure them in a designated area using a harness or a crate, and be extremely cautious when allowing them to roam free.

Also, use non-slip surfaces or traction pads to prevent them from slipping and sliding on the boat’s deck. To avoid overheating, you should also create shaded areas where your dog can rest and cool down while sailing, especially on hot days. Alternatively, keep them warm on cold days so they don’t suffer hypothermia.

Water Safety Precautions

While enjoying the water, keep a close eye on your dog’s behavior. It’s important to monitor their comfort level so that you can immediately jump in and provide assistance if needed. Offer frequent breaks for your dog to rest and hydrate, as they can easily become tired or dehydrated while swimming.

Dog Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever walking in the old town

Dog-Friendly Boating Destinations

Great, your boating trip with your precious doggo is coming along nicely! If you’re currently planning your next dog-friendly boating adventure, here are some of the best places we can suggest for the activity.

  • Lake Ouachita State Park. This state park in Arkansas is a great place to take your dog boating. The park has over 40 miles of shoreline, and several dedicated boat ramps, beaches, and swimming that allow dogs.
  • Lake Michigan. This famous lake is a large freshwater lake that borders Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Aside from its scenic and peaceful views, many public beaches allow dogs, and several shops rent pet-friendly boats.
  • Chesapeake Bay. This is an estuary that borders Maryland, Virginia, and Delaware. Many public boat ramps along the bay allow dogs, and several dog-friendly fishing charters are also available.

Activities for Dogs on Boats

Taking your dog out on a boating adventure is fun – not just because you can paddle through waterways and lakes but also because there’s a lot of fun stuff you can do while you’re already out anyway.

Here are a few!

  • Swimming: Allow your dog to cool off and enjoy a refreshing swim in the water. Ensure their safety by using lifejackets and monitoring their behavior in the water.
  • Water Games: Engage your dog in fun water games like fetching floating toys, chasing, or playing “find it” with toys that float on the water’s surface. These activities provide mental stimulation and physical exercise for your furry friend.
  • Exploring: There are plenty of things to do inland, too! Take your dog on a shoreline adventure or explore nearby islands or coves accessible by boat. Let them sniff and explore new scents, enjoy the sights, and stretch their legs during on-land breaks. 
Should I train my dog before taking them on a boat?

We highly recommend that you train your dog before welcoming them aboard a boat. This is to ensure they are comfortable and obedient. Getting them used to the water, being on a boat, and using life vests will go a long way in keeping them safe.

Are there any safety precautions I should take?

Taking safety precautions is crucial when bringing your dog on a boat. Precautions you can take are fitting them with an appropriately sized life jacket, securing them with a harness or leash, providing non-slip surfaces, ensuring there are shaded areas to protect them from the sun, and following boating regulations in your area.

How do I keep my dog safe if they fall overboard?

Dogs aren’t aquatic animals, but most breeds are pretty proficient natural swimmers.
If your dog falls overboard, remember that most of them are buoyant and will instinctually float even without floatation devices. They can usually take care of themselves, though they might get traumatized. Don’t panic, and retrieve them calmly.


Bringing your dogs to boating adventures can be a wonderful and fulfilling activity – but only if you plan!

Most dogs aren’t used to floating on the water, and suddenly being on a boat can surprise them. But as long as you remember to train them to get used to the water, being on a boat, and wearing an inflatable life jacket or a floatation device, your doggo will be a proficient boater in no time!

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