On the Job

The Dockwalk Guide to Caring for Dogs on Board

2 June 2022 By Laura Shaughnessy
Yacht dog Nikki enjoying some watersports
Courtesy of M/Y Gene Machine

Laura Shaughnessy is the former managing editor at Dockwalk. 

There’s a reason for the hundreds of pet-related holidays out there. Pets are part of the family, which is why it’s so important for crew to be prepared to help care for these fur babies, whether it’s the charter guest, vessel owner, or even captains who bring them on board.

“Having two dogs on board can be hard work but it’s so worth it. It certainly releases endorphins and is a chance for crew to get off the boat when taking them for a walk,” says Bosun (and Social Media Manager) Liberty Nogueira of M/Y Gene Machine. They have two resident yacht dogs, Nikki and Versace.


“Both dogs come on board most of the time with the guests, which is about six months of the year,” she says. Both dogs are watersport enthusiasts and have been known to ride the foil board with the crew.

“Nikki loves sitting by your feet when we are driving the tender. She also loves being a lookout and will stand on the bow taking it all in!” Nogueira adds.

"Having the pet on board also means that if we're at anchor, we have to be organized to make sure that they get trips to the shore so that they can have a walk and go potty, and so forth." — M/Y Bina owner

“Our crew is always big on doing the theme nights and things like that. And the dogs are always dressed up and always a part of it,” says the owner of M/Y Bina, who always brings her Cavalier Poodle Mix, Ziggy, when she’s on board. The same goes for her other family members who have pets. Her brother, for instance, always brings his “massive golden retriever” Dart on board.

“The crew love it. Ziggy has a very special bond with our captain and often, if we can't find Ziggy anywhere, we can be sure that he is in [the captain’s] cabin napping,” she says. Often, the crew will groom her four-year-old Cavalier Poodle mix, which is when “the adventure starts on the aft deck … and there’s fur flying everywhere. So it can be a messy affair, but it’s a lot of fun,” she says.

Although Ziggy is four now, he has been coming on board since he was a puppy.

Ziggy on Deck
Courtesy of Bina

What to Do in an Emergency at Sea

Before Ziggy came along, Bina’s owner had a Yorkie that came on board with her, for his whole life ­­— he lived to be 14. As he got older, he became a bit more frail, she says.

Should the above precautions not be enough, there are several things crew can do ahead of time in case things go wrong and they can’t get in touch with a veterinarian.

Advice from a Veterinarian

As the founder of Superyacht Veterinary Service, Dr. Siobhan Brade has worked with countless pets. Thanks to an upbringing on the sailing-centric Isle of Wight, UK, and Auckland, New Zealand, as well as a sister who works in the superyacht industry, she is well-versed in the need for a bespoke service for pets and their well-traveled owners.

“Crew can have basic first aid training, which will equip them to manage an emergency situation,” says Brade. “First aid always aims to keep an animal stable and comfortable and attending personnel safe until a veterinarian can examine and treat the injured or unwell pet. It also makes crew aware of what the common accidents and illnesses are, how to avoid them if possible, SVS, like all veterinarians, are keen on preventative medicine! We offer first aid training as part of our services.”

She says the best tool you can pack is a well-equipped first aid kit that’s tailored to the specific animal or the cruising destinations. “However, making sure the dog, cat, or other pet is comfortable traveling on a yacht and safe and secure when on board is just as important.”

Dr. Brade's one piece of advice: “Where possible, leave enough time for both familiarizing the pet with the onboard environment and for organizing the necessary paperwork and veterinary treatments that are required for travel, as this will remove the majority of stress surrounding any trip, and leave you free to enjoy the joy of having a four-legged friend on board.”

Among her clients is Capt. Roy Hodges of M/Y Laurel. “We’ve used Dr. Brade for assistance with paperwork,” he says. “Luckily, we haven’t had any real emergencies at sea. We’ve had several charters that have come to us specifically because we are pet-friendly and are familiar with the formalities.” They’ve never had to use SVS in negative circumstances, “but it’s always nice to know she’s there in case of an emergency. We review medical history and share any concerns before crossing to the Med.

The bespoke veterinary and pet travel consultancy’s services include:

  • Guide to keep your pet happy and healthy on board a superyacht
  • Basic animal first aid and training for crew
  • Import and export support
  • Disease-risk analysis
  • Equipment and pet food supply
  • 24-hour remote veterinary support
  • Continuity of care between countries

Although she’s based in the UK, Dr. Brade has built up relationships with government veterinarians and import teams worldwide. You can reach her by phone at +64 (0) 284 300 751 or via email at siobhan@superyachtvet.com.

Keeping Dogs Busy on Board

Capt. Hodges says he’s been fortunate enough to bring along his 10-year-old Miniature Schnauzer named Sterling, who has lived on board his entire life. (Capt. Hodges and the crew of M/Y Laurel were also instrumental in helping to evacuate more than 50 dogs from The Bahamas after Hurricane Dorian in 2019, in addition to supplying aid to the devastated region.)

And it doesn’t just stop on board. “We had an amazing weekend in Rome with him. He walked 12 miles and saw all the sites!” says Capt. Hodges, listing the 2018 outing as “definitely a fave.”

