The Most Surprising Ways To Keep Your Dog Cool On The Boat

It’s hot. The temperature and humidity combined make it feel like 107 degrees F. But if we’re hot, how much worse is it for Honey with a double fur coat? Without air conditioning or even ice, I’ve had to adopt some surprising ways to keep my dog cool on the boat.

Maybe they’ll keep your dog cool too.

Honey Asks How to Keep Your Dog Cool

This heat is making me crabby.

Keep Your Dog Cool In The Shade

On a hot and humid day, the last thing anyone wants to do is leave the house in the heat of the day. Better off staying inside in the air conditioning or in front of a fan to keep your dog cool. And when you live in a house, that’s a great thing to do.

But our boat is uninsulated. The hull is dark green. And the sun is beating down hard because there aren’t many trees in the water. So we make our own shade.

  • Cover the Deck

I marvel when I see boats at anchor on hot days without deck covers. The boat just bakes in the sun and the heat builds up below.

Our deck covers need some repairs. The shock cords we use to attach them to our lifelines are worn out. So we didn’t put them up the first two days when we landed for a short stay in Washington, North Carolina.

Big mistake!

We cobbled together some lines and got the deck covers up our third day on the dock. As a result, instead of inside temperatures in the high 90s, the boat only got as hot as 88 degrees. Yeah, still hot. But tolerable.

Honey agreed. She settled down considerably after we shaded the boat.

Meander under cover at the Washington Waterfront Dock.

Before the sun goes down, only our deck covers keep us from baking at the dock.

  • Block the Sun

Underway, the sun position is constantly changing. Besides the normal celestial movement of the sun across the sky (Yeah, I know it’s the earth that’s moving, not the sun. I’m just trying to make a point.), every time we turn the boat, the shadows shift. As a result, a hot day underway has us moving from side to side to share the tiniest spot of shade.

Honey the boat dog finds the shade with Mike on the helm.

I don’t know what I love more– cuddling or shade.

But we also help the situation. As long as the sun is low in the sky, we keep the spray dodger (the “windshield” over our companionway) up to block it. Once the sun is high overhead and blocked by the bimini (the canvas covering over the cockpit), we push the dodger back to give us more breeze.

When we land for the night, we track the sun’s position. And use sheets or an umbrella to block the harsh sun in the western sky.

Yes, it takes a lot of work. But it’s better than melting into a puddle of sweat—covered in dog fur.

  • Get Off the Boat

Sometimes, no matter what we do, it’s cooler sitting under a tree somewhere. So we pack up our lawn chairs and water, food, and toys for Honey and dinghy to a park.

Cruising is difficult. But it shouldn’t always be an endurance sport. Are you hot? Is your dog hot? Get off the damn boat.

Honey the golden retriever wades at Quiet Waters park.

It’s cooler here than on the boat. I guess it’s worth it even if I have to get my fur wet.

Keep Your Dog Cool With Mist

Honey doesn’t care to swim. And some of our favorite anchorages are in waters with fast-running currents. So even I who love swimming won’t tempt fate by jumping overboard when there’s no way of knowing I could swim back against the current.

But we still use water to keep us cool.

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I have a small spray bottle of water nearby. When it gets really hot, I spray Honey’s paws and belly to give her relief.

We don’t have unlimited water on board. But I imagine a damp towel could also be a comfortable bed if you have enough water to keep refreshing it as your dog’s body heat warms it up. And of course you can invest in high-tech cooling pads or evaporative cooling vests. (Anyone tried one? Please share in the comments.)

We bought a cooling mat for Honey. But she just didn’t like lying on it. So we resort to more old-fashioned ways of keeping her cool. Including one most people never think of.

Keep Your Dog Cool By Grooming

Many people think the best way to cool your dog is by shaving them. A trim may be part of the cooling regimen for dogs with some coats, like those that are curly or wiry. I don’t have any experience with dogs who have anything but double coats. But maybe someone will educate me in the comments.

But you don’t want to shave your double-coated dog. The interior fur helps to keep them cool as well as warm. It’s like insulation.

Honey the golden retriever gets groomed.

I’m feeling cooler already.

If you insulate your house, it will keep your house warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. When you shave a dog, you’re taking away the insulation.

But that doesn’t mean that grooming can’t help keep your dog cool. You know all that fur your dog is blowing out? Help it along by using your favorite deshedding tools.

We’ve had great luck with the Furminator removing shedding dead hair. And Honey loves the way it feels. We follow-up with a slicker brush to work on her tail and behind her ears.

Once she’s groomed, Honey is more comfortable. And we can finally taste a bite of food without getting a mouth full of fur.

Helpful tip: Don’t groom your dog when you’re motoring. The “station wagon effect” will simply sweep the loose fur right into your open cabin. It’s a job best done on shore with a breeze blowing away from anyone who doesn’t want to be covered in dog fur.

