This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

Whether it is a spilled litter, pet passports or dogs overboard, sailing with our cat or dog can be a  challenge. At the same time, since pets are often an integral part of our families, leaving them at home just isn’t an option for many of us.

Despite that, there are many aspects to keep in mind when it comes to balancing life at sea with the presence on board of a pet.

First of all, boarding and moving on board: moving on the deck and below deck on a monohull can be tricky. Modern boats tend to have less steep passages and platforms to go from head to stern; the older ones often have a hatchway with five or six almost vertical steps, smaller living spaces and a far from easy access to water.

This can lead to problems for those who sail with large size dogs, mostly if they can’t be easily picked up. A good precaution might be to provide the boat with transversal slats so as to make the steep descent easier to climb. In addition, boat carpets on the steps might help providing a better grip.

We would also need to arrange a safe space below deck, especially in case of harsh weather. A cat will generally make do and even with bad weather it will find a cozy nook where to curl up and sleep (cats are known for not doing much else on board…) When it comes to dogs it’s up to us, and finding bedding to keep them safe is vital. A simple box padded with pillows, below or near the berth, works really well.

If our friend would rather stay in the cockpit, it would be better to take the same precautions we would take with children on board. When sailing, pets should be tied to the boat and trained not to leave the cockpit unless they take a bath. Never alone, however, so make sure there is always someone nearby.

The gap below the sprayhood or tucked between the seats of the cockpit and the column of the wheel is often a much appreciated spot for some pets. Others are happy simply stretching out on the pillows in the cockpit.

Good safety measures and precautions to take are securing nets to the runners and training the animal to wait for a command before getting off the boat when in port, using a predetermined exit point. And desperate times call for desperate measures: should a pet fall overboard, it’s useful to have a net large enough to retrieve smaller dogs. For cats, instead, it’s useful to have a rug a metre and a half long (depending on the height of the topside), to dangle on the side so that they can stick their claws into it and climb back on board.

Let’s think for a moment about accessories. When it comes to straps and life jackets, high quality materials should be considered: solid handles, coated buckles and clips that won’t get stuck everywhere are imperative.

Life vests should fit perfectly and not impede the animal’s ability to swim.

To keep the pet on the boat, standard straps and leashes should do, just make sure that they are long enough to let the animal move in the cockpit without getting strangled. Accessories might also include pet carriers and flash-lights for night strolls. In summer, cooling vests or gel mats are useful too.

A good habit is providing our friend with an identifying tag with boat details and contact information. During long trips it’s also advisable to bring an airline approved pet carrier just in case you need to fly home with your pet.

Seasickness might be a real issue for pets. It’s worth speaking to a vet and trying out different options, when it comes to both seasickness and medications against anxiety, to find a remedy to this extremely unpleasant inconvenience.

While sailing make sure you can protect your pet from UV rays keeping them in the shade and even using hypoallergenic sunscreen. Overheated animals pant uncontrollably when they feel hot, and they throw up. For this reason, cooling mats and wet towels will be helpful during the hot season.

Enjoying the destinations we reach will undoubtedly include bringing our four-legged friends ashore, and that’s where – unfortunately – pets are more likely to get hurt. We need to be really cautious and prepared.

Stray dogs, broken glass, rusty steel, poisoned baits and moving vehicles could easily hurt our pet.

A good advice is to keep handy the phone numbers of vets working in the areas we intend to visit. Nevertheless, although vets are available in most of the places, it’s still important to carry what we need to treat the most common occurrences. In this regard, I would think about cuts on paws, skin and ear infections and dehydration. That’s why it’s imperative to equip ourselves with a basic vet kit.

That means gauze, bandages, antiseptic cream and a saline solution that would help to keep the bleeding and the infection under control in the short-term.

All right, let’s try not to only talk about wounds, pets falling overboard and seasickness. Let’s talk about something our friends really care: food.

Getting supplies of high quality pet food abroad can be tricky and very expensive. Moreover, it won’t always be easy juggling list of ingredients and allergens in languages that you won’t always be able to understand. That’s why if our pet has a specific diet or a favourite brand of pet food, it would be better to stock up and bring as much as possible on board.

And what about their daily business? A sailor friend of mine told me that his dog once resisted for 48 hours rather than relieving itself on the boat. That’s why, although thousands of precautions could be taken, the most onerous thing for dog owners are the countless trips on land every day to allow the pets to do their business.

Cat owners definitely have it easier. In their case sanitary facilities are usually easy as pie. A cat only needs a litter well stocked with sand, and in such these instances the sand from a beach can be a good alternative. Just one precaution, when sailing don’t forget to secure the cat litter with elastic ropes or sturdy Velcro.

Other important things to consider when sailing internationally are health documents. Pet owners sailing between EU countries can buy a EU animal health certificate. This paper, filled in by a EU vet, allows the pet to move about freely in the European Union, and it’s valid in Turkey and Scandinavia too. 

Although the UK left the EU, the current transitional period allows pets to travel with a EU pet passport.

This will change starting 1st January 2021. New rules are still to be defined, but when it comes to post-Brexit this is nothing new. 

In any case, to avoid complications cruisers should check with the competent authority whether they can import animals. This part has to be emphasized: get informed so as to avoid serious troubles.

Outside the EU, anyway, pets shall be declared at the border and the immigration office when getting into any new country, giving evidence that the pet’s vaccinations are up to date, that it has a valid health certificate and an anti-rabies certificate (antibody test). Blood tests, microchips and treatment against tapeworm are often needed too.

In some extra-EU countries, those with the stronger restrictions with regard to biosecurity, the worst case possible is our pet being put down when entering the country. A thorough research is therefore an absolute must.

Okay, that’s right, we’ve listed quite a lot of hardships and accidents but, despite that, there are many advantages when travelling with a pet. It’s no coincidence that I’ve never met cruisers who regretted bringing their pet on board.

Most of them said that sailing with a pet enriched their experience and gave them a reason for gratification, together with additional pleasure during the navigation. We hope our new crew member will be able to say the same. Fair wind to everybody, see you at sea!

Renzo Crovo