“As long as they have plenty of exercise, they tend to cause less damage on board. The owners got Nikki when she was a puppy so she has been known to chew a few things,” says Bosun Nogueira of M/Y Gene Machine. “The biggest challenge is finding places to walk [Nikki and Versace] when we are anchored in remote places,” she says. “This normally means we have to tender them to the closest beach then wash them afterwards, which means we have wet dogs running around the boat a lot of the time!”

Bina’s owner highly recommends having a full arsenal of toys and treats aboard for pets to keep them entertained; otherwise, it could end badly.

“We use lots of puzzles and games to keep Sterling mentally stimulated when he can’t get as much exercise as he would ashore. We also use a pedometer to make sure that he gets his set amount of steps each day." — Capt. Roy Hodges of M/Y Laurel 

“We always have stuff for the dogs on board, so they have their bed, they have their pee pads if they need them, they have treats and bones and toys, and things like that,” she says, emphasizing the importance of keeping them busy so they don’t get bored. Otherwise, she says, they chew on furniture. “They’ll do that at home, they'll do that on a boat for sure. So you want to make sure that your dog is comfortable.”

Her crew even makes dog toys for them and so the dogs always have new toys to play with (the crew tie ropes, etc.)

Depending on the boat size, dogs can exercise on board. Ziggy, for instance, likes to play fetch along the side of the boat. (It doesn't really work for Dart, because he is so big.) “And so exercise is really important,” Bina’s owner says. “Dogs do really well with routine and they don't mind a change to it, but as much as you can stick with it, the better it is.”

Pet Potty Training Tips

“We have a self-draining pee pad that is kept on deck. [The Porch Potty] connects to a hose and controls how often you wish to rinse it, which really helps,” Bosun Nogueira suggests.

When asked what she learned after the first time she ever had pets on board, the owner of M/Y Bina quickly responded with, “You need a carpet cleaner. I recommend the Bissell.”

Courtesy of Bina

She has lots of experience with both disciplined dogs and those with a more messy bladder. “Traveling internationally with animals is not always easy. It requires logistics. Having the pet on board also means that if we’re at anchor, we have to be organized to make sure that they get trips to the shore so that they can have a walk and go potty, and so forth. Ziggy is a little bit unpredictable with his potty training when we're on board,” she says, adding, “My brother's [Golden Retriever] dog is a lot more disciplined.”

Since Dart is actually paper trained, that makes things easier no matter what the situation. “He loves to go on walks, but he will actually come home or back on board and go on his wee-wee pad. Like, he will not go outside. So, that's really good because it means that he doesn't really need the walk if it's inconvenient,” she says. Her Cavalier Poodle mix, Ziggy, on the other hand, will either go on the carpet or outside. “So we need to be a little bit more disciplined and careful to make sure that he does get his breaks.”

As she says, it’s important to adapt; it’s vital to have a crew that’s understanding and that likes dogs; one “that also believes that the benefits outweigh the extra work of having a pet on board,” she says, pointing out that they're pretty easy to handle at ports.

However, she has a solution for pets that can’t hold their bladder; it’s the same thing she’s done for years while traveling with Ziggy on airplane trips:

  • She modulates his food and water intake during that time. Ziggy is usually fed in the evening, but on overnight flights, she’ll feed him in the morning.
  • A few hours before the flight, he'll be taken to the bathroom.
  • Then he won't get anything until landing.

“Dogs do really well with that,” she says. “We've been [doing] this for years with him and he's totally fine. So dogs are very adaptable.”

Dart enjoying himself in the kiddie pool
Courtesy of M/Y Bina

More Tips for Success

For pets who like to swim in the ocean, they can swallow a lot of saltwater, which equals a lot of diarrhea, so you have to be careful about that. To remedy that, have the following on board:

  • Coconut water because it rehydrates them and more
  • White rice
  • Bananas

This works for both people and pets.

“Because we charter our boat, we are a dog-friendly boat, so we have charter guests bring their pets on board. And what we do then is usually take an extra security deposit or a cleaning fee or something like that in case there are any accidents on board,” the owner of Bina says. “But we’ve never had any issues. We believe that dogs are part of the family and as such, they vacation with the family, and for us, it’s always been a part of the philosophy and it’s always worked out well.”

And of course, anything you’d do on land for pets — like keep chocolate and grapes out of range — be sure to practice on board. “So even though you may be lounging on the sofa and eating chocolate, be careful like you would at home,” she stresses.

The Most High-Maintenance Pets

Although the above advice works for dogs in particular, it’s not to say that certain things can’t work for cats, birds, fish, and more. Bina’s owner is of the opinion that petcare has the same kind of principles.

“Crew can have basic first aid training which will equip them to manage an emergency situation.” — Dr. Siobhan Brade

“I am not as experienced with other animals, but I would think that in the same way that cats are so much more low maintenance than dogs, you could easily have them on board I would imagine. I have not personally had birds myself or fish that have survived more than 24 hours, but I would think that if you can have a dog on board, you can pretty much have anything board.”

She adds, “As much as I think they are the best pets, they’re also one of the hardest ones to keep because they need so much.”


More from Dockwalk