Do Dogs Need To Wear Life Vests When Boating?

In response to my article, Does Your Dog Love Boating?, Marianne asks:

Question about dogs and boating: is there a rule of thumb as far as life vests for dogs? My dogs are decent swimmers, but I’m afraid if we take them out on the lake they could swim too far out and get tired. Should a life vest be standard, or are there any alternatives?

I think Marianne’s is a great question, and her perspective is one that I would guess many dog owners share.

Which got me wondering, “what do the experts say about dogs and lifejackets?”

Similar questions appear on the BoatUS website:

Life jackets are essential pieces of equipment for the boater, even required by law. But does a boater’s dog really need a life jacket?

Is it a help or a hindrance in a ‘dog overboard’ situation?

And how do you select the proper PFD for your pooch anyway?


My $.02 About Dogs & Life Vests

In general, I’ve always figured, “the smaller the dog, the more likely they are going to tire out faster when dog paddling in the water”. So naturally, it makes sense that small dogs should wear life jackets.

But everyone knows that a larger dog is just as likely to drown as a smaller dog.

That’s because a dog’s survival in the water depends on a lot of things — not just a dog’s size and personal endurance.

To name just a few…

A float plan for Fido Whether a dog drowns or survives in the water long enough to be rescued depends on:

a dog’s own ability to keep himself afloat

under dire conditions

in an emergency situation

possibly alone and without assistance from you or other humans

and quite possibly while being hurt or even knocked unconscious.

Plus, as mentioned on the Discover Boating website, “any dog can get fatigued or disoriented. Older dogs, especially, can tire easily. Pets with low body fat can have trouble when exposed to water for long periods. Health issues, such as hip or joint problems can also make swimming difficult for some pets.

Keep in mind, a life vest also makes the act of rescuing a dog overboard easier by giving the rescuer something to actually grab onto.


What About Dogs & Life Jackets During Supervised Swimming?

When it comes to simply playing in shallow water, while being supervised by you or another person, I would say that life jackets are entirely optional — based your dog’s own personality and level of confidence in the water.

A Poodle dog wearing a lifejacket.

For example, one of our (large) dogs isn’t fond of water… at all. Each time we go out to play in the water, it takes him a long time to get his “sea legs” and begin to feel comfortable just playing in shallow water. The chances are quite good that this dog would likely panic if he got out into deeper waters and he perceived that we were too far away from him. A life vest — even in shallow water — would be a wise choice for this dog.

On the other hand, our other (large) dog loves the water and enjoys swimming and fetching for long periods of time — at the lake or in the pool. We don’t worry much about this dog’s ability to handle himself in deeper waters, and his swimming abilities seem quite good.

That said, on a boat I would probably put life vests on both dogs. Here’s why…


Why Life Jackets Are Important For Dogs On Boats

Find out here if life jackets for dogs are required or not.

While not technically required, the best course of action is to put a life vest on dogs — of all shapes, sizes, and swimming abilities — when on board a boat.

Nobody says it better than the folks at BoatUS (a foundation for boating safety):

Life jackets should be considered valuable flotation aids, not essential life-saving devices. A pet life jacket will help your dog stay above water until rescued. Once you get the dog alongside, the handle will help you either retrieve the animal or lead it around to an area where it can reboard the boat on its own.

…It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Here are some great tips regarding dogs and lifejackets.

Find lifevests for dogs online.


A Life Vest Can Save Your Life… And Your Dog’s Life

Black Lab dog wearing a life jacket

My hunch is that most dog owners don’t suit up their dogs in life jackets when on board a boat.

Similar to the fact that few people put life vests on themselves when on board a boat — even though everyone knows that they should.

But why take the chance?

dog wearing life jacket on fishing boatYeah, we may know how to swim — and we may even swim very well. But what if we had to stay afloat for a very long period of time? Chances are, we would tire out and/or panic. Worse yet, we might be injured or unconscious.

There’s no doubt about it… A life vest could save your life. At the very least, it could make the act of rescuing you much easier — giving the rescuers something to grab onto when they’re retrieving you from the water.

Unfortunately, it is not until something goes wrong that we are likely to regret our decision to not wear a life vest. At the very least, I would encourage you not to take that chance with your dog.

Make sure all pets wear flotation devices on boats. — The ASPCA

Here are some excellent tips before you introduce your dog to water for the first time!

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Are dog life jacks and do life vests required when boating with a puppy?