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Living aboard with pets is a common topic among cruisers. If you are living aboard full time or just seasonally, why wouldn’t you want to have your pet along with you? They are part of the family as much as anyone else and I know I couldn’t imagine life aboard without Sophie.
If you do a google search for “living aboard with pets” you will find several articles about living aboard and cruising with pets. They all contain great advice and considerations for having pets on board your boat, but it is ultimately up to you to determine what works best for your pet and type of boat. Below is our experience and considerations we took when bringing Sophie aboard.
Many of the cautions about safety aboard don’t apply to Sophie because of her size and the type of boat we have. Because she is a dachshund with very short legs, we’ve never had a problem with her jumping or running up and down steps. She doesn’t do steps on our boat, so it is up to us to pick her up and move her from cabin to cabin or on the different level decks. If you have steps and a dog that can move freely about the boat, you’ll want to make sure they won’t get into any trouble navigating it. You’ll also want to have a plan to secure or keep your dog in one place when under way. Since Sophie relies on us to move her around most of the boat, she always with one of us when under way.
We’re also very fortunate that the gunnels on Blue Turtle are actually the same height or higher than Sophie is tall. If she’s running around the lower deck, we don’t have any worries about her falling over board since it would take a giant leap for her to get over the side. Since she’s not crazy about getting wet or swimming, we’ve never had to worry about her going overboard on her own. We know some folks whose dogs love to jump in the water and can potentially jump over board while under way which is why it’s important to teach your pet commands like “stay” so they understand when it’s ok to jump and when it’s not.
When underway, it’s always a good idea to have a lifejacket on your dog or at least nearby should the weather get rough. We have one we keep handy but Sophie doesn’t wear it the whole time we cruise since she’s usually inside the cabin napping on the couch. It’s there in case we need it should unexpected wind or a storm pop up. We also like to have a harness nearby as well. She normally wears just a collar but a harness is great for pets in rough weather to give you a better grip should they fall in or you need to move them to another spot. You should always have a “doggie overboard” plan should it ever occur.
One safety protocol we adopted once we moved aboard was to go back to crating Sophie when we weren’t there. She was crate trained as a pup and always loved her crate as her “safe place”, but she’d been out of the crate for a while when we moved onto Blue Turtle. The first few times we left her alone on the boat, we put her down in our aft cabin figuring she could get into any trouble since she couldn’t climb the steps. Somehow, she was able to jump up on our bed which is really very high for her and when we returned we would hear her jump off in excitement to see us. Knowing that jumping like this is really bad for dachshunds, who are prone to back issues, we decided to go back to crating her. We put her in her crate on the floor of our cabin and I can relax while I’m away knowing that she’s safe. We also put her in her crate when docking the boat since she has a tendency to get very barky and in the way. Not all pets need to be crated, but it works for us.
When we moved aboard Blue Turtle 5 years ago, Sophie was 2 years old at the time. We’d been living on land in a house since she was a puppy. Thankfully, when she was about 1, we went on trip to the Keys on my parent’s boat. At that time, they also had a puppy as well and were training him to use a potty patch. While on this trip, we trained Sophie to use the patch of grass and it was very successful. After the trip we went back to living on land for another year before buying Blue Turtle and Sophie went back to pottying outside in the yard. We purchased a potty patch to throw on our back deck and sure enough, Sophie went right up to it and used it. Somehow a year later she remembered what it was for. We were very fortunate that we were able to train her to use it at a young age and her going to the bathroom has never been an issue for us when cruising. Obviously, it’s a bit more difficult to train an older dog to use one, but I can tell you it’s worth it if you can get them to use one. We’ve had folks cruising with us who were limited on where and when they could cruise because they had to be able to take their dog to shore. It’s so nice knowing that we can cruise freely without being hindered by the need to take our dog to shore.
As far as potty patches go, there are some that are literally just a piece of astroturf and some that have a tray under neath the grass. We’ve always opted for this one, one with the tray under it, since it collects the urine in a tray that we can pick up and toss overboard to rinse. This keeps the mess off your decks and you don’t need to rinse with a bucket of water. We got a great tip from Randy’s dad to drill a hole through the corner of the grass mat and the tray and loop a thin piece of rope through it. We keep the other end tied to the boat and when she uses it, we simply pick it up and toss it overboard to rinse. Tying it to boat also keeps it from being launched off the boat during a storm.
Marina life and other dogs
On land, Sophie lived with 2 other dogs: Randy’s pug, Pudgy and his father’s dog, Maisey. Other than each other, they never really came into contact with other dogs. We wished we’d socialized Sophie more as a puppy because in the marina, she comes across a lot of other dogs and people. She’s fine once she meets them and loves other dogs but she’s quite the barker up until then. If she had been socialized and used to seeing other dogs and people on a regular basis, she might be a lot quieter walking down the docks.
We also noticed after our first year living aboard that Sophie had developed fleas. We didn’t have her on flea medication on land because she never came into contact with other dogs outside our home. Living in the marina, however, there are dogs everywhere, coming and going and we decided we needed to put her on regular flea medication to keep her protected.
We’ve been very fortunate with Sophie since she’s adapted very well to living aboard. She really makes a great boat dog and I love that we get to travel with her when we cruise on vacation. Life aboard with pets need not be complicated, you just have to figure out what works for your dog and your boat.