What’s the biggest complaint from cruisers with dogs? It’s that it’s impossible to keep dog hair and sand off your boat.
But if you can’t keep your vessel spotless with pups (or humans) living on it, at least you can keep from drowning in a tsunami of dog hair and sand. Here are a few tips.
Challenge Of Keeping Dog Hair and Sand Off Your Boat
Humans can do a lot to keep from tracking dirt onto their boats. The best way is to take off your shoes when you board.
But dogs present some challenges. They
- carry dirt and oils on their coats that can stain surfaces
- trap sand and other dirt in their paws and coats.
And let’s not forget their love of rolling in stinky, dead things on the beach.
In a dirt house, it’s not a big deal. You have unlimited supplies and electricity to clean up after them.
Or can at least move to another room until you finally tire of the mess.
But if your home is only 40 feet long and 12 feet wide (or less, in our case) the smells, dog hair, and sand can be a real bummer.
So how do you keep your dog from messing up your boat?
Keep Dirt Off The Boat From The Start
If you keep dirt from coming onto the boat to begin with, you’ll be much happier. But the process begins before you even take your dog off the boat.
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Regular grooming will decrease your dog’s shedding. But it will also keep them from bringing more dirt onboard.
If your dog has an undercoat, a de-shedding tool like a Furminator (Amazon) will remove a lot of fur that would normally end up rolling like tumbleweeds across your sole. Any dog will benefit from a soft brushing (Amazon). (Pro tip: Brush your dog OFF the boat.)
But besides the dirt that comes from shedding, your dog’s coat may also be a carrier for sand and other debris.
Until I adopted a golden retriever, I had no idea that the fur between her pads grew and trapped dirt. It just isn’t a thing for all dogs.
If your dog has furry pads, trimming that fur will keep them from slipping and sliding. But a well-groomed paw also provides one less place for sand and dirt to hitch a ride onto your boat.
Finally, bathing your dog regularly will keep those dirty spots from turning up on your upholstery or places your dog brushes against when they’re moving around the boat.
Starting with these tasks will go a long way to keeping your boat clean. Next step? Actions you need to take while your dog is off the boat.
Off the boat
We pack a small dinghy bag for Honey when we leave the boat. Besides her folding Collaps-a-bowl (Kurgo) and a bottle of water, we include items that ultimately keep the boat clean—like her grooming tools.
Another handy thing we add to our dinghy bag is a way to wipe down her coat after she inevitably rolls in something stinky. Prepackaged alcohol wipes (Amazon) are easy to keep on hand. But a washcloth and a bottle of Isopropyl alcohol cut in half by water will do the same job with less waste.
I also keep dry dog shampoo (Amazon) on the boat to deal with any residual stink after wiping down Honey’s coat.
Before you return to the dinghy, look (and feel) for sticks and twigs your dog may be carrying on her coat. We find all kinds of stuff sticking to Honey’s floofie tail and legs. Sandburs are a particular issue in the American south.
And don’t forget the leash. If you forget to rinse it off (even in saltwater) it will drop sand grains all over the boat as it dries. I recently read about Biothane leashes which are even easier to rinse off. It will be the next kind I buy.
Once you’ve done all these things, you’re ready to return to the boat. And a few more steps will keep even more dirt from following your dog onboard.
Returning to the boat
Once your dinghy floor is filled with sand, it’s hard to keep it from ending up on your boat. But one can always try, right?
My dog isn’t small enough to do this with, but I hear that some cruisers rinse all four of a tiny dog’s paws in the water before lifting them out of the dinghy.
Please don’t try this in alligator country.
For larger dogs, rinsing their feet with a spray bottle or Aquabot pressurized sprayer (Amazon) will help. You can even buy fancy foot-washing cups (Amazon) with soft “teeth” to scrape mud and other dirt off your pup’s paws.
By the time they enter your cockpit, your dog’s paws should be fairly clean.
But don’t forget to do a quick brush off of other parts of their body. We find that Honey stores enough sand in her tail to create a new beach.
And don’t forget to clean the sand out of the bottom of your dinghy. A wet sponge does a pretty good job.
Once you’ve done everything you can to keep dirt off your boat, a few more things will help to keep your boat clean.
Protect The Boat From Dog Hair And Sand
Once you’ve done everything you can to keep dog hair, sand, and other dirt off the boat, you can still make efforts to keep the boat clean longer. Or at least easier to clean.
Protect settee cushions with washable slipcovers or throw blankets. It’s much easier to toss covers into the marina washing machine than to clean your boat upholstery.
Or is it just time to replace your existing upholstery with someone that holds up better to dog hair and grime?
When it’s time to recover your cushions, you’ll find a wide range of modern, synthetic fabrics that hold up well to pets and resist water and mildew. Check out Sailrite’s article on the best fabrics for homes with pets for a few ideas.
Finally, think carefully about what you put on your boat floor.
Although it’s easier to sweep up a hard surface like a teak and holly sole, I’ve covered my boat floor with carpet.
Yes, carpet requires vacuuming and looks worse when it gets dirty.
On the other hand, it’s much easier to vacuum than to varnish. And dog nails do a job on a shiny finish. So I’ll stick with a rug on the floor.
It’s a tradeoff I’m willing to make to keep the boat in better condition. Even if it means the boat might look a little less tidy.
Clean Up The Boat
As with anything on a boat, it’s worth investing in good tools. And that’s never more true than when you’re cleaning.
We rely on a mini Shop-Vac (Amazon) to clean up dog hair. It’s not sexy. But it does the job. And it also works for cleaning up wet messes.
But if you have the budget for it, people rave about the Dyson Rechargeable Vacuum (Amazon).
If you have a hard floor, a simple wet/dry mop (Amazon) is cheap and easy. It doesn’t take long to run it over your floor to pick up dog hair. But if you have sand in the boat, pushing it around will just scratch up your floor.
Most cruisers want their dogs to pee somewhere on their boat. (And figuring how to get them to do it when they’re reluctant takes some work.) But if your dog eliminates where you don’t want them to, you’ll need a good enzymatic cleaner to remove every last bit of the scent so your dog isn’t drawn to the spot again.
In several years of fostering puppies for my local shelter, I kept a large supply of Nature’s Miracle (Amazon) on hand. Only an enzymatic cleaner will eliminate the odor well enough that even a dog won’t smell it.
If you keep your pup from shedding and bringing dirt onto your boat and clean up every day, you’ll keep your dogs from messing up your boat too much. But I’d like to suggest one more adjustment to keep you from going nuts from all the dirt your dog brings to your boat.
Lower Your Expectations
Did you move onto your boat with dreams of mopping, vacuuming, and dusting? Is there nothing you love more than cleaning?
Then having your dog onboard will give you hours of amusement.
But if you cruise because you want to enjoy nature, see new places, and spend time outdoors, then maybe the best you can do is to not expect to keep your boat spotless all the time.
Sure, dogs are fuzzy little dirt magnets. But they’re also loads of fun. And a great excuse to meet others and explore onshore.
So let the dog hair pile up. And don’t complain about the sand in your berth. (Pro tip: think of it as an easy way to exfoliate dry skin while you’re sleeping.)
I guarantee you no one ever went to their grave wishing they hadn’t wasted so many hours watching dolphins when they could have been cleaning instead.
Your Turn: Do you have any favorite tricks for keeping your boat free from dog hair and sand? Please share in the comments.
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