How to Get a Big Dog on a Boat 

How to Get a Big Dog on a Boat

Have you ever thought of bringing your big dog on your boating adventures? Well, it can be lots of fun for both you and your big pup. 

However, it’s not always easy to have a great experience with an anxious pet on board, especially if they are not used to the waters. 

When we adopted our Chinook a few years ago, my kids were so excited to cruise with our big dog for the first time. 

However, things didn’t go as smoothly as expected, even though we had already bought a dog boat ramp for getting on and off the pontoon boat. 

We had some trouble getting our big buddy from water for the first time as he wasn’t really used to the floating water ramp. 

Luckily, it was much easier to train him how to use the ramp within a short time. Since then, I bet he is always looking forward to a boating trip as he undoubtedly loves the water. 

If you want to bring your big dog on a boat but are unsure how to do it, you’ve come to the right page. 

I’ll share my tips and a detailed guide below on how to get a big dog on a boat and have an incredible sailing and swimming experience. 

Tips on How to Get a Big Dog on a Boat

Buy or Build a Dog Boat Ladder or Water Ramp

If you want to bring your big dog on board, you need to invest in a dog boat ramp or ladder. It will help your pet get on board and alight the boat with ease. 

But as with many boat accessories, there are many types of dog boat ramps and ladders in the market. This can make it quite challenging to choose the best one for your big dog. 

To buy the best dog boat ramp or ladder for your furry-friend, there are several factors you need to consider. This includes the material, traction, and safety features. 

You also need to keep your budget in mind to ensure that you get the best value for your money. 

The best dog water ramp or ladder should use high-quality materials that won’t rust or wear out quickly when used on seawater.

Most dog ramps and ladders usually attach to the boat’s ladder, and they are easy to remove and fold for easy storage when not in use. 

For medium to large dogs of about 80 to 95 pounds, I recommend the Load a Pup Ramp that uses durable aircraft aluminum for extended longevity. 

It also comes with several safety features like improved gripping ridges to ensure that your pup safely gets on and off your boat. 

If you want something that won’t interfere with your boat ladder, you might like the MEIREN Dog on Water Ramp that supports medium to large dogs below 100 lbs. 

It’s a high-quality floating ramp designed to let your dog get on and off your boat while you enjoy boating. 

Better yet, you can build your own dog boat ramp, which would significantly reduce the cost. All you have to do is get the right materials to build a dog a sturdy and stable dog ramp. 

You can add buoyancy to an old ladder and cover it with plywood to make a stable ramp for your big pup. Then cover the ramp with a fake grass mat of any other rough fabric for extra traction. 

Other simple ways of building a DIY dog boat ramp include using rubber mats and pool noodles. These types of ramps work best for small dogs, but they can also be enhanced to support large dogs. 

Train Your Big Dog to Use the Water Ramp or Boat Ladder

Training your dog how to use a dog boat ladder or ramp may take only a few minutes, depending on how fast your dog learns. 

The key thing to faster learning is to keep the experience stress free and ensure that your dog is comfortable with the instructions. You should use words that your dog easily understands.

If your furry friend is hesitant when you instruct them to get on the boat through the ramp or ladder, they are probably fearful. 

In such cases, you can lay the ramp down to let them sniff and check it out. If they try to walk on the ramp as they sniff it, encourage them to do so, but don’t force them. 

Once your dog is comfortable with the flat ramp on the ground, set it back on the boat and praise them when they attempt to climb. 

Ideally, let your dog climb back to the boat through the ramp several times on the dock before getting on the water. 

This way, their feet will get used to the ramp. It also allows you to spot any areas that need adjustment for your dog to climb through the ramp safely. 

Once your big pup learns how to use the ramp or ladder to get on the boat from the ground, you can take them into the water and teach them how to use the floating ramp. 

This may be a little bit different, especially if your dog isn’t used to deep waters, but they will easily learn when you position the ramp strategically. 

The floating ramp shouldn’t be too high above the water to ensure that the dog can easily reach it when swimming. 

It shouldn’t also be highly inclined as the big dog would slide when trying to climb back on board. 

If your dog doesn’t seem to understand how the floating ramp works, you can use their favorite toy or a small game ball to train them how to use it.

It works very well when you swim along with the dog and have someone else beckoning them up on the boat with a favorite treat. 

Don’t be scared when your furry friend stumbles during the first attempt, as they will eventually walk up as long as the ramp has adequate traction. 

When training the dog how to use the boat water ramp, you can also start the engine and let them get used to the motor noise. 

Introduce Your Dog to the Boat

Introduce Your Dog to the Boat

Before you set off for a boating adventure on the deep waters, you need to get your dog used to the boat. 

You don’t want your pup to panic when you start the boat engine on the water. 

The best way to introduce your dog to the boat is by bringing them on board while the vessel is still docked and letting them sniff around the deck and living spaces. 

You can also start the engine without sailing and get used to the sound produced, and the motor runs. 

