Soundgrrl- we cruised for a year full-time with our black lab... here are our experiences and recommendations: First, we found it unrealistic for the dog to wear a lifejacket all the time on deck
. Too bulky, too hot (Mexico), and uncomforable. Anytime underway and on deck
, he wore his harness (Ruffwear) and was tethered in the cockpit
. For trips forward, he was not tethered. He was also trained to not leave the cockpit
without permission... which was really handy when anchoring
. In rough weather
... yes, he had a heavy-duty lifejacket on (again, a ruffwear).
He also knew that any trips ashore required the harness, which was light and ventilated... but would support his whole body weight (it was designed for rescue
dogs). This allowed us to "roll" him back into the dinghy
if needed, and had a connections for a leash when needed. I highly recommend a harness... and use it all the time, when on deck and not wearing a lifejacket. A lifejacket is necessary for dogs
that are not good swimmers or not comfortable in the water
... and are absolutely required in rough weather
. As a side note, our dog also wore a waterproof red strobe light on the top of his lifejacket when it was dark out in rough weather. Plus reflective strips on the lifejacket.
For getting him back aboard... every boat needs to have plan for getting an unconscious or extremely tired/weak person back aboard. It needs to be quick and simple. For us, it's either the spinaker halyard
or running backstays
. The outboard motor lift
will work for a dog, but not a person.
swimming with the dog was always from the dinghy
. We never allowed him to jump off our boat. Getting him back aboard was quite easy. Roll him back into the dinghy via his harness, and he could jump/sort of climb the ladder back aboard from the dinghy (he had lots of practice).
Best of luck.