The Dos and Don’ts of Boating with Your Dog


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There’s nothing like exploring New Zealand’s beautiful lakes, rivers and coasts. Even better when you can take your pup along! But do you know all the boat dog safety rules? How about which areas you can and can’t take Fido?

There are several dos and don’ts when it comes to boating with your pup, so make sure you’ve read up on them before you set sail.

A dog on a boat. Dog boat safety is very important

Boat safety dos

Check the boat rules regarding pets

As with everything in life, it’s better to check the rules ahead of time. If the boat isn’t yours, there could be restrictions on dogs on board. Are you sure that your pup is allowed on the boat? Boat owners might be concerned for the dog’s safety and would prefer your pup stays on dry land.

Get a life jacket

Although making your pet wear a life jacket isn’t legally required, it should be. You wouldn’t go on a boat trip without a life jacket, would you? So nor should your pup! If you intend on taking Fido on the water, you need to practice dog boat safety 101 and invest in a canine life jacket for them. These are available online and can save your dog’s life if you’re in a boating accident or they happen to go overboard.

Provide drinkable water

Ensure you have plenty of clean water on board for your dog to drink when you’re out on the boat. Lake or lagoon water might not be fit for drinking, and saltwater is an absolute no-no. Also make sure they have enough food if you’re going to be out for a long time.

These three pups were found running all over the place in a restricted area. The pet parent says he didn’t see the sign, even though he tied them up there prior to the ranger getting there.
These three pups were found running all over the place in a restricted area. The pet parent says he didn’t see the sign, even though he tied them up there prior to the ranger getting there.
Photo: by Paul Dulieu
Check they’re allowed on shore

Another important aspect is to ensure your dog is allowed on the shore you’ll be heading to. The Department of Conservation is specific in its rules that dogs aren’t permitted on offshore islands or national parks, even just to use the toilet. This helps dog owners resist thinking “but Fido really needs to wee; he’ll only be a minute!”, but most importantly it’s because dog poop takes a while to break down and carries lots of nasties. Same thing applies to waterways… Do you have a toilet plan for if your dog needs to do their business while you’re boating?

Also remember, only stopping to toilet your dog or take it for a quick on-lead walk doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be under control. For example, a dog sniffing around can easily break the eggs in a NZ dotterel nest — which are incredibly camouflaged! If you’re unsure about the island you’ll be heading to, you can contact the DOC ahead of time to find out.

Dogs can cause a considerable amount of damage in a short period of time if given access to an offshore island. This is a serious offence; they’re prohibited from island reserves under the Reserves Act. Anyone caught could face an infringement fine from $200 to $800, or a court prosecution, depending on the nature of the offence.

can dogs get sunburn - yes especially on their nose. Dog boat safety is very important
Use sunscreen

Can dogs get sunburn? Yes, they can! The sun can be especially potent when you’re boating because there’s added glare from the water. Make sure you put a high-SPF dog-friendly sunscreen on your pup before you head out. Focus extra attention on their body parts that have less fur.

Have an exit plan

If this is your dog’s first time on a boat, they may react differently than what you’re expecting. Some dogs can get panicky or extremely anxious when they’re on board. Like us, they can also get seasick!

Make sure that you have an exit plan. In other words, will it be possible to stop the boat and head home to land if your pup’s unhappy?

Boat safety don’ts

Don’t leave them unattended

Good boat safety means keeping your eye on your pup at all times. Dogs maybe be a little unsteady on their feet if it’s their first time on a boat. So, keep them in their (secured) crate, on a short lead where they can’t get tangled or go flying, or at least close by to avoid them falling or going overboard.

Once you’re on land, be mindful of any poisonous plants, creatures and hazards. Check out our guide on keeping your pet safe at the beach or lake, plus our roundup of toxic things that can poison your pet.

Blue bottles on a beach. Beach and  boat safety is very important
Don’t assume they’re water wise

Only you know how confident your pet is in water. Testing them out for the very first time when you’re boating is not the best idea. While most dogs naturally doggie paddle when they’re in water, puppies and young dogs may struggle at first if they’ve never swum before.

Conditions in a lake or sea may also be much harder to navigate. They can get dunked by a wave or get caught in seaweed or reeds.

Don’t forget a lead!

Unless the area is clearly stipulated as an off-leash area, you should always have your pup on a lead when you go on shore. Even better is to use a colour-coded lead.

PD recently partnered with DOC on the Auckland Lead the Way programme/

. One key goal of the programme is to encourage New Zealanders to study up on wildlife conservation rules and then take our Wildlife Wise Quiz. Once completed, the quiz unlocks the option to purchase a high-quality, colour-coded dog lead. The lead acts as a traffic light to tell other dog parents what your pup’s temperament is like:

  • Green – means your dog is happy to be around other dogs and people.
  • Orange – means your dog isn’t always comfortable around other dogs and people.
  • Red – means your dog doesn’t like socialising with unfamiliar dogs or people.
  • Yellow – means your dog is disabled or vulnerable to interactions in some way.
Get a Department of Conservation Lead the Way lead. a dog on a leash at the beach, this is responsible dog ownership when taking dog on holiday
Don’t leave them uninsured

Now you know the boat safety dos and don’ts, which is all part of being a responsible pet parent. Another part is making sure you have proper pet insurance to cover them in case of an accident or illness.

A PD Insurance pet plan can help cover unexpected vet bills for treatment across illness, injury and more. Having dog insurance helps provide quality medical care for your dog when you need to, without you having to worry about costs.

The sooner you invest in your pet’s health insurance, the broader the range of cover they get. Especially when they’re still a puppy or kitten. Rather than having to ask yourself can dogs get sunburn, ask if you can protect them easily whenever it’s most needed. Having dog insurance helps that answer be a ‘yes’.

Get one or months of FREE pet insurance today. Click below for more info.

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