Buying A Boat For The Dog?

I know everyone is waiting to hear that we’ve bought a boat. But it’s complicated.

And one of the biggest complications weighs 50 pounds and is covered in fur.

Honey the golden retriever at Cambridge lighthouse.

Maybe I could live in this nice lighthouse. It looks plenty roomy. And I’d get rid of that “No Dogs Allowed” sign right quick.

 Humans vs The Dog

Wouldn’t you know that the boat model we like the most has the worst access for our dog Honey?

For us, we like boats that are:

  • compact
  • easy-to-handle
  • heavy
  • well-built
  • in good repair

For Honey, we like boats that are roomy (especially in the cockpit). And we’d like it to be easy for her to move from the cabin below to the cockpit and from the boat to a dinghy.

Do I even have to tell you that my favorite boat is excellent for us but a disaster for Honey?

Step Up Honey

One of the most awkward things about having a large dog aboard a sailboat is access to the cockpit.

Let me show you two different boats on our list.

This is a Pacific Seacraft. It’s heavy and safe and it sails beautifully. It’s one of the better built production sailboats.

Pacific Seacraft 34 looking aft.

Looking aft at the companionway ladder in a Pacific Seacraft 34.

Not only does it have a ladder to go above, but the offset galley (that’s a kitchen in a boat) makes it hard for us to use a ramp to help Honey access the cockpit.

Now check out the Caliber 33.

The model we looked at had some issues. And there aren’t many available for sale.

But take a look at those companionway stairs.

Companionway stairs in a Caliber 33 sailboat.

One, two, three and Honey’s in the cockpit.

Yep, it didn’t feel like the best boat for us. But for Honey? Ooh la la!

People Who Sail With Dogs

I know of other sailors who have cruised with golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Weimeraners, and Rhodesian ridgebacks.

But most sailors choose small dogs. Dogs that can be lifted into the cockpit and dinghy.

We’ve always known this would be an issue. But faced with a limited number of boats in our price range, it makes shopping really difficult.

What Would You Do For A Dog

Mike and I are talking about modifications we can make to boats to help Honey get around.

But we also recognize that, unlike in a house, Honey won’t need to follow us everywhere to keep us in sight.

One of the joys of living aboard a boat is always being outside. Who wants to be in a stuffy cabin if they don’t have to?

So perhaps Honey lives in the cockpit all day and only comes below to sleep or in bad weather. And maybe the Pacific Seacraft, with its wide decks isn’t such a bad choice for Honey after all.

Or maybe we’ll just have to buy a boat for the dog.

Your Turn: How much do you consider your pets when buying a car, a house, or even a boat? Any advice?

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  1. Wow that’s a tough one. I think, whatever you get, Honey will adapt. And you are so good at figuring out modifications. It looks like a long way down though. The only thought that came to my mind was a zip line. lol.

  2. Can your husband easily lift Honey? If she’s only going in and out of the companionway once or twice a day, just give her a boost in either direction. As folks relatively to the sailing life, you want to have a boat you feel completely comfortable and safe with.

    • Oops! That was supposed to say….as folks relatively new to the sailing life…..

    • I’m definitely in your camp, Taryn. We really want a boat that will be safe and forgiving as we build our skills.

      Honey only weighs 50 pounds so either of us can lift her and I suspect that’s what we’ll end up doing. But if we can do some clever modification that will give her some independence, we’ll try that too.

  3. Haha, I totally get it! We bought our Jeep exclusively for the pups!! We had a 2 seater Mustang before with a tiny back seat area which worked for the pups until they were about 4 months old 😉

  4. Goodness, that’s a tough one. We have certainly made modifications to suit the dogs, like in the new big ass truck. I’m sure you will find something perfect. Have you thought about an RV?

    • Do you know much we’d have to modify an RV to make ME comfortable? :)

      Of course, we could put a big old sail on the top and see where it takes us.

  5. We just traded in our SUV for a smaller wagon so Jack & Maggie would have an easier time getting in and out…It’s still kind of high for them, but we use a little step ladder thing. I know you don’t have a lot of space, but some of those steps they make for dogs fold up…maybe that would work?

    • I was thinking folding steps might work. And I’m anxious to see if our Solvit ramp will reach from the cockpit to the settees on the starboard side.

      It’s interesting to hear from someone who got a smaller car to accommodate their dogs. Many people buy SUVs for their dogs. But you’re right. That’s quite a high jump for an aging dog. A roomy station wagon or hybrid car can be a great solution.

  6. I think for the first few weeks Honey is going to be following you everywhere. As you all adjust to life at sea, she may not need your constant companionship, but we are talking about Honey. I wonder if you couldn’t build some steps similar to the ones in the Caliber 33. I’m thinking that you could make them so that they can be either locked into position or slide them out of the way when you are in the galley.

    • I’m lucky that my husband is quite the carpenter. So I’m thinking it’s only a matter of time before he comes up with someone smashing. And, like your suggestion, moves out of the way when needed.

      And yes, Honey will be pretty clingy after all the moving we’ve put her through lately.

  7. My townhouse is pretty perfectly set up for The Ginger Sisters with modifications that went in for the previous dogs (like no-slip treads on the wooden stairs) and new ones for them (dog gate between the living room and kitchen, window film on the big front window). The plan is to stay there for the long term, but if I ever did move, there would be a lot of considerations in light of Ruby’s reactivity. Noisy neighborhood, fencing, windows, etc. This boat shopping really does present with a very unique set of challenges, but I have no doubt humans and Honey will be happy aboard whatever you decide on!

