Can Dogs Live on Sailboats?

Can Dogs Live on Sailboats? | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Dogs can live on sailboats provided the vessel is large enough, and the owners keep up with cleaning and sanitation.

Many liveaboard sailors also keep pets aboard. Big and small dogs alike call sailboats home, and you'd be surprised by how small some of these vessels are. That said, there are some basic rules to keep in mind before bringing a dog aboard a sailboat.


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Is it Legal to have a Dog on a Sailboat?

In most places, it's perfectly legal to have a dog aboard a sailboat. Owners take dogs sailing all the time, and it's rarely ever a problem. If your dog is treated properly and has a place to go to the bathroom, you'll likely have nothing to worry about.

That said, you should always check local pet ordinances before moving onto a boat with your dog full-time, and check with the marina to make sure pets are allowed.

What Kind of Dogs can Live on a Sailboat?

Any kind of dog can live on a sailboat (within reason). While it's probably not a good idea to keep a Saint Bernard on a 28-foot sailboat, most dogs can live comfortably if they have a place on the shore to run around.

Most sailboat owners who have pets aboard choose smaller dogs, and some people recommend keeping dogs under a certain weight limit (IE 50 pounds or less) to avoid the cabin getting too cramped.

How to Control Shedding on a Sailboat

Shedding dogs can transform a sailboat cabin into a hairy mess faster than you might expect. Given that sailboats have minimal ventilation, there's nothing to keep dog hair from settling on every interior surface. However, a few simple tools can make shedding manageable down below.

Dog Brush

The first and most important anti-shed tool is a dog brush. Yes, that's right—a brush. Sailboat owners can drastically reduce shedding by brushing their dogs regularly to remove old hairs before they make a mess of the upholstery.

Brushing your dog in the cabin defeats the purpose, so consider brushing them in the cockpit or on the deck. If you take your dog on walks regularly, take a few minutes each day to brush them before boarding your boat again.

Vacuum with Hair Attachment

Invest in a high-quality vacuum to keep below. Handheld dust-busters are a popular choice, but they may not cut it if your dog sheds a lot. Don't hesitate to sacrifice some storage space to purchase a house vacuum and the proper pet-friendly attachments.

Vacuums also control and clean up pet dander, which can leave unpleasant smells down below and cause allergies in sensitive people. A vacuum should be equipped with a HEPA filter to avoid depositing dust right back into the air.

Dog Exercise on a Sailboat

Dogs need regular exercise to stay happy and healthy, which is why you'll need to find a way to get their energy out on a regular basis. This can be challenging on a sailboat where interior space is limited.

In most cases, you'll probably have to get off the boat regularly to get your dog the exercise they need. Here are a few ways to get some exercise in and keep your dog in shape.


The most obvious answer to the exercise question is swimming. You can find a lifejacket for your dog and play fetch from the cockpit, allowing them to swim their energy out and retrieve the ball.

Swimming is ideal for waterdogs and retrievers, but almost any dog with a life preserver can swim around and have a good time. Be careful where your dog swims, and make sure the area is free of currents, clean, and boat traffic is infrequent.


Walking your dog is another way to get them the exercise they need. If your marina is pet-friendly, consider taking a walk around the docks with your dog every day. If not, take them along when you run errands in town.

Dog Parks and Beaches

Some marinas have designated dog parks where local pets can play. If you live near the beach, you're in luck—dogs love beaches, and open space is a great treat to a liveaboard dog.

Going to the Bathroom

Dogs need to relieve themselves regularly. It's a fact of life, nautical or otherwise. It's not courteous or legal to dispense with your dog's waste in the water, so you'll need to find a place for them to use the bathroom.

Small dogs are the easiest to deal with on a sailboat, as they don't need a whole lot of room to take care of business. Training pads, which are used for potty training puppies, are sufficient for some liveaboard pet owners.

Larger dogs probably won't benefit from going to the bathroom on board, and you'll be (physically) sick of it almost immediately. That's why you'll need to take them off the boat to use the bathroom.

Consider taking them for a walk in the grass or on the shore at least twice per day, and train them to relieve themselves while off the boat. If you don't use sanitary pet pads, it's absolutely essential to enforce a no-potty rule while on the boat.

Dog Safety on Sailboats

Even if your dog can swim, it's generally advisable to keep them suited up in a lifejacket whenever they're not down below. You never know when they might fall (or jump) off the boat, so it's essential to keep them positively buoyant whenever the risk exists.

Heat is another risk to consider before bringing your dog aboard your sailboat. Dogs are much more sensitive to heat than people, and they can easily be harmed if the temperature stays too high for too long.

Make sure your sailboat is adequately cooled and ventilated at all times, and never leave your dog below unattended. If you can't cool the boat, cool the dog instead. Take them up on deck and spray them down, or let them go for a swim until they're cooled off.

If you live in a cold climate, be mindful of the effect that water can have on a dog. Some dogs are at home in cold weather, but any animal that gets wet in freezing temperatures is at risk. If they get too cold, dry them off and go below to warm your dog with blankets.


If you groom your own dog, that's great! And they just so happen to be a place on a sailboat that's ideal for bathing a dog. The cockpit is an excellent place to wash up, as most sailboat cockpits are self-draining and waterproof all around.

If you groom your dog in the cockpit, be sure to be environmentally conscious. It's generally okay to wash a small amount of hair and dirt into the water, but be sure to use a biodegradable and non-toxic dog shampoo. This will keep the marine environment clean and prevent you and your dog from having negative health effects from soap compounds.

Food and Water

You can feed your dog wherever you like; just be sure to control the mess as best as you can. Sailboats roll and pitch in and outside of the marina, so choose a deep dog bowl to prevent water from spilling.

Many people designate part of the shower pan in the head as the feeding and drinking spot for their dogs. Others feed their pets exclusively in the cockpit, as it's outside and easy to clean. Regardless of where you feed your dog, make sure they have easy access to water at all times.

Essential Cleaning Supplies

Having a pet aboard a sailboat is a rewarding experience, but it requires special attention to cleaning and sanitation. Small spaces get dirty fast, but you can also clean them fast, so there's no reason to worry too much.

The essential cleaning supplies you'll need other than a vacuum include pet odor remover, stain remover, and pet-friendly soaps to wash dishes. You may occasionally need to wash your upholstery as well, so find a good dry cleaner who deals with marine upholstery.

Can Dogs Live on Sailboats?
Daniel Wade

Daniel Wade

I've personally had thousands of questions about sailing and sailboats over the years. As I learn and experience sailing, and the community, I share the answers that work and make sense to me, here on Life of Sailing.

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