Sailing with Pets

Sailing with Pets

Is the thought of leaving Fido or Felix at home while you are on a sailing holiday too much of a wrench? Sailing with animals, is much like sailing with kids; with some forward planning and a few tips it is, not only possible, but fun! Iguanas, hamsters and the like, can probably be left at home with a trusted friend, but dogs and (some) cats might love join you for a sailing holiday.

Cats are possibly more difficult, being naturally less flexible and more attached to home and will need careful consideration. A lot depends on the nature of each particular cat. Many a happy cat has been seen lazing on the deck in the sun, but they can find it more difficult to adapt and are, perhaps, not ideally suited to boat life.

Dogs, on the other hand, are usually thrilled to be taken along on a family adventure and are good company for sole sailors and small groups too.


First up is to find a charter boat that allows animals on board. Then sorting out the paperwork is next. Animals may require more paperwork than the boat, so it is worth getting a head start on this. Taking your pet to another country involves regulations that vary from country to country and may involve quarantine, special vaccinations and extra paperwork. Europe requires a pet passport, which should be signed by an officially approved vet, and most countries require a microchip.

Safety First

Active pets require securing the outside of the charter boat with nets and using a harness for peace of mind in case of a pet-overboard incident. Also, cats and dogs should always wear life jackets on board. Pet lifejackets are readily available and can be purchased in advance.

 Narrow piers, gangplanks and steep stairs can be a problem for your dog to navigate. Not so much for cats. An easy solution is a non-slip rubber mat (like you would use in the bathroom or for carpets) or a light carpet or a blanket can be placed on stairs, draped over jetties and gangplanks and make it easy for your dog.

Doing their business

Going to the toilet on the high seas can be especially tricky for dogs. A simple solution is to make a special toilet, such as a fake patch grass or a cat toilet filled with sand/litter. Cats will usually just locate the litter tray and use it. For dogs it is a good idea to introduce them to this new technique before leaving home. This will ensure a smooth adjustment to the sailing boat.

An alternative solution is to sail for shorter time periods, around 3-5 hours so that your pets can go on land. This is easier in destinations like Greece and Croatia where you can island hop and find destinations where sailing spots are close.

It is much easier for cats, though the cat toilet should be placed below deck where it is more stable.

Sea sickness and protection from the elements

Man’s best friends can also get sea-sick on a sailing holiday. There should always be enough cool, shaded areas on board for your pet to take rest, and fresh water. Overexposure to the sun can cause heat stroke and dehydration.  A visit to the doggie hairdresser before leaving home is a good idea for longer haired dogs, as is feeding them more frequently in smaller portions. There are many remedies available that your vet can help you stock up on to create a pet first-aid-kit before you leave.

Play time

Playing on the beach and in the water can be a real treat, especially for dogs. When on board, though your furry friend may be kept entertained and occupied with some favourite toys. A good idea is to create a small corner on the boat where your cat or dog can feel safe if they want to relax during your sailing holiday. Blankets and toys from home can be placed in this area so that your pet will feel as comfortable as possible.

Every opportunity should be taken to get the dog off the boat for walking and playing, especially a bigger dog that might find the space restrictions difficult. A good run on the beach or a walk around the harbor town is a pleasant pastime for you both.

Some locals may not be as dog friendly and you should bear that  in mind before taking your dog to public beaches or restaurants. You will need to check out the local culture and regulations as regards to pets and always enquire before taking your pet into a restaurant.

The Downside

Pets can bring a lot of dirt onto the boat and if they get seasick there is more mess to clean up. Cat’s litter trays may not always be used and the litter can get scattered around. Hair can get everywhere and be difficult to clean up.

Your pets, especially dogs, will force you to have an active holiday since they need exercise and attention. If your main aim is to relax, catch some sun and catch up on your reading, you may want to leave them at home.

Sails away

So next time you charter a boat, you don’t have to leave your four-legged friends behind. By following these tips, having your pets on board can be plain sailing! 


By Merryn Wainwright


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