If your big pup hasn’t heard the motor sound before, they might freak out for the first few times. But you should let them know that everything is okay. 

Clip Away Excess Fur between Paws 

If you own a long coat breed such as a golden retriever, they probably have some hair growing between their paw pads. You should trim this hair as it can make it difficult for the big dog to walk on your boat. 

They can easily slide and fall on your boat’s floor or deck, especially after getting out of the water with their wet feet. 

Hairy paws are risky when boating with your dog as they reduce traction.  

They can also house bacteria and debris, which will later harm your pup by causing infections and unnecessary wounds. 

To protect your big dog from injuries, you can use sharp grooming scissors to remove hair between their paws. 

You can also use a clipper to trim the hair and keep their paws neat. A soft-bristled brush will come in handy when raising the hair for easier trimming. 

Buy Some Booties for Your Furry Friend 

While some people think that dog booties are cruel for their pups, it’s not always the case. Dog boots are an excellent way to protect your dog’s paw and improve traction. 

However, they can be quite uncomfortable when you buy the wrong size that doesn’t fit properly on your buddy’s paws. 

The best dog booties to buy for your furry friend should have rubberized treads that enhance traction and make it easier for them to ascend to the boat. 

These booties will help your dog walk comfortably on your boat and give them the required friction when climbing the ladder.

It’s an excellent solution for a clumsy golden retriever puppy that is likely to slide and fall when coming out of the water. 

Bring a Drinking Bowl to Keep Your Dog Hydrated 

The scorching sun and salty seawater can make your dog feel sick and weak due to dehydration.

So, should you let them drink the lake or seawater? Or how do you keep your dog hydrated on a boat?

Well, I’d suggest that you discourage your dog from drinking water from the water body you are boating on. 

You need to bring their drinking bowl and give them some cool drinking water. The Lixit Dog Travel Water Bowl is a great watering device that will help you keep your lovely pet cool while out there. 

Don’t use an open dish as it will spill the water all over the boat deck when sailing at high speed. 

You can also buy them a cooling vest or mat to keep them comfortable while sailing under the hot sun. 

If you worry that your dog will have sunburns during the boating trip, you can use a pet sunscreen on areas with scars and where the skin isn’t covered with dog hair, including the dog’s nose and ear tips. 

How to Prevent Accidents While Boating with Your Big Dog

How to Prevent Accidents While Boating with Your Big Dog

The last thing a boating enthusiast wants is something that interferes with their adventure. However, accidents can easily happen when boating with your big dog. 

If you want to cruise peacefully and safely with your dog, here is how to prevent unforeseen problems common in boating:

Invest in a Dog Life Jacket

While some dogs are great swimmers that will effortlessly stay afloat, others are terrible on the water and may end up drowning. 

And even if your dog can stay afloat and knows how to swim, they may get tired eventually or even freak out while in the open waters. 

Small dogs like Yorkshire Terriers can swim really well, but they get tired quickly and may drown after swimming for a short time. 

So, it’s important to invest in a dog life jacket when bringing your furry friend on the waters for the first time. 

For boaters training their dogs to swim for the first time when boating, there is no better way to do it other than using a life preserver.

Floatation vests give dogs the confidence to swim and have fun in the water. When we were training our Chinook how to swim, he didn’t seem to like the water at first. 

We noticed that he struggled to swim with the front legs alone while still trying to stay afloat. 

But when we got him the Ripstop Floatation Life Vest that allowed him to swim with all fours, things changed suddenly. He started loving the waters and became an energetic swimmer. 

Your dog will also be safer when swimming with a floatation jacket, even in cases of unseen hazards in the open waters such as strong currents or wind. 

If your dog likes to venture on its own and swim further, a life preserver with bright colors will help you trace them quickly. Be sure to get the right size that fits your pup snugly to enjoy boating with peace of mind. 

Don’t Jump in the Water If the Dog Falls Accidentally 

Don’t Jump in the Water If the Dog Falls Accidentally 

When your lovely pup falls off accidentally into the water, the first thing that comes to your mind is jumping after them. 

However, this isn’t a brilliant idea as it makes the dog panic even more. Your dog can read your reactions quickly and tell when you are anxious, and they will have anxiety too. 

The best thing to do when your dog falls into the water is to be calm, turn back to get near them, and cut the engine. Then lower a dog boat ramp and ask them to climb back into the boat. 

Bring a Dog Leash

If you don’t want your dog to jump into the water or fall in accidentally when cruising, you can leash them to the boat. 

All you need is a long durable cord tied to your dog’s floatation life vest. The extended length will allow the pup to walk around the boat whenever they need to. 

It will also help you retrieve your dog when he falls accidentally when cruising on rough waters. 

Don’t Cruise Alone with Your Dog

When boating with your pet, you definitely want to keep an eye on them all the time to prevent accidents. 

But you cannot watch your playful dog the whole time while still running the boat, especially if they are unleashed. 

