Protecting Our Most Precious

Published in the July 2019 Issue June 2021 Multimedia Janet Groene

“As a charter boat captain, I welcome dogs on boats,” says Bill Donovan at Williamsburg Sailing Charters in Virginia. “I have found they need a carpet to sit on, especially when the boat starts heeling. Otherwise they get skittish and claw at the fiberglass.” 

When your liveaboard family includes children and/or pets, you’re hit with a new tidal wave of responsibilities. Boats move. They can be tipsy, stop abruptly, rock, burp fumes and make loud noises. You’re afloat in water that can be friend or foe. Weather can be scary. How can we protect kids, cats and dogs from the unique hazards of living on the water?

1. Be prepared for “man overboard” situations. Many cat owners keep a long strip of thick carpeting on board to hang over the side. A cat can use its claws to climb back on board. At places where fishing equipment is sold, find a large choice of landing nets for scooping a small pet out of the water. Large dogs need a boarding ramp.

Also be aware of tidal flow and current. Even when you’re docked or anchored, current can quickly sweep the child or pet away from the boat.

2. Decks can be slippery when dewy. The wetter they are, the slicker they become. The marine marketplace offers a wide variety of colored and textured deck coatings and coverings that not only slow the slide, they can add a decorator touch.

In addition to decks, anti-slip strips can be added to ladders, stairs, boarding ramps and interior floorings. Some polymer cleaners and protectants leave vinyl seats slippery as ice so be sure to secure child safety seats while underway.

3. Cargo netting is available in many sizes and shapes. It can keep objects from falling down and can also catch kids or pets who might otherwise slip through the rails. Be sure to secure netting around your decks and don’t forget the rails around high areas such as the flybridge. A fall to the deck below could be worse than landing in the water.

Companies such as and offer custom netting made to order according to your choice of twine size, mesh size, mesh thickness, strength and pattern (e.g. diamond versus squares). There’s also a choice of borders depending on how you plan to mount the netting.

For deck use look for water-resistant, quick-drying and UV-resistant netting. Indoors you may want a softer material for bunks, play areas and kennels. A word of caution: don’t forget a cover for your hot tub.

4. Are there areas or rooms in the houseboat, such as a workshop or playroom, where you could add a Dutch door to keep little feet in or out of a room while letting light and air in?

5. Keep fishing tackle well away from curious kids and pets so you can avoid fish hook tragedies.

6. It’s a well-worn warning but worth repeating: sun is reflected on the water, which gives sunburns a second chance. Be doubly faithful with sunscreen.

7. Keep dogs and cats in a harness with a handle – lifting them by the collar can injure them. For a large dog consider a retrieval system using a davit. Also make sure life vests fit properly. Infants and toddlers have narrow shoulders in relation to their head size. They can slip out of a PFD that is too loose and be sure to replace PFDs as kids or pets grow.

8. Periodically practice a family fire drill for various scenarios such as at the dock, at anchor, a fire underway or getting away quickly if a neighboring boat is on fire. Know all means of exiting the houseboat including hatches and exits that are only for emergency use.

9. Sniffers, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors are essential. If children are napping down below while the boat is underway, they could be harmed by exhaust fumes drawn into the boat. The “station wagon effect” video is worth searching for if you haven’t seen it. 

10. While cruising you’ll be walking the dog ashore in many different environments and your veterinarian may recommend special precautions or medications. Be alert for symptoms that the dog has been bitten, stung or has eaten poisonous vegetation. Kansas State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital offers a free 24-hour poison control hotline that is available to all pet owners in North America (785-532-5679). Various fee-based pet poison centers can also be found online.

11. Even if you never leave your home waters, boat living may trigger (or cure) allergies in children or pets so be aware of those.

12. Keep ropes and lines away from little fingers and feet. A sudden tightening of a dock line can snap off a finger or sheer a foot.

About The Author

Janet Groene is a professional journalist and a member of Boating Writers International. She and her late husband, Gordon Groene, lived full-time on the go for ten years. “Living Aboard” is a recurring column that focuses on living on your houseboat. Janet’s newest book, The Survival Food Handbook (International Marine Books), is a guide to provisioning and cooking with common supermarket ingredients to carry in your pantry. Janet posts new galley recipes weekly at

  • Like what you read?

    Want to know when we have important news, updates or interviews?

  • Join our newsletter today!

    Sign Up
You Might Also Be Interested In...

Houseboat Magazine email subscription service

Houseboat Magazine has created a secure way for you to receive Houseboat Magazine promotional offers without making your email address available to outside sources. All promotional offers will be sent by Houseboat Magazine. We will NOT give out your name or email address.

Yes I want to recieve offers from Houseboat Magazine (Harris Publishing magazines).


Send to your friends!