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  • Writer's pictureSailing The Dream

Sailing with a dog - getting ready

Sailing with a dog is not easy and requires some preparation. At least for us, it did since our little princess is neither little neither a delicate princess, on the contrary, she's a rumbustious goof as a good 2.5 years old Golden Retriever should be!

Although sailing with a dog it can be challenging don’t think we could do it without our Ella.

She is part of our lives and after all, she’s the fur baby that we raised from very little.

Our main concerns were devised between her physical safety, health condition and customs:

Safety net

This was one of the first tasks we performed on the yacht and it required a bit of our time to set it up.

It goes all around the boat except for the cockpit stern due the beach platform design when closed.

At the moment we only have the net laced on the top of the lifelines and zip tied at the bottom of the stanchions, but we may consider reinforcing the bottom of the net to avoid Ella from slipping under since she started putting her head under the net to take a better sneak peak of the yacht surroundings (especially the fish that swim around us)

Ella likes to run in the deck at full speed chasing birds and fish and more often than we would hope for there are some cartoonish brake moves where her four paws are still sliding on the deck at the same time she’s already changing direction.

The net we chose to use has its mesh running vertically because this type of mesh doesn't stretch (opposed to the one that runs diagonally) and covers the full height of the lifelines easily.

(Doesn't make a pretty boat but it's safer)


Just like us, Ella has her own lifejacket that she wears every time we sail.

Not that she's not a good swimmer, she's the K9 Michael Phelps and she's completely obsessed with water and splashing waves (that's actually part of the problem). She's a great swimmer but eventually, she gets tired and as with all dogs she can drown. Or in the case of falling, she may get frightened and forget she knows how to swim.

Besides providing extra buoyancy it gives us a point to easily grab her if we need to pick her up from the water.

I wrote a post just about Ella's Lifejacket, the reasons why we choose models and what were our concerns.

MOB (Man Over Board) device

Since Ella is so obsessed with water and so fearless we decided we needed to be sure we would know the moment she hit the water that she is no longer onboard. We keep a very close eye on her at all times but we never know, when we're tired, groggy or distracted dealing with some other matter an incident may happen and this way we know immediately.

We have a MOB LIFE tag that is attached to her life vest and synchronised with the chart plotter. This way if the tag goes off range or gets submerged for a few seconds an alarm sounds and a marker shows on the chart plotter indicating the position where the contact was lost.

There are several models in the market, but in this case, we benefited the fact that the yacht already had the Raymarine Life Tags set up so that’s what we’re using right now. The advantage is the easy integration with the Raymarine equipment and use, we would probably end up getting the same product after researching the options.

Strobe light

Because it’s so easy to lose track of the position of anything in the water, especially at night, we fitted her lifejacket with an emergency strobe light just like the ones used in conventional life jackets to ensure (we hope, but haven't tested how visible it is in real sea conditions) we can see her if an incident happens at night.

I guess any model that can be easily bought at any chandlery separate from a life jacket is fine, or you can use the link below from Amazon.


Of course, Ella doesn’t wear her lifejacket the entire time while on the yacht. When sailing conditions allow she only wears a harness because although the lifejacket is much safer, unfortunately, is also quite hot to wear it and our fur baby is very furry!

When we’re at anchor or in the marina she wears a harness as a precaution against the possible effects of her rumbustiousness and distractions.

It’s much easier to “fish” a Golden Retriever out of the water by its harness than by the collar.

It’s also useful to help her get in and out of the yacht through the beach platform since she’s not the bravest dog in the world and seems to always need mommy's hand at these moments (except if there’s anyone she really must say hi, then she’s brave enough to “jump ship”).

We’re currently using 2 different models from Ezydog that we already have, being one of them the one we use in the car to strap to the seatbelt.

After much research, I now think I would prefer to have the Ruffwear Front Range or a Ruffwear Web Master with the Brush Guard (because of the under chest support). Ultimately I think we may need the Ruffwear Double Harness when Ella gets old.

If you decide that any of these harnesses is suitable for your dog and is what you're looking for please consider making a purchase through the below Amazon link. It costs you nothing extra and you can still take advantage of any sales or promotions and at the same time, we get a small percentage of the sale that will help fund getting Ella one of these also.

Ruffwear Front Range

Ruffwear Web Master

Brush Guard

Ruffwear Double Harness

But at the moment I can’t justify these purchases when we have 2 perfectly good harnesses.

