Cats On Liveaboard Sailboats - A Complete Guide

Cats On Liveaboard Sailboats: A Complete Guide | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

June 15, 2022

Cats are fun, safe, and friendly companions to countless liveaboard sailors. Caring for a cat on a sailboat can also be easy.

Cats can live safely and comfortably aboard sailboats with proper space, ventilation, climate control, and safety precautions. Most cities and marinas allow cats aboard, and they’re easy to care for if you take a few extra measures.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about living aboard a sailboat with a cat (or two). We’ll go over the best breeds for sailboats, essential cat safety measures, indoor and outdoor cats, toys and entertainment, and how to keep your cabin clean.

We sourced the information for this article primarily from the tips of liveaboard cat owners. We also researched cat breeds and behavior, along with which cats are best suited for long-term living aboard a sailboat.


Table of contents

Can You Keep a Cat on a Sailboat?

Yes! Cats are some of the best pets to have aboard sailboats. They generally require less attention in terms of exercise than dogs, and many cats can acclimate easily to living on a sailboat. Cats offer great company, and they’ve been kept on boats and ships for decades.

That said, there are several unique challenges that cat owners face while living aboard a sailboat. We’ll go over the best supplies and strategies soon, but first, we’ll cover the rules and legality of keeping cats in liveaboard sailboats.

Marina Rules and Pet Regulations

The most likely issue you’ll run into is the marina itself. Some marinas that allow liveaboards have strict pet policies. These are instituted primarily for sanitation reasons, and violating the rules can get you kicked out.

Liveaboard slips are hard to come by these days, so it’s best to abide by the marina’s policies. Be sure to contact your chosen marina and make sure you’ll be allowed to keep a cat on board. Some marinas have policies strictly for dogs or outdoor cats, so you may be off the hook.

Local Pet Ordinances

Local ordinances apply in just a few situations. First, some communities set limits on how many pets can occupy a residence. These limits are usually based on square footage, which is where liveaboards usually run into trouble.

For example, a city or county may specify that you can only keep one pet per 100 square feet of interior space. These rules may or may not apply to mobile dwellings (such as RVs and boats), so it’s best to check first. Regardless, most standard cruising sailboats can only comfortably (and hygienically) harbor one or two pets at a time.

How Many Cats Can You Keep on a Sailboat?

This question depends entirely on your cleaning capabilities and the size of your sailboat. A 30-foot sailboat cabin gets awfully cramped with two or three cats aboard, not to mention the litter box problem. Multiple cats using a litter box in a well-sealed fiberglass tube isn’t a good situation.

As a general rule, it’s best to start with one cat regardless of the size of your boat. That way, you can get acclimated to taking care of a cat on a boat before taking on additional pets. For vessels under 40 feet in length, two cats is a reasonable limit.

Benefits of Liveaboard Cats

There are numerous benefits to living aboard a sailboat with a cat! The first and most common benefit is the companionship of having your pet aboard. It can greatly enhance the atmosphere by adding comfort and a real sense of ‘home’ in the very utilitarian environment of a sailboat cabin.

Additionally, cats are a great way to keep pests from occupying your vessel. Many sailors leave the hatches open during the summer, and sailboats are a five-star destination for mice and other disease-riddled rodents. Cats are humanity’s oldest and most effective pest control system.

Cats also provide a great opportunity to bond with other liveaboards. From arranging playdates to sharing common experiences, keeping a cat or two aboard your sailboat is sure to add an extra layer of quality to your experience.

Indoor or Outdoor Cats: Which are Best for Sailboats?

The indoor/outdoor cat debate has raged between homeowners for decades, and the question is even more important to consider as a liveaboard.

The primary issue here is that cats are difficult to keep contained aboard a boat. Sailboats have lots of large openings for people to move in and out of. Hatches and portlights present ample opportunity for cats to ‘escape’ and run off up the dock. Having an outdoor cat somewhat negates the issue, as they’re free to come and go as they please.

Outdoor cats are the easiest to deal with if you like opening up your boat frequently, and it frees up deck space for your cat to relax and exercise in your presence. However, outdoor cats can bring in ticks and fleas, which can rapidly overrun a confined space like a sailboat cabin.

Indoor cats eliminate the tick and flea issue, but you’ll have to keep a much closer eye on them. Some cats naturally won’t stray off the boat, so there’s a possible solution. And yes, it’s entirely possible to keep a cat from escaping a sailboat if some precautions are taken.

Which Cat Breeds are Best for Liveaboard Sailboats?

Believe it or not, there are several cat breeds that are adapted for life on the water. It’s no guarantee that your cat will swim like a Golden Retriever, but many breeds are known for their affinity for water.

The best cat breeds for sailboats are the American Bobtail, the Maine Coon, the Manx, the Japanese Bobtail, the Norwegian Forest Cat, the Turkish Angora, the American Shorthair, the Turkish Van, and most varieties of Bengal cats.

