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With the pet on board: With dog and cat on the road? SeaHelp explains how pets make good crew members

It is difficult to leave pets at home or put them in a boarding kennel, especially during the vacation season, but it is sometimes the most relaxed solution for everyone involved. The decisive factor is how the crew gets to the ship, where the trip is going and how long the sea voyage should be. For a one-week charter vacation in a destination that is best reached by plane, it makes little sense to tear the dog or even cat from their familiar surroundings. However, if you want to cruise the Mediterranean for several weeks at a time, you can plan this time out under sail with your pet. But then the ship should also be prepared for the needs of the animal passenger.

Dog or cat and exotics

Especially small dogs can be easily taken on board and integrated into everyday life under sail. Cats, by nature less flexible and very tied to their usual environment, are already more difficult to reconcile with life on a small boat. Most cats are more comfortable at home and are happy with a “cat-sitter” solution during the vacations. Especially if they are used to free roaming, they don’t like living in a small space on board.

In every (good) pirate movie, a colorful parrot squawks on the shoulder of the one-legged buccaneer, but the large birds have become rare in the meantime, not only at sea – especially because the housing conditions are difficult to reconcile with the birds’ need to fly. There have also been fluffy rabbits and guinea pigs that have crossed the Atlantic in their gimbaled cages on the barefoot route and relaxed reptiles dozing in the warmth somewhere on and below deck, but these pets on board are as rare to find as chickens. And yet, Frenchman Guirec Soudée explored the world’s oceans for three years with his chicken “Monique” and enjoyed a fresh breakfast egg every morning.

Take dogs with you from the start

But how does a dog become a good shipboard dog, running up the gangway wagging joyfully and keeping an eye on everything on the ship? By taking him on board with you from an early age, ideally still as a puppy, and ensuring that entering the sometimes swaying ship always has a positive connotation for him. Meaning: Whoever is on board is allowed a little more than at home and is rewarded for taking part in everything. The acclimatization phase on board is made easier with lots of little treats.

The life jacket is put on without any problems? Then it may be a small reward. The dog lies down calmly on the cockpit bench in lee and does not scurry between the legs of the helmsman? There may be a little something for that, too. Likewise, if he managed to “get loose” in the designated place on board.

Better small than large dogs

Small to medium-sized dogs are much better accommodated on board than large ones. Weighing up to 15 kilos, they can still be easily picked up in the arms and thus easily lifted over the railing and the bow basket. Large dogs are difficult to fit aboard a cruising yacht, but enjoy it very much when they are allowed to ride along on a dinghy or fast tender with their ears blowing.

Pre-register pets on board

The entry regulations in the respective countries for animals are highly different and should be studied in detail before the start of the trip. Still at home, the animal should get all the necessary vaccinations, the vaccination certificate must in any case with. In the EU, there is a pet passport recognized by all countries for several years, in which all important data – including the chip number of the registration – are entered.

In some countries, animals must be quarantined upon entry, and those who want to take their dog to Great Britain must have it wormed shortly before entering the country. Very detailed information about the regulations in the individual countries of travel can be found on the page A call to the animal liability, whether the animal is also insured abroad, also helps to prevent all eventualities.

Inform charterers about the pet

Those who want to take their pet on board with them must inform their charter company in advance about the four-legged passenger, who will leave a lot of grains of sand and hair in the bilge. Usually the subsequent cleaning after the return of the boat will be a bit expensive, some charter agencies also rent only certain boats to sailors with dogs.

Dogs safely on board

On wet decks and narrow, slippery pontoons, dogs quickly start to slip. Non-slip rubber mats or anti-slip adhesive tapes, like those used for stairs, can help here. In addition to the gangway, the companionway should also be appropriately “defused” for the four-legged friends. So that the dogs or even cats during the cruise nothing involuntarily go overboard, a net stretched around the railing helps. And yet, a life jacket with handle on the back is important in case the dog or even cat does go overboard.

In heavy weather, pets should be leashed in the cockpit or well secured below deck. Unlike us, they can’t hold on and need a secure berth downwind where they can’t be hit by flying objects.

The business of dogs

While many cats on board use their litter boxes familiar from home, it is much more difficult for dogs to find a suitable place on deck to “relieve themselves” in peace. After all, dogs find it awful to do their business in their own home – and that is the ship after only a few minutes. Here only slow, careful habituation helps, preferably already in puppy age. A litter box equipped with litter, a piece of artificial grass or even a special Pee Pad are good ways to get dogs used to their “on-board toilet”.

If the cruise is limited to a few hours, many dogs avoid going to the on-board toilet and stop for several hours. If the yacht is moored in the next port after about five hours, they are all the more pleased to have solid land under their paws again.

Pets’ on-board pharmacy

Pets can also get seasick. And then they suffer the same fate as humans, except that they don’t make the leeward jump. To prevent the evil, dogs should get only a small portion of food before a long crossing and always have enough fresh water available. In addition to a middle against seasickness, the on-board pharmacy for pets should include a tincture against ticks and fleas and wound disinfection.

And even if dogs have a (thick) coat: They can get sunburned. Lubricating with a high sun protection factor is difficult with the fur noses, protection offers special cooling or sun protection vests from outdoor supplies. Looks funny, but helps – not only against sunburn, but also against overheating. Dogs with a particularly thick, long coat can be shorn before the summer tour once again to barber and thoroughly. This short summer cut helps immensely in the heat, but makes the skin even more sensitive to sunburn.


Many a mooring neighbor feels disturbed when dogs sailing along announce with great barking anyone who dares to cross the gangplank. With the necessary consideration, however, this problem can also be circumvented. And it goes without saying that the dog’s waste is picked up and disposed of in the trash can every time the dog goes ashore. That should have become in the meantime for each dog owner the matter of course, at the hometown exactly the same as in the vacation domicile.

The downside

Pets, and especially dogs, make a lot of mess, on and off deck. When dogs happily toddle back on board from playing on the beach, they bring lots of sand with them. Add to that the many hairs that dogs and cats shed daily, getting stuck in the smallest crevices.

While sailing or cruising across the water, dogs in particular often lie comfortably on their blankets and doze off. If then the Marina is reached, they smell “land air” and become active. While many sailors want to have a drink on deck and relax after docking and clearing in, dog owners first have to go ashore with their four-legged friends.

It is even more complicated when the yacht is comfortably anchored in a bay. Then the dogs have to be brought ashore by dinghy. The smaller the dog and the more the crew is prepared for this maneuver, the better it works.

Fun with the boarding dog

Pictures of dogs blowing the wind around their snouts, standing behind the wheel and seemingly steering the yacht alone or sitting on a stand up paddle boards together with their owner exploring a bay or the beach delight us not only in social networks, but also as a side berth in the harbor or anchorage.


Pet on board: stand up paddle with the dog in the bay
© Adobe Stock


And a dog snoozing comfortably in the cockpit convincingly demonstrates that life on a yacht is nice for animals, too – if we take their needs into account and accommodate their natural urge to move, play and sleep. Once dogs have learned that they can be walked extensively before a long trip, that they can sleep through the hours at sea, and that they are rewarded with an extensive round of play or a swim during the following shore leave, they are super sailors – even if they will never learn to tighten the sheets after a tack.

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