For larger dogs, consider installing a pet ramp or stair on the back of the boat for easy access. Similar to those used to get older dogs into trucks and SUVs, these devices allow the dog to climb aboard safely while saving the owner’s back.
Small dogs pose less of a problem. Most pet life jackets have a handle on the back that helps in hauling smaller dogs from the water. With very small dogs it can also come in handy for transferring them between the boat and the dock. Be sure to have a backup plan, however. Even a fishing net, attached with a line to the boat, can be a useful tool in getting a small dog back aboard quickly.
Of course, the best course of action is to make sure your dog only goes in the water when permitted to do so. When the boat is underway, keep the dog safely restrained. A leash attached to a collar can present a choking hazard if a dog bolts overboard, but a dog life jacket, with a D-ring on back for attaching to a leash, can do dual-duty as a harness, providing a reliable restraint for an excitable pet.
When you think about it, dogs really are like family. We pamper them. We take them wherever we go. We talk to them (and swear they understand what we say). But we can’t expect them to recognize every dangerous situation.
Fortunately, for the nation’s approximately 13 million recreational boat owners, there are sensible solutions for those seeking peace of mind along with furry companionship. The right equipment, along with a little common sense, can ensure a safer outing for both of you.
Fitting your Dog for a Life Jacket
If you’re considering a life jacket for your boat-happy dog, think about comfort and purpose. A foam-filled float coat may be more appropriate for dogs going in and out of the water. For dogs expected to stay in the boat, an auto-inflatable is cool, lightweight, and provides emergency support.
In the boat and in the water, a proper fit is important:
• Check the width of the straps and where they cross under the dog’s body. The straps should not interfere with the dog’s ability to sit or lie down comfortably.
• Be sure the life jacket fits snugly enough that the dog won’t slip out of it when wet or being pulled into the boat.
• Choose a bright color to make the dog easier to spot in the water.
• Conduct a “float test,” just as you would with a life jacket for a person. Try it out on the dog in shallow water and have a harness and leash on as backup.
• Pet life jackets, unlike those for people, are designed to float the animal in a horizontal position. The jacket should support the dog in the water while allowing it to swim freely.
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The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons(r), or your state boating agency's Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to "Boat Responsibly!" For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.