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Boating With Cats: A Complete Guide

Written by: Kristin Hitchcock

Last Updated on June 19, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Cat standing on boat jig

Boating With Cats: A Complete Guide

Cats are notoriously scared of water. But many breeds have been sailing on boats for centuries. Originally, cats were essential for boating due to their ratting abilities. Cats were necessary to keep the grain stores on the boat free from rodents.

Today, mousers aren’t strictly necessary, but cats can still make great companions on a boat. Many modern boats still have cats, if only for companionship. However, bringing your cat onto a boat does require a bit of foresight. You can’t simply put your cat on a boat and expect them to be okay. What a shock that would be!

Keep reading for tips on bringing your cat onboard.


Boating With Cats Guide

1. Get a Life Vest

Even if your cat happens to love water, a life vest is essential. It is relatively easy for a cat to fall off a boat, even if cats are stereotypically good at keeping their balance. In most cases, cats will be unable to swim out in the open sea or even when you’re docked.

They may instinctively be able to keep themselves afloat for a short time. But for the most part, they will not be able to stay above water long.

A life vest is essential for their safety. Manufacturers do make many versions for cats, but most pet stores probably aren’t going to carry them. There isn’t exactly a high demand for them, after all. You may need to special-order one online. Be sure to do so far before your trip so you can get your cat used to it. In some cases, you may have to purchase a life vest initially designed for small dogs.

Ensure that the life vest fits properly before you take your cat on the boat. It shouldn’t restrict movement, but it should also not come off easily. Preferably, it should have a strap on the back that you can use as a handhold.

2. Get Swim Practice

Let’s face it: Most cats don’t like to swim. However, that doesn’t mean you can avoid putting your cat in the water altogether, especially if you plan to take them boating.

Your cat must have at least some swim practice before going on a long trip. This should be done in their life vest because they will be wearing that on the boat.

Get your cat around water at least a few times before you leave the shore.

3. Utilize a Ladder or Rope

Cats are great climbers. Many can master ropes and ladders with ease. Purchase a few options that you can hang outside the boat if your feline decides to take a dip (or accidentally falls off).

Most cats prefer rope ladders because their claws can sink into the material better. Some cats can climb steel ladders, though.

You should keep a net onboard as well. Cats can’t grab onto life rings but they can grab onto nets. This device can be lifesaving in certain situations, though you hopefully won’t need it.

4. Acclimate Before the Trip

Once you have a life vest and rope ladders, it’s time to acclimate your cat to the boat. Be sure your boat is equipped with everything that your cat needs, including a litter box and water bowl.

If your cat has never been on a boat before, this can be quite the experience. Most are a bit unsure of boats, especially if they’re rocking around. Leash the cat above deck, so they don’t go spilling into the water. While your cat should always wear their life vest, you don’t want their first experience with a boat to be a scary one.

Let your cat above deck and below deck. Follow their lead, and don’t force them to explore anywhere that they don’t want to.

Most cats can adapt readily to boat life if you give them time. It can take a while in some cases. Remember to always go at the speed of your cat.

5. Seasickness Is an Inevitable Reality

For both people and cats, seasickness may end up being an inevitable part of boating. There are plenty of medications out there for people to help with this, but few are designed for cats.

If your cat regularly gets sick on board, you can ask your vet about motion-sickness medications. These medicines are usually designed for car sickness, but they will work for seasickness as well.

Fresh air can also help. The movement of the boat is more apparent under the deck. So, if your cat is seasick, encourage them to stay above deck.

In some cases, cats may be unable to adapt to life at sea. The seasickness might be too much!

6. Get a Pet Passport

If you’re traveling in international waters, a pet passport is necessary. These often aren’t hard to get, but they may require vaccinations and similar steps.

You should also check the policies at your destination. Different countries have different policies regarding foreign pets — some don’t allow them at all. Checking can prevent your feline from being confiscated once you arrive.

Sometimes, pets are allowed but are not practical. Long quarantine periods may be required, which is hard to do if you’re visiting on a boat for a few days.

Researching laws thoroughly before you go is a vital step to traveling with a cat.

7.  Visit the Vet

Even if your cat doesn’t need any extra vaccinations, you should take them to the vet before leaving. When you’re out at sea, there is little that you can do for a sick cat.

Cats are good at hiding their illnesses. They evolved to hide all potential symptoms so they wouldn’t be the targets of other predators. Appearing weak in the wild can be dangerous. Our felines don’t need to do this anymore. But it’s still in their genes to act healthy, even when they aren’t.

Therefore, a trip to the vet is vital to ensure that your cat is healthy before you set off. Even if your cat displays no symptoms, you never know what underlying condition they could be hiding.

You’ll likely also need your vet to sign off on your pet passport and other necessary documentation, anyway.

8. Take a Few Daytrips

We highly recommend taking your cat on a few day trips before you go on an overnight voyage. Your cat may be fine on a short visit, but being on a boat all day is an entirely different story.

If your cat is healthy and has adjusted to spending short amounts of time on the boat, it’s time for a few day trips. Where you go isn’t particularly important. You want your cat to be on the boat while it is moving for a few hours. Some cats may not act differently at all. Others may be scared once the boat starts moving.

As with acclimating your cat to the boat itself, you should go slowly when it comes to day trips as well. If your cat seems perfectly content, you can likely stay out all day during your first trip. But many cats may be stressed during their first day trip.

In this case, cut it short and build up from there.

Once cats have been onboard the boat for some time, overnight trips are often nothing. Your feline needs to get comfortable with the way that the boat moves and how life on the boat is different before you set out, though.

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Your cat may be the last family member that you would consider bringing on your boat. But cats were historically prevalent on boats. While they may not like water, their nimbleness makes them a good pet for the rocky nature of a boat.

However, an acclimation period will be necessary. You shouldn’t expect your cat to adapt to a boat instantly. No cat likes to be unsteady and surrounded by water.

Like all animals, cats can also be prone to seasickness. You may need a motion sickness medication to keep them from becoming ill.

Don’t forget to research your destination as well. If you’re traveling in international waters, you will need a pet passport. Some countries have strict regulations regarding visiting pets. This step can be easy to forget, but it is essential.

Featured Image Credit: Nikiforov Alexander, Shutterstock

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