Safety line/ safety tether

Ella is completely obsessed with water splashing and birds, so whenever sailing we feel it's safer if she stays in the cockpit but that is easier said than done. The little monster is sneaky and in no time chews any leash or rope/line that is used to secure her to a safety ring and goes straight to the bow of the boat to play if we’re not paying attention. She’s gotten better with this but the goal is learning that is not cool to chew her tether.

We are also working on training the command “cockpit” and reinforce the “stay”. We hope that eventually we only need to use the tether when we are also using ours.

But for now, we solved the chewed tethers problem by using a chew-proof training tether.

If you think a tether similar to the one we're using could help you guaranteeing your dog safety on board please consider making a purchase through the below Amazon link. It costs you nothing extra and at the same time, we get a small percentage of the sale.

Peepee and poopoo mat

One of the most important things to have on board is a designated palce for the pees and poos. The easiest way is to get a mat and train for thedog to do it's business on the mat that can easily thrown overboard to clean by letting it soak on sea water.

Check out Ella's magic mat for details.


We still have the crate/kennel used to bring Ella from Macau to Europe.

If hell descends on us and we feel that we need Ella to be below deck we will need to be sure she's not being bounced across the boat getting hurt since she can't physically hold herself in a safe way.

If that happens the safety of the enclosed space of the kennel is the best option.

The kennel fits jammed under the nav station, between the seats. Impossible to slide if it comes to this point.

We transport the kennel with us also for situations where it may be necessary for Ella to go through quarantine (to transport her to the facilities is usually necessary the dog be already in a cage) or if for some reason we need to fly home. Kennels this big are not easy to find.

Water bowl

In the beginning, I was looking for an anti-splash bowl because I was afraid her water would get slushed out of the bowl with the waves motion but soon enough we realised that all the bowls we have, have anti-slip bases so they actually stay in place even when the boat heels. Might be because our boat is quite big and doesn't roll as much as smaller boats we're not sure, but until we have a "runaway" bowl this necessity is covered.

We also have a water bottle that was from when Ella was a puppy and that we hanged in Ella's kennel door when we travelled from Macau to Europe, we kept it in case things get really nasty.


Because getting/buying pet food is not easy in foreign countries (specially finding the brands we like) since we don't know where the shops are but also because of the bag sizes (Ella goes through a 13kg bag every 45 days for example) we try and stock up with several months worth of food.

Our minimum is 4x13kg bags plus treats. Ella also eats raw fish and veggies if the opportunity presents and this way we can reduce the amount of processed food she eats.

Toys and chewable

We carry on the yacht all the toys Ella has ever had, except the ones she already destroyed or seriously damaged.

Since we arrived Europe she hasn’t been playing much with any of them because she’s been kept very busy meeting new people, new places and running on the deck chasing fish and water reflections.

We do try and get her some nice deer antlers to chew on and the occasional raw big bone.

Pet passport

At least in Europe, this is a must, so we got one once we arrived in Portugal. Travelling in between European countries becomes simple in what relates to paperwork.

Anti-Rabies Titre Exam

This is one of the most important exams/documents to enter Europe when coming from a 3rd tier country. We had our exam done in January 2017, the theory is that if the Rabies jabs are kept religiously up to date this exam is valid. On the safe side, Ella gets a jab booster every year to ensure no eyebrows are raised regarding its status of validity.

Check the post How to get a Rabies Antibody Titre Exam to find out more about it.


Ella is on a tight regime against parasites both internal and external so we carry around one year worth of these pills because it’s not easy to get them in a lot of places without visiting the vet and most of the times there’s no stock for her size (we can find plenty suitable for smaller dogs).

We treat (prevent and control) for the following parasites:

Internal - heartworm (Dirofilaria), adult roundworm (Trichuris vulpis), adult hookworm (Ancylostoma caninum), adult tapeworm (Echinococcus granulosus, Taenia piriformis, Dipylidium caninum), whipworm and fleas (Ctenocephalides felis - control of fleas infestation only)

External - fleas (Ctenocephalides felis - adult fleas), ticks (Paralysis ticks, Brown Dog ticks and Bush ticks)

We use a combination of Sentinel Spectrum and Nexgard to ensure Ella is fully covered for these nasty bugs.

We use a combination of Sentinel Spectrum and Nexgard to ensure Ella is fully covered for these nasty bugs.

*** The above post is the sole opinion of the website owners based on their experience.

*** Sailing The Dream is not affiliated or endorsed by Ruffwear or any of the other products mentioned above nor by any of their associated resellers. Ella, however, would very much like to be a test dog and model for Ruffwear.



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