We moved onto our first sailboat in 2015 and our dog, Captain, was right there with us for the transition and adventures. Cap went everywhere we went and we fully intended to have her share our adventures on Ticket to Ride.
Unfortunately, Captain died while in the care of a pet sitter I found through Rover.com. I have not shared the details of her unexpected death as they are too awful to dwell on. Since Captain is no longer on the boat with us, we have experienced cruising with and without a dog and I thought I would share some of our thoughts.
Captain was six years old when we moved on board Let It Be and she adjusted pretty quickly to life on a sailboat. There were many aspects that she absolutely loved;
- spending more time with her humans than when living on land
- dinghy rides – anywhere, anytime
- running on the shore
- walks with ever changing smells
- greeting people who went past or stopped at the boat
- spying for dolphins
- wind in her fur while sailing
- sitting at the helm with us
- first cleaning of dinner dishes (to save water, of course)
- chilling on the floating lounge chairs with us
- breezes coming up through the trampoline where she liked to nap
There were also things Captain never learned to like:
- going to the bathroom on board (even though we praised her a lot)
- when we caught fish (I think she was a pacifist.)
- noises associated with sail changes
As for actually living on our boat with a dog as we sailed from country to country, here are a few of our thoughts.
Countries: By far the most challenging part of having Captain on our boat was making certain we had the correct paperwork for every country we visited. Each country has its own requirements and finding the latest, accurate list of requirements took time and decent internet. We had to prove Cappy was up to date on shots and often a current rabies titer test from an accredited veterinarian was needed. This meant we had to find a qualified vet, get Captain to the vet for blood tests and get the results within a specific time window. Not always easy, especially when you don’t own a car and many taxis or Ubers don’t want a dog in the car.
I was responsible for the pet paperwork. At every port of entry, I was nervous that we wouldn’t be allowed into the country because I had missed some piece of paperwork. Fortunately, we did not run into any problems while traveling in the Caribbean, Bahamas, Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao, Turks and Caicos or the Dominican Republic. However, we chose not to sail to some places, like St. Kitts, because we had heard of issues with dogs.
Once we knew we were heading to the South Pacific, I began researching how to get Captain into various countries. What I found was that the difficulty in having a dog accepted was much greater in the Pacific Islands than on the Atlantic side. Many Pacific islands are rabies free and as a result they are very strict about receiving any dogs from a country with rabies. Several countries have long quarantine requirements for pets upon arrival. I was extremely concerned about how I would manage to get Captain into the places we hoped to visit.
If you are cruising in only one country and have a dog, the complications of pet ownership are significantly reduced.
Accommodations: At this moment, we are living the perfect example of how a dog can complicate things. We cannot live on TTR while it is on the hard, so we had to find a place to rent. We are in a small efficiency/hotel-like room in a great location that is close to the boat yard. This place does not accept pets. My search for a reasonably priced place to stay in Hawaii would have been much more difficult with a dog. When we were on LIB, we had to haul out twice and both times we could not find accommodations that allowed dogs. Instead we had to find a kennel where Captain could stay during the haul out.
Travel: Seeing our family is important, so we want to fly back to the U.S. on a regular basis. Flying with a dog is nearly impossible unless they fit under the seat. If you want your dog to fly in cargo (very mixed reviews on how safe this is), there are temperature restrictions for heat and cold indexes. Since we are usually in a tropical area, the dog might not be allowed to get on the plane because the temps are too high. What would we do if our flight was taking off and we learn that Captain had been taken off the plane due to temperature restrictions? Instead of taking that risk, we had to leave Captain with sitters a couple of times when we traveled back to the States. After our last experience, I don’t know where I would be comfortable leaving my pet if we wanted to go back to the States without her.
Shedding and bilge pumps: Almost every dog sheds and Captain definitely shedded a lot. Living in a smaller space with a dog made the shedding much more noticeable than when we lived in a larger home. I used to joke that the cause of death on my certificate was going to read “hairball in throat” because of the amount of fur floating about. But the bigger issue with shedding is the bilges.
If you own a pet that sheds, please be certain to do routine bilge pump checks. Somehow fur manages to fall to the lowest places in the bilge and it can clog up your pumps. We routinely check our bilges now, but when we had a dog on board, the checks were made more often to make sure the pumps were clear to run.
Potty Training: Some dogs manage to transfer habits to the boat without a problem. Not Captain. Regardless of how much we praised her, she still didn’t like “going” on the boat. In fact, on her first long passage, she waited 48 hours before going to the bathroom. After the first 24 hours, every hour or two we walked her on a leash all around the boat giving her the command to “go.” No luck. That was very stressful for all of us. Captain improved on passages, but she never liked that aspect of travel.
Food: When traveling with a dog in foreign places, the dog foods change and knowing what you are buying is difficult. Constantly changing foods can be hard on a dog. Instead of buying local dog food, I bought a dehydrated dog food called Dr. Harvey’s Canine Good Health which I could order on the internet and have shipped to us. I thought it was a high quality brand of food and I could easily store enough on board to last six months to a year. This dog food had to be rehydrated with hot water, then I added a protein source. I chose Dr. Harvey’s because the dehydrated food took up less room than standard kibble and I didn’t want to store kibble in the bilge and possibly attract mice or bugs.