It will help to have someone else on board to keep an eye on your pup as you ride the boat. Otherwise, they might jump into the water out of excitement or anxiety without your consent. 

And if there are other motorboats around, your furry friend may be injured. 

For a solo trip that doesn’t include friends or family, you may want to leash your big Fido or leave them at home.

How to Train a Dog to Pee on a Boat

How to Train a Dog to Pee on a Boat

If you have a dog, you must have seen them sniffing around before relieving themselves. Dogs love to pee where other dogs or animals have peed. 

When you bring your big dog on board, they can be confused about where to go for comfortable eliminating.

But this is risky for your dog’s health as it can lead to urinary tract infection, which is usually uncomfortable for them, just like in humans. 

Your dog loves to please you, and they won’t pee on board when they are anxious or unsure of where to do it on the boat. 

To help your dog pee on the boat, you can get a piece of fake green mat and train them how to use it. 

Once you get the mat, wait until your dog pees before boarding and rub the mat on the area where they have relieved themselves. 

This way, they will smell their urine scent when they sniff, creating a comfortable environment for them to pee when boating. 

Most potty-trained dogs usually get used to the grass mat and have no issues peeing on board. However, other dogs do not. 

If your dog won’t pee on the boat even after placing the green mat, there is something you are probably doing wrong, or you are not doing enough. 

It could be a lack of consistency, wrong timing, or an ineffective reward system.

Here are some helpful tips you can use when training your dog to pee on a boat:

  • Don’t place the fake grass rag too close to where the dog eats their snack or rest.
  • Get another dog to pee on the mat first or rub it on the area they just peed. 
  • If your dog lifts his leg when peeing, set up the mat on a vertical surface to create a good target for them.
  • Be clear about the potty rules to ensure that your dog understands you and knows what you expect from her. 
  • Applaud your dog or give them some treats when they use the fake grass mat well and pee confidently. 
  • Place the mat where your dog doesn’t feel anxious to relieve themselves like one corner of your boat. 
  • If your big dog doesn’t seem to have it, you can make a small dog yard with natural grass and place it somewhere designated on the deck. This will work perfectly for someone with a bigger boat.
  • Clean the doggy potty area consistently to avoid too much stinkiness on the boat. 



Q: How Do Big Dogs Get on a Boat?

A: Big dogs use a boat ramp or ladder to get on a boat.  While you can carry your little puppy on and off the boat with ease, you can’t always lift your large dog.  

The best way to help big dogs get on a boat is by investing in a ladder or a dog boat ramp. 

Unlike little dogs that you can easily carry on and off the boat, big dogs are heavy. Instead of lifting them with your hands, you can buy a dog boat ramp or ladder and train them how to use it for easy boarding. 

Q: How Can I Get My Dog on a Boat?

A: If you own a small dog, you can easily carry them on and off your boat. For big dogs, however, it can be pretty difficult to get them on board as they are way too heavy.

The best way to get your large dog on board is using a dog ramp or ladder. You can buy the dog boat ramp or ladder or simply make your own at home. 

Then train your dog to use the ramp when boarding and getting out of the boat. Training a dog to use a boat ladder or ramp will take a few minutes. 

If your big dog doesn’t seem to learn how to use the ladder faster with instructions alone, you can use their favorite treats and praise them whenever they get near the ramp. 

Once your dog becomes comfortable boarding the boat through the ramp or ladder, you can finally take them on the water. Then train them how to use the floating ramp after swimming to get on board. 

Q: Can You Put a Dog in a Boat?

A: Yes, you can put a dog in a boat. Dogs can enjoy cruising and swimming just like humans.

However, if you are sailing on a rented or borrowed boat, you need to confirm whether the owner allows dogs on the boat. 

Q: Do Dogs Need a Life Jacket When Boating? 

A: Yes, life jackets are essential for dogs when boating. Even if you are confident that your dog swims perfectly, you need to get them a life preserver. 

A life vest makes it easier to keep a dog comfortable when boating and allows them to float effortlessly when swimming. 

Some life jackets come with cooling features that help keep your dog cool when sailing under the hot sun. 

Q: How Do I Keep My Small Dog Comfortable on a Boat?

A: To keep your small dog comfortable on a boat, you need to bring them their favorite treats, cold water, and a life jacket. 

While your small furry friend might be a great swimmer, he may get tired after a few minutes of swimming. This is when a life jacket will come in handy. 

If your little buddy is scared of the boat motor noise, you should train them before the actual trip to eliminate the anxiety. 

Setting up a place where your small puppy can relieve themselves will also add to their comfort and improve their overall boating experience. 

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

While it’s easy to get small dogs on a boat and cruise safely, big dogs pose several challenges when boarding and getting out of the boat.

Before you set off to cruise with your big Fido, it’s important to get the required gear and take the necessary precautions to prevent accidents. 

It’s not always easy to get larger dogs on board, but it’s still doable. You and your big dog can have lots of fun boating in the open waters with the right training and gear. 

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Picture of Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

An avid Skier, bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.
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