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Dogs Who Sail

Dogs Who Sail

The story of Dogs Who Sail started out as two cocker spaniels from Moreton Bay, sailing over the weekend on our 34-foot Duncanson. Maxy, as black as midnight on a new moon, was the wise and noble one, and his younger sister Mel was a blonde bombshell, also known to us as Marilyn and always up to mischief.

We have since upgraded to a 50-foot Passport, a Stan Huntington-designed cutter rig built in Taiwan in the mid 80’s. Tanua is a beautiful bluewater cruiser with my favourite feature being the centre cockpit allowing for a spacious aft cabin and fitted throughout with stunning Burmese teak. We half-heartedly joke that we upgraded to a more luxurious dog kennel because Maxy and Mel needed more space and comfort when we were to become permanent liveaboards. Oh the things we do for our dogs!

I can say with certainty that Mel was not fond of sailing. She was there because we were, and so was the food. Maxy, on the other hand, was an adaptable fellow, as long as he had a long view perched higher than the rest of us mere mortals, he was happy anywhere.

As an overprotective dog mother who overanalyses everything, I decided to document what it meant to have a dog onboard. I was like a dog with a bone (bad pun intended), researching what little information there was on the internet at the time and interviewing other parents of dogs on boats as well as taking into consideration our own trials, errors and successes. I knew I had to share all of this intelligence combined with other boating dog parents.

So began Dogs Who Sail, starting out as a Facebook group devoted to our furry crew members. Today, we are a 1,400-strong community of dogs on boats from all over the world providing consultation and support for furry crew members onboard.

Everyday, a new member joins us with a unique story; this is the heart of Dogs Who Sail. Dogs certainly share similarities in their behaviours. However, our four-legged friends have their own individual personalities, and how your dog adapts to boating life depends a lot on how they respond to you.

For this reason, Dogs Who Sail does not focus on Maxy and Mel’s experiences alone. I share our stories, what has worked for us and what has not. But I also interview dog owners from all over the world, on different types of boats with different breeds of dogs, so people can learn from a plethora of experiences rather than one perfect or imperfect scenario.

The dogs that connect with us range from those who are boating for a few leisurely hours on a weekend to others who are circumnavigating the world. Surprisingly, there are quite a significant number of the latter. The original owners of our boat circumnavigated with a cocker spaniel onboard. Remarkably, Lady was an outdoor dog. She had a dog kennel in the centre cockpit and she lived on the decks. God forbid if I had relegated Maxy and Mel to the cockpit from the comfy latex mattress and fluffy doona covering the bed in the aft cabin. Guaranteed mutiny!

One of our members, Dora, lives in Boston, Massachusetts with her sailing mother aboard their liveaboard 36.5-foot Beneteau Oceanis. Pauline is visually impaired and Dora is her seeing-eye dog. More than that, they also race in sailing regattas. This dynamic duo shares a trusting partnership, possibly more so than some human-to-human relationships. Without each other, they would not be having the sailing and liveaboard experience they are having now.

Maxy and Mel, Lady and Dora and everyone else who contacts us start out their boating journey with a dog onboard having lots of questions. Dogs cannot speak for themselves and as doggie parents we want to ensure our dogs are safe and comfortable.

If you would like to join our Dogs Who Sail community, look for our Closed Group on Facebook. Alternatively, you can go to for regular posts about dogs on boats.



By Tanya Rabe





To save your furry crew member and yourself stress, set your dog up properly before you venture out into the bay or blue water. Here are some of the most important things to do to prepare your dog for boating life.

● Prior to introducing your dog to
your boat, head to Bunnings and
buy a 1m x 1m tile of fake grass, also
known as astro turf. Set this up at home in a place where your dog pees regularly so they saturate the mat with their urine. Yes, you are going to have to transport the mat to your boat at some point but hold your breath, put the windows down and suck it up as this may be the best prop for your dog to go to the toilet on the boat.

● Bring something to the boat that is familiar to your doggy, and they associate joy and comfort with. This could be toys, balls, a bed or blanket. A bag full of treats will also go down well.

● Invest in a life jacket. Some of you may think I am being overly cautious, but the number of dogs that fall overboard is surprisingly high. If I have a child onboard, they will have a lifejacket on. My dogs are my family, and so the same rule applies to them.

● Before you head out through the leads spend a few weekends acquainting your dog with the boat. The first visit may just be a familiarisation with the inside and outside of the vessel. Let them get used to the smells and how to move around the layout. After a couple of these visits, you may want to start the motor. No need to go anywhere, just let Fido get used to the sound. The next step is to get the boat moving.

● Keepyouranxietyandfrustrationsincheck.Yourdogissointunewithyou.

Remember, your dog is not choosing this lifestyle. The least you can do is ensure you make their transition from landlubber to salty sea dog as smooth as possible. If you can clearly see that your dog is not adjusting to the boat, leave them at home or with a doggy sitter. They will be more content and so will you.



Published in the Jan-Mar 2020 edition.



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