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Pet Smarts
Boston Whaler, Spring 2005

Know how to ensure the safety of animals aboard your boat.

Most of the time, Jim’s a dependable crewmember aboard Maria and Dave Russell’s 180 Dauntless. He enjoys standing watch on the bow, always wears a personal flotation device and has the sea legs of an old salt.

Except when his nails get too long. Then the 65-pound dog can make quite a splash, sliding across the deck and into the water. “We keep his nails short now so that he can use his pads,” to grip the deck, says Maria Russell.

Maria and her husband Dave have logged more than 45,000 miles over the past two years as co-captains of the Half-Pint, their sawed-in-half Boston Whaler. The couple demonstrates the unsinkability of Boston Whalers at boat shows and events throughout the United States. Jim demonstrates that pets adapt well to boating, despite the occasional cannonball off the foredeck, as long as their owners take preventative measures to ensure their safety.

To that end, the Russells make every effort to keep Jim away from the bow to protect him from falling overboard, the combination of wind and salt burn his eyes. They also make sure his ID tags include the name of their boat, and the Russells carry copies of his vaccination record and prescriptions. For longer trips, they bring a current photograph of Jim, as well as a full description and contact information.

The couple, currently based on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, has lived on boats on and off for the past 25 years, sharing quarters with children and assorted pets. It took a bit of adapting for Jim to get his sea legs when he first shipped out about five years ago after the Russells took him in from family friends had found him wandering along a south Florida road. Maria instinctively let him progress at his own speed, just as San Francisco trainer Mike Wombacher advises.

Wombacher, who has trained dogs for the likes of actress Sharon Stone, comedian Robin Williams and investment guru Charles Schwab suggests bringing your puppy aboard as young as possible. Wombacher says to run the engines while at the dock, or the mooring so the animal adjusts to the noise and vibration. When the dog is comfortable in this new environment, cast off for short trips. (If your pet experiences motion sickness on these early trips, ask your vet for antinausea medication.)

A life jacket, available in standard sizes through most boat supply catalogs, is a must. Many come with straps along the back that provide owners a good grip for keeping the animal on board or hauling it out of the water. Carolyn McDaniel, a veterinarian at the Feline Health Center at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, has a client who purchased a custom-made life vest for her cat and chose to allow him free roam of their boat.

If your pet has access to the entire craft, be sure it has a retreat. Jim uses a bathroom rug that the Russells brings aboard. Wombacher suggests a secured crate on larger craft if you use your Whaler as a tender, which also makes it easier to get the animal on board as many have difficulty with ladders and stairs.

Provide shade and ample water, even if you must coax your pet to drink, says Wayne Spivak, a press officer for the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. He boats with Major Kira, a 12-year old golden retriver-Weinmaraner. Kira, like Jim, travels with a collapsible water dish because cats and dogs can experience heat cramps, heat exhaustion and sunstroke.

Watch your animal on the dock and on board for a few hours and “see what look like safety concerns,” Wombacher suggests. “Use common sense. You know your dog and your boat best.”