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Sailing with Pets

Planning to sail with your furry or feathered friends? Here are a few tips to make them comfortable.

April 28, 2021
Dogs on a sailboat
Corgis Bailey and Taz are at home on the boat. Bruce Gladner

Irv and Bonni Alperts’ sail from Maine to George Town, Bahamas, on Bonni Jean II, a Lagoon 440 cruising catamaran, included a special family member: their dog, Stewie, a 10-year-old corgi that has sailed with the Alperts since he was four. “We wouldn’t consider going without Stewie. It wouldn’t be as much fun,” Irv says. “Seeing your pet react to the sights we take for granted on the water and on land has given us an even bigger appreciation of the beauty and scenery we see on our trips, and of the people we meet along the way.”

Bruce and Peggy Gladner bring their corgis, Bailey and Taz, on their Jeanneau 40 Ruach for cruises around Puget Sound and up into Canada. “The dogs go crazy when we bring our sailing bags to the front door of our house because they know they’ll be going out with us. When we’re in the Sound, they love seeing the harbor seals. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘I want to play with them,’” Bruce says.

Stewie the corgi with his owners.
Stewie has sailed with the Alperts for six years. Courtesy Irv Alpert

The Gladners suggest getting your pets used to wearing life jackets on land before going on the water and bringing ample supplies of water, especially for days when it’s hot and sunny. When looking for a place ashore for your pets to take care of business, make sure you are on public property, and don’t let them go astray. “One time, Yogi, another corgi we had, went missing, and we walked up and down the docks looking for him,” Bruce says. “We eventually found Yogi on a tugboat where the owner had left a steak unattended that Yogi devoured. We felt horrible and bought dinner for the tugboat’s owner and crew, and kept a closer eye on our dogs after that.”

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The Gladners are also advocates of preparing for pets’ medical needs. “A few years ago, one of our dogs was undergoing cancer treatment. Prior to our departure, we arranged for a veterinarian in Canada to administer chemotherapy to our dog, and had our veterinarian back home provide us with care instructions. Our trip went off without a hitch.”

Bill Tice of Hampton, Virginia, wouldn’t think of sailing to George Town on his Pearson 424 ketch without Papagena, his Quaker parrot. A 2019 cruise to the islands was Papagena’s 10th trip; her first was as a four-month-old. “Traveling with a parrot is pretty low-maintenance, but you need to have ample pet food and toys to play with,” Tice says. He recommends allowing at least four to six weeks prior to departing to secure the proper permits from foreign countries or territories to bring your pet, and suggests visiting online forums such as Cruisers Net (cruisersnet.net ) for tips from others who have taken their pets.

A sailor and his cat on a boat.
Steve the cat loves a day on Chesapeake Bay. Alan Bomar

Alan Bomar of Fort Monroe, Virginia, would have never thought to sail with a pet on his J/24, Roundabout, but that changed this past year when his daughter, Abigail, brought home Steve, a tabby cat that had resided at a University of Alabama fraternity house. Bomar fell in love with Steve and bought a life jacket for the cat to wear on sails around Chesapeake Bay. “Steve’s been very low-maintenance,” according to Bomar. “Besides the life jacket, I bring his food and water bowl, and a litter box. He’s had the run of the boat and is definitely intrigued by the excitement of being out in the bay. The life jacket is also an easy way to pick up Steve when it’s time to leave the boat.”

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Tips for Cruising with Pets

Documentation: Cruising internationally? Look into the regulations about bringing in a pet at the various countries along your route, and be sure to have a clean bill of health plus all immunizations from your pet’s current veterinarian.

Provisioning: If your pet has a particular food preference or special dietary needs, consider stocking up because it might be difficult to find the right food on your journey.

Gear: While pets don’t need much in the way of specialized gear to enjoy the cruising life, bowls and a bed that don’t slide will certainly be appreciated. And don’t forget a life jacket.

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First Aid: Know some basic pet first aid, have your vet’s number on hand, and have a supply of any medications.

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