When I first started dreaming about living aboard a sailboat, one of my largest concerns was how would Ava adjust to the small living space or even really being on a boat all together. While she loves the water and has been around it most of her life, she’d NEVER been aboard a boat. I wanted her to get used to the idea and also to start going over some of the ABSOLUTE rules. Let’s face it, Ava’s a big girl and one of my reoccurring nightmares was that she 1) knock me overboard, 2) that she fall overboard because it’s really hard to get back up on the boat for me. I can’t imagine trying to drag her 115 lbs. body from below. I started by taking her over to the marina with me when I’d go to clean. I always make her sit while I pull the boat closer to the dock. I also almost ALWAYS have her board before me. I’ve found that if she is onboard and steady on her feet I can ask her to move back and she happily jumps down into the cockpit.
The picture below shows her standing on the stern of the boat. This was her first favorite place. The cockpit of the boat isn’t all that large but from standing on the stern she can see me in the cockpit and the cabin. As I’ve mentioned before, Ava likes having me in her line of sight ALWAYS. She tends to get nervous if she can’t see me. On the first day, she was really nervous about how the boat would get near the pier and then float away. She couldn’t seem to understand that this didn’t mean to jump off the boat every time the pier was close enough to reach. Eventually she ignored the bumps of the pier and the rock of the boat. After a few days of learning how to wait till I pulled us to the pier, she really settled down.
Once I thought she was comfortable enough getting on and off, we started to explore the cabin and the bow of the boat. She wasn’t particularly fond of the cabin at first. While there is more room in the cabin than the cockpit, it’s a small narrow space. Well that was until she found she could lay on the cushioned seats! Now whenever I walk into the cabin she happily jumps down the companionway onto the seats.
She very cautiously made her way to the front of the bow yesterday. I don’t think she would try to go up there by herself just yet, but when she saw me climb the and sit at the pulpit she joined me. There is definitely more room there so she was able to walk around and stretch out.
There are definitely some disadvantages to having a large dog on a sailboat, but I think if you take the careful time planning it can be an enjoyable experience. Ava and I are mostly day cruisers, spending time just here locally on the Bay. She is not ready for anything longer than that right now. I would eventually like to be able to spend longer time at sea, but that will involve potty training her for the boat. Another issue for sailors who long distance sail with large dogs is that many marinas don’t allow large dogs. You always want to contact the marina you plan on docking at and checking their policy or you might get a surprise when you arrive. If your dog is too large for you to carry, you might want to work on training them to get into a smaller boat or dinghy. Many marinas will have you anchor out and have a service to pick you up. I’ve been extremely lucky that the marina where I dock is very pet friendly. There are grassy areas for her to “take care of business” before we leave and since we just sail for a few hours, that works for her. I’ve read some tips on potty training your dog for long distance sailing. I’m going to research that a little more and then I’ll let everyone know how it goes. For now Ava is learning to be a sailor and I’m happy to have my sweet girl join me on the water.