Paws On Board

For most; dogs, cats and birds aren’t just pets but part of the family. It only makes sense, then, that they be included in the family vacations. What if the holiday involves putting your four-legged friends on a yacht and sailing the seas for a few months?

Yachting with animals isn’t as simple as one would hope. With all the bureaucratic hoops you have to jump through, making provisions for your pet is even more cumbersome. But if your bond with your canine, feline or bird runs deeper than the Great Barrier Reef; the extra effort is worth it.


Yachting with animals is an administrative and practical nightmare but the company and entertainment they provide is priceless. Here are a few things to consider:


Vaccines, health tests and passports

If you think getting clearance for yourself and your family to enter a country via boat is a mission you’re going to have to wrap your brain around the tedious task of doing it for your pets. Gaining access for your dog is so difficult often families decide to leave them on the boat, keeping them ‘legally’ in international waters, because they don’t want to deal with the headaches paperwork will bring.

Canadian sailor Silke Sommerfeld explains that the process is, “Quite difficult,” because, “Every country has different rules. In Europe it’s easier because there is a European pet passport, but there’s a lot of additional work with the papers and expense with the vaccines, antibiotics and vets’ inspections.” She has folders, over 100 pages long for each of the 3 pets that travel with her.

Animals need to pass heatworm, tapeworm and Lyme Disease tests in order to travel so the medication must always be stocked and up to date. A number of popular yachting ports demand animals take certain vaccinations a few months before travelling to the destination but won’t accept them if it’s taken longer than an allocated amount of time to travel there. In Sommerfeld's case, her pet, “Chester already had a rabies vaccination, but that was before he was microchipped, so [they] had to do that again. He will have to be vaccinated yet again because by the time [they] get to Bermuda it will be 11 months since it was done and they only accept it up to 10 months.”


If you think you can sneak by without getting all your pet’s papers in order you’re in for a nasty surprise. Port authorities maintain a strict system. Offenders are often denied entry and fined heavy penalties for not observing the rules and regulations.


Seasickness and Sunburn

If you’ve ever travelled long distance with a cat or dog you can appreciate that the animals are used to having space and freedom of movement. Restricting that is something it might take your pets a day or two to get used to. Couple that with going from dry, stable land to the rocking motion of the ocean and it would only make sense that your animal experience seasickness. Not all animals suffer from it, and chances are your pet will feel nauseous for the first day and acclimatise by evening. You need to be patient and considerate of your furry friend.


Pets are also as susceptible to sunburn as humans and this is aggravated when they are taking medication and vaccines. Use hypoallergenic sunscreen on your pets as it should work as effectively as it would on you but be sure to try it at home first before you head on your holiday. There are a few things more distressing for an animal that having to endure a painful sunburn.



If you’re worried your pet might have a particularly difficult time getting used to life at sea be sure to pack all their favourite snack treats and chew toys. Sommerfeld noticed that when her cat was agitated he’d trade his scratch patch for the cockpit cushions and interior upholstery.

Your pets might get sick during rough seas, upwinds and downwinds so be sure to pay them special attention during those times as they will be stressed and extremely nervous.

It is extremely important that you get harnesses sorted out before you leave land. Other safety precautions like life jackets, extra railing and safety gates must be fitted so you and your pets don’t find yourselves in trouble. Absolute vigilance 100% of the time is vital.


Other logistics such as being house trained, keeping the animals active while at sea are things you can’t improvise at the last minute. If you want to have a successful voyage and keep your furry friends happy they must be constantly stimulated. Like children; if they get bored they find themselves getting into trouble. And if they ever go quiet, check on them QUICK.

Yachting with your family pet can be a great joy. If done right and responsibly they provide a great comfort for your children and are a welcomed addition to the vessel.