Island Dogs: Although the rules were restrictive for getting a dog into the islands, very often the local dogs roamed free. On the whole, the dogs left us and Captain alone but there were times when walking the dog was difficult because local dogs were aggressive or numerous. Of course we didn’t want Captain to be harmed by another dog or cause harm to another dog, and that never happened. But be aware that on some small islands there is not a vet so if your dog is injured or sick, you will not have immediate veterinary services.
Ambassador: Having a dog on your boat is a bunch of fun. Captain was an excellent ambassador and she was often the reason people stopped to talk to us. In fact, it was common for someone to know Captain by name but not have any idea who we were. We met a lot of people who were much more interested in meeting my dog than they were in meeting us. If we spoke different languages, Captain helped us connect with few words.
Protection: This one is obvious but worth mentioning. I think a dog is the best protection available on a boat. If someone is going to commit a crime of opportunity, they will not choose the boat with a dog on board. Furthermore, many people have a slight or significant fear of dogs and even serious thieves will avoid a boat with a dog. Although we feel safe in our travels, Captain added an extra element of safety, especially if I was alone on the boat and an unknown person stopped by. I really miss having Captain keep me company and protect me when Frank is away.
Walks: Dogs like to get out and explore and having Captain on board insured that we walked every day. Rain or shine, she wanted to stretch her legs and get in a few sniffs. Cappy especially loved walks when we lived on the boat because we were always in new places with new smells. Being forced to walk everyday was a positive for all of us.
Fun and love: Although dogs require effort, energy and commitment, the fun and love Captain added to our boat/lives far outweighed the planning, adjustments and cleaning. There was something so joyous in Captain’s running along the beach or digging in the sand that simply watching her made us happy. The unconditional love we received was precious and we dearly miss the smiles and happiness she caused. I firmly believe that, for me, a dog adds to my contentment and well being.
Silly Things: When Captain and I would go for walks, I didn’t take a phone or radio. Instead when we were finished, I would give Cappy her command to “speak” and she would bark. Frank could easily hear and recognize her bark, so he would know to come pick us up. Of course, Captain figured out that when she barked Frank picked us up and the walk was over. Often she would look at me and need a second, firm command to bark because she wasn’t ready to end her exploration.
Blogging: Captain was extremely smart and would occasionally write our blog posts. Those posts were always the most popular ones and I loved using Captain’s voice for a creative outlet. It was far more fun to write from Cappy’s perspective than to simply tell you about our activities.
Cruising without a dog: We have been without Captain for two years now and we still miss her terribly. If we could have her back, there is NO question that we would, regardless of the hoops we would have to jump through to get her into various countries. Having said that, traveling without a dog is easier. Here are some of the reasons cruising without a dog is easier:
- one less “person” to worry about
- eliminates vet visits
- less expensive
- eliminates paperwork to enter countries
- gives us freedom to stay off the boat without arranging dog care
- allows us to fly home without finding a sitter or kennel
- reduces how often I have to vacuum the boat
- keeps the bilges clean and free of dog hair
- allows us to ride in any taxi or Uber
- means no potty patrol on passages
- leaves us without a welcoming committee when we return to home
- means less love and less laughter
If someone asked me if he or she should get a dog before moving onto a boat, I would say the decision has to be based on where they are traveling. By far, obtaining permission to bring a dog into countries was the most time consuming, stressful and costly aspect of having a dog. One must consider where he will be traveling and how difficult pet entry is in those countries. In my opinion, quarantine is hard on the pet and the owner, so I would not recommend a dog if you plan on visiting countries that require a quarantine.
My research showed that obtaining permission for pets to enter islands in the Pacific Ocean was more difficult than in the Caribbean, so I would think very hard before committing to a dog if traveling in the Pacific.
If I were getting a dog or puppy for my boat, these are traits/tips I would think about:
- a dog prone to motion sickness (car sickness) is probably not a good fit
- consider a puppy or young dog that can be potty trained on board
- I would train my dog not to leave the boat without a release command
- train your dog to speak on command so you can make people aware that you have a dog.
- conversely, teach the dog a “quiet” command so he doesn’t bark incessantly – you don’t want to be “that” boat.
- make sure to have an excellent recall because all the new territories are very tempting to explore and new smells are distracting to a recall command.
- a confident dog that handles new experiences well will probably adjust better to cruising than a timid or fearful dog.
- make sure it is a breed that swims (some breeds like bulldogs, pugs, etc don’t swim)
- consider your boat and if it is dog friendly – example: can a dog get up and down the companion way on its own?
- is this dog big enough or small enough to get into the dinghy from your boat and back onto your boat from the dinghy?
- will you need lifeline nets to keep the dog from going overboard while sailing?
- will you leave the boat to fly home and how will you accommodate the dog?
- do you have the time and budget to invest in entry requirements for your dog?
- during boat yard times, are you willing to put your dog in a kennel or find a place that accepts pets?
- Buy a collar with your dog’s name and your phone number or boat name stitched into it as dangling tags can get lost or rusted.
We are by no means dog experts, but these are some thoughts based on our experiences while traveling with Captain between 2015 and 2018. Maybe you will find this information useful or perhaps the tips will give you some things to think about. If you have traveled west from the U.S. and visited islands along the way to Australia and New Zealand with a pet, I would love to hear your experiences with gaining entry permission for your dog. If island entries have relaxed, maybe we can have add canine crew!
For those readers with dogs, give yours a few extra scratches from us…. we still miss loving on our Cappy-girl.
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