We're cooler than the motor boat.

Sure, they’re going faster. And they probably have air conditioning. But we’re under sail. We won’t have to pay $2000 for diesel at the next fill up. And we wouldn’t be choked to death by dog hair if we tried to groom Honey in the cockpit.

Keep Your Dog Cool By Watching

There are some cool gadgets to keep your pets safe in the heat. But if the living on the sailboat didn’t clue you in, I’ll just tell you we’re pretty low-tech. Heck, I don’t even have a smartphone to track the temperature of the boat if we had a device to help us do it.

So we keep Honey cool by watching her.

As I write this, we’re anchored in the Pantego Creek in Belhaven, North Carolina. My husband Mike took the dinghy to town and is working in the library while I work on the boat with Honey. I can keep an eye on her and make sure she’s comfortable. I can refresh her water when needed. If it seems to be cooler in the cockpit than in the cabin, I take her up there.

Once the temperature goes up, we make sure that Honey is always with us. Either we all go ashore together or one of us stays on board with her.

With her own personal servant on board to cater to her every need, Honey is more likely to stay cool no matter what.

Keeping the dog cool on the boat with shade.

The shade is nice. But I’d also like a snack.

How Do You Keep Your Dog Cool?

Whether you’re keeping your dog cool on the boat or in the car, what’s your favorite way to keep your dog comfortable when you can’t rely on air conditioning?

It’s a constant question for us on the boat. But many people who don’t live on boats have to cope with heat while going for walks, running errands, or waiting their turn when competing in dog sports.

So share your favorite way of staying cool in hot weather in the comments. But don’t do it for me. If you have a great way to keep a dog cool, share it for Honey.

  1. Never really thought about being hot on the boat. Whenever we have been on a boat, it is cruising along creating wind and spray. Living on one in the heat would be tough.

  2. I can’t even imagine. I’m not a fan of high heat, and the high humidity would totally kill me. Torrey has a double coat, and I use an under coat rake to get that stuff out. I also trim her just a little. I do it myself because I don’t trust anyone else to not ruin her coat. Mostly, I get the longer hair so she doesn’t get full of “stuff” when we are out and about.

  3. We like to take day trips in the car. With a 100# Golden, Bo, and a 75# Lab, Maggie, we have a lot of panting on a hot day. We take a cooler of ice, big thermos of cold water, 2 dog dishes, some dog food, dog treats, and a pocketful of money to stop at Qt. we will go to lakes, have picnics, let the dogs wade, and find a shady spot to relax. On really hot days, we stop for yogurt or sherbet and share with the dogs. They love it. They have waded in trout streams, that is really cold water, mountain streams, even colder, and little creeks. Their needs come first, so we always look for ways to keep them cool.

  4. Interesting topic and, like Emma said, one I hadn’t thought of before! I don’t do well in high heat & humidity, so I’ll admit I’m glad I don’t live on your boat right now 🙂 I’ve purchased cooling mats at a pet store once when the AC in my Jeep gave out and the pups & I were on our way home on the last leg of a road trip. That in combination with cool towels on their bellies helped us make it (I had a cooler filled with ice for their raw food in the Jeep).

  5. We feel your pain. It’s supposed to be over 100 today so we plan to stay indoors in a well insulated house with an evaporative cooler (since our humidity usually hovers in the single digits or low teens we NEED the moisture). You get a ⭐️ star for enduring both and staying reasonably comfortable. Stay cool, guys.

  6. All great tips, Pamela! I absolutely agree with you about the double coat – the undercoat IS the insulation from both heat and cold. (And I cringe openly when I see a shaved Golden Retriever or other double-coated dog!) IMHO, the ONLY time a double-coated dog should be shaved is for medical reasons. Anyway, funny how Honey doesn’t like laying on the cooling pad – when I had one for Callie and Shadow that Spring just before we adopted Ducky, neither one of them would stay on it. They both got up and moved to either the kitchen or bathroom floor and that was the end of it. I was going to donate it to the shelter; but when my best girlfriend came for a visit that Memorial Day weekend, she brought it home with her for her cats. Since our outside water bowl got rusty, I’ve been really careful about the girls spending too much time outside at one time, or I take one of the extra indoor water bowls with us and keep it in the shade. Silly Ducky would stay outside all day long if we let her.

  7. Our former dog, Pip, had heart disease late in life. His final summer with us we wanted to take him on our annual vacation to northern Wisconsin. The vet warned of him overheating and the need to keep him cool. He loved the water and we didn’t want him to miss out on boat rides on the lakes so we invested in a cooling vest. It worked very well for him – though he was a small dog and it was easy to keep the vest wet and him cool. The vest always a little big on him which also helped. Not sure how it would work for a larger dog (with more area to keep cool), but it allowed Pip to enjoy a final trip to the place he loved most.