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Sailing with sea dogs

Taking your dogs on the boat might just seem too complicated – but with a bit of common sense and a lot of forward planning, cruising with canines can be a win-win.

For many pet owners, their furry friends are part of the family. And for many Heesen yacht owners, their vessel is a home away from home. So it seems a natural fit to include their dogs in their nautical adventures, as the owners of Heesens, including Amare II, Ocean Z and Lady Petra, have done.

But pets come with questions: how do you keep them safe, plan an itinerary that allows for plenty of walks ashore, and keep the interiors spotless? And how can the design of a yacht take such things into account ahead of time to make the yacht perfect for a pet? To get these answers and more, we turned to the expertise of Captain Nick Powell of 50-metre Heesen Amare II, which counts two dogs among its guest list: Jesse, an 11-year-old cocker spaniel, and Vidar, a three-year-old Swiss shepherd.

The dogs are welcomed aboard by crew who have their toys out to make them feel at home, and they have beds in the primary cabin as well as the owners’ son’s room.

“They are completely different dogs with different needs,” says Captain Powell. There is a patch of Astroturf on board, but the spaniel prefers to relieve himself only ashore, which means Jesse joins the yacht for shorter jaunts in the South of France but not on longer-haul voyages. The bigger dog needs to stretch its legs more often, and he goes ashore at least three times a day for walks. “The owners will take him for a big hike to let him run,” he says. So frequent stops ashore need to be factored into the yacht’s itinerary. Powell says that when cruising in more remote parts of the Mediterranean, he will use Google maps to find places. “Google maps shows us little jetties we wouldn’t see on the charts,” he explains. During inclement weather or long voyages, when going to shore isn’t an option, the owners will walk Vidar on the foredeck. Captain Powell says he’s never known the dogs to get physically ill from seasickness in rough weather, but they might get a little quieter and hunker down.

Keeping dogs safe is of prime importance. Amare II has mesh nets to keep the dogs off the swimming platform (and to keep them on it, so they can be showered off after a swim). Smaller dogs that could fall through a cut-out in the bulwarks would need more elaborate precautions, including lifejackets and personal EPIRBS, says Powell. But even on Amare II, dogs wear lifejackets in rough weather and in the tender. The tender has also been augmented with a grippy custom cushion at the bow that allows them to safely jump into the boat. It also protects the tender from scratches.

The dogs like to splash in the water with their people, and Heesen’s SeaScape bathing platforms can be a huge help. “We lower it so Vidar can swim onto it and then lift him out that way – big dogs when they go in the water can become heavy and hard to get out.”

Another element to plan for at the design stage might be hard-wearing materials on the furniture and easy-to-clean carpets. Provisioning must also be taken into account. “We have a designated freezer where their food is stored. We buy a month’s supply and defrost it the night before they need it,” says Powell. He advises the captain to keep paperwork and certificates handy for all pets on board in case Customs ask to see them. “In Europe, pet passports are pretty straightforward, but further afield, there will need to be an all-clear from a vet 36 hours before going ashore,” he says. For dogs registered as support animals, such restrictions don’t apply.

One of the best parts of having a pet on board, says captain Powell, is how they boost crew morale. “The crew like having dogs on board – it’s good for their mental health, and their routines help to give a focus to the day,” he says. “It’s not as much of a hassle as it might appear.” Of course, when it comes to hiring crew, a captain needs to make sure applicants don’t have any pet allergies.

While pets on board bring their own challenges, with proper planning it can be a simple task to keep them happy. And the joy of having a four-legged shipmate (or two) along is certainly worth any extra effort.

Words by Risa Merl

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