    • I know how lucky I am that we raised Honey from a puppy. We were able to do many things in socializing and training her that make her more adaptable than my previous dogs.

      But you’re right. We’ve always modified our home for our dogs similar to the things you’ve done for Ruby. It’s just what you do when you live with someone you love.

  8. Margaret T. says:

    I know you know this, but priority #1 is safety for all.
    Can you take Honey to a playground and see if you can get her to go up a ladder for a kid’s slide? And down–could she be preceded by someone who could hold her and give her a lift down?

    • We do regular visits to the playground to work with Honey. She’s done well with many different surfaces. But she doesn’t have the hind leg awareness that works for climbing a ladder. But we’ll continue to work on it.

      I did recently slide down a sliding bard with Honey on my lap and she didn’t mind a bit.

      Now you’ve gotten me thinking, Margaret. Maybe we need to stop thinking about steps and ramps and start thinking about sliding boards. :)

  9. Pamela, I’m having a parallel issue with an RV! Get an easy-to-maneuver rig or a monster on the road but big enough for both dogs to lay down at the same time?

    I do know this: I once compromised the dogs’ comfort more than mine (with a small RV) and regretted it. If they aren’t comfortable then I’m not and suddenly the RV was no fun at all so I let it go.

    I do hope you find that boat you all can love, even with compromises and customizations. I know it’s hard work looking for it, hang in there!

    • Yes, I know you understand all the trade-offs that come with finding just the right moving home.

      In the end, it’s not always a logical decision and more a leap of faith.

  10. Martine says:

    You’re faced with a tough call. Personally, I’d be leaning to meeting human needs first. An adaptation would be found for Honey, I’m certain. I’m sure you’ve seen videos of dogs climbing ladders. Then again, a wooden ramp could be made that would have a cut-out for the bit of galley that protrudes into its path.

    • I will continue to work on Honey’s agility skills. But I would be terribly surprised to see her take to a ladder.

      On the other hand, when we chartered a sailboat out of Kingston, Ontario she surprised us once by leaping out of Mike’s arms and scrambling up the companionway ladder. So maybe I’m not giving her enough credit.

      I’ll definitely have pictures once we get it all figured out.

  11. You have some interesting decisions ahead with selecting a boat. I definitely would give a lot of thought to Honey’s comfort and what kind of modifications are possible. How much time will you spend docked vs. on the open waters?

    • As we start out, we’ll probably visit marinas more because we don’t really know what we’re doing yet. But our goal is to anchor out as much as possible.

      It’s much cheaper (usually free) and lends to a much prettier view than some old pump out station. :)

  12. We are always a big consideration. When we were looking for our current house, mom had to have a fenced yard, and was hoping for some trees for squirrels for us. A car is always an SUV for us, we always factor in big to those decisions.

    • I imagine it gets really complicated in a multi pet family. For example, I’m sure you and Bailie are fine jumping up in a big SUV. But if I remember right, doesn’t your mom have a ramp for Katie?

      • No ramp. She doesn’t know where she would put it and the hassle of it. She just lift us all in and out. Good for the arm and leg muscles. She’s been carrying Katie more and more up and down stairs and stuff, so she is getting a good workout.

  13. Carol G. says:

    If you do decide to add steps I would recommend you cover them with indoor-outdoor carpet or something similar to improve purchase for Honey’s paws

    • Very good point, Carol.

      We were already thinking of using indoor-outdoor carpet to protect the cabin sole (floor) from scratchy toenails. And I know such a surface will make her feel more confident, especially on steps.

  14. My car purchase was all about them this time. All the features that were of interest to me had something to do with them. It’s like what my mom used to say: “if the kids are content, you’ll like it even more!”

    • On the other hand, some people say “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.” :)

      Of course I’m writing to a Mama whose dogs make her happiest so there’s that…

  15. Would a pulley type thing and a sling for Honey be out of the question? Obviously not ideal but personally I’d go for the boat you feel most comfortable with and that sails the best. I’m sure you and Mike will come up with a suitable modification so Honey can go where you are easily.

    • I’ve heard of people who used a pulley system to lower their large dogs into their dinghy. Honey would probably endure it. But I doubt she’d be happy.

      Mike’s a pretty creative guy. And he knows all Honey’s fans will be breathlessly waiting to see Honey happy and comfy on a boat.

      Nothing like a little pressure…

  16. When we first got Callie, and then Shadow, I had my dream car — the Chevy Blazer — and it was perfect for the four of us. The back seat was wide and long enough to comfortably accommodate both girls, even on trips. When it was time to trade it in, I went with the Impala because the back seat’s dimensions were almost identical to those of the Blazer’s back seat. I had no intention of adopting a third dog, so didn’t even consider another SUV. If I could afford it, I’d trade the Impala for an Equinox now but it’s just not an option right now. Wish I had some good advice for you.

  17. Is there any way to take either boat for a test drive, say use it for a week to see how it goes?Honey may surprise you and be able to maneuver in the one you prefer?
    I also took a tape measure to the car dealer, to make sure my dog’s crate would fit in the back, the salesman didn’t know what to say, but he played along (for the sale I’m sure).