How to ‘Cat-Proof’ Your Sailboat

Cat-proofing your sailboat is essential if you’re planning to have one aboard. Cat-proofing refers to steps you should take to protect your cat from getting into areas where it shouldn’t be.

First, make sure to seal off any open access to the bilge. Sailboat bilges are often wet, unsanitary, and confined—which is just asking for trouble. Additionally, make sure your cat can’t get into the engine compartment or anywhere fuel and oil are stored.

Make sure to enclose access to electrical panels and wiring, as cats are known to chew up or destroy essential wiring and systems. Also, they can give themselves an unpleasant shock from rubbing against or biting into the wrong wires.

All other spaces on your sailboat should be safe for cats, as long as they’re accessible and open. Make sure to keep cupboards closed, and consider adding netting over deep cubbies to prevent your cat from getting stuck or trapped behind a panel or bulkhead.

Liveaboard Cat Safety

Keeping your cat safe aboard your sailboat can be easy. The main concerns are temperature, water, and the environment. Below, we’ll go over how to keep your pet safe and comfortable in the unique environment of a liveaboard sailboat.

Can Cats Swim?

Many cats can swim to some extent, but they usually don’t like it. Any cat owner who’s tried to give their cat a bath can attest to this fact. However, cats can be acclimated to the water with some patience and routine practice.

Lifejackets for Cats

It’s a good idea to spend time in the water with your cat, as you want to be sure it can swim if it falls overboard. Using a specialized cat life jacket is a great way to start. These lifejackets are also useful in an emergency.

Leashes and Harnesses

Having a leash and a good cat harness is a great way to safely let your cat enjoy the deck space of a sailboat. Many liveaboards attach a leash to the deck rail or a stay wire. A leash and harness essentially double the amount of space your cat has to hang out.

If it’s long enough, it’ll allow your cat to explore and hang out on the deck without running away. Just be sure to keep it untangled from lines and rigging. Don’t attach a leash to a collar, as it can be hazardous if your cat tries to jump off the boat or gets snagged in the rigging.

You can also incorporate a lifejacket into a leash system, which is especially helpful when making an offshore passage or getting underway. It’s a great and inexpensive upgrade for you and your cat.

Climate and Temperature

When it comes to temperature, the same rules that apply to cars also apply to sailboats. Never let your boat get too hot with your cat inside. Make sure the vessel is well ventilated, heated, and air-conditioned if possible. Sailboat cabins can get extremely hot quite fast. Remember, if you’re sweating, your cat could be overheating much worse.

Cats on Sailboats: Sanitation

Nobody likes to think about sanitation, but it’ll be the only thing on your mind if your boat isn’t cat-friendly. Small spaces can be soiled rapidly, especially with an animal onboard. However, you don’t have to resign yourself to a dirty space when you have a liveaboard cat.

Litter and Litter Boxes

Choosing the right litter and litter box is essential to maintaining a clean and disease-free sailboat cabin for you and your cat. Cat waste is noxious and must be contained effectively.

Don’t skimp on litter quality! Deodorants in cheap litter only mask the smell for a short time (if at all), so it’s best to find a product with odor-killing abilities. The best way to do that is to purchase high-quality anti-odor cat litter (the pricey stuff) and a partially-enclosed litter box.  

Food and Water

Food and water are pretty self-explanatory aboard a sailboat, but it requires spatial consideration. You can still feed your high-quality cat food as long as there’s enough room aboard to store sufficient supplies. Additionally, you’ll need an anti-spill water bowl to prevent your floating home from rolling and spilling water everywhere.

Hair Control

Most cats shed, and cat hair isn’t the best addition to your upholstery. Thankfully, cat hair and other allergens can be controlled effectively with proper ventilation and cleaning tools. A simple dustbuster is sufficient for cleaning furniture and scooping up stray chunks of litter.


Keep that air moving! Cats need fresh air, and so do humans who live in confined spaces with cats. It’s easy to ensure your sailboat has adequate ventilation. Simply install a few solar-powered deck vents and crack a porthole. Additional passive ventilation (like a wind scoop) can be a lifesaver on hot and stagnant days.

Waste Disposal

You’ll probably have to clean the litter box about twice as often when living aboard a sailboat. The most important thing to remember is to get the waste off the boat as soon as possible.

Avoid flushing it down the toilet, as litter can expand and ruin pipes and septic tanks. Instead, bag it and take it to the marina dumpster. If you perform this task once every day or two, you’ll be in great shape.

Cat Toys for Liveaboard Sailboats

Keeping your cat entertained is pretty simple on a sailboat. Most liveaboard cat owners have a wide array of typical small cat toys. You could let your cat scratch up the furniture freely, though it’s better to find a place to add (or build) a scratching post.

Some sailors turn the bottom of a wooden bulkhead into a scratching post by stapling a sheet of thick cat carpet around the base. Other possible scratching post locations include the base of the mast, the centerboard trunk (if you have one), and the base of a table.

Cats On Liveaboard Sailboats - A Complete Guide
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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