Pets on boats: is it feasible?

Taking to the water may not simply involve human beings of course but the family pet(s) as well. Fortunately, most pets seem to adapt well to boat life, particularly dogs but even cats, ferrets and rabbits have been known to live happily on a boat.

By and large there are no special requirements other than those you’d have in a house; the pet will need somewhere to sleep, a place to eat and enough space to roam.

Whilst the boat itself may clearly be insufficient for that last requirement for a dog, bear in mind that it’s only while the boat is moving that the animal will be cooped up, which can be as little as a couple of hours each fortnight. When moored, you have the entire length of the towpath to roam along not to mention any local amenity spaces such as local parks. Your dog will adore the fresh new smells and sights of each location you stop at.

There may be a certain amount of mud brought aboard, particularly in winter, but this would likely be true in a house also so there’s really no great change.

For cats, roaming freely is often usual behaviour and, like dogs, cats will eagerly venture out at every new location. Oddly, they don’t seem to have a problem with remembering where you’ve moored or which boat they’re supposed to call ‘home’ (though don’t be surprised if they also visit neighbouring boats just as they might sneak into other houses)

The bigger problem with cats is their refusal to return when required; typically they will run off and hide somewhere just at the point where you’re getting the boat ready for departure.

Many’s the boater who’s had to delay setting off by hours or even days in order to patiently await the return of their feline friend.

Perhaps a greater issue with cats and their roaming is that many canals run alongside and close to railway tracks which pose an obvious threat to the unobservant cat. I know plenty of cat-owning boaters who will specifically select or rule out mooring spots based on the proximity of dangers to their pets.

This can be quite restrictive of course so it’s definitely a factor to be aware of. However, there are so many boaters who have cats and other pets aboard that it clearly cannot be an insurmountable problem.

Of all the concerns regarding pets, the biggest is probably heat in summertime. Steel boats, being long metal tubes, soak up the sun and turn into something of an oven when it gets even mildly sunny. Even with all the windows and doors opened, such a boat can become absolutely stifling and easily dangerous to pets that overheat easily. Equally, fibreglass cruisers tend to have lots of windows and can turn into a floating greenhouse which is deadly for pets.

Obviously, if you have to leave the boat such as to go to work, then you won’t want the doors and windows open. Air conditioning on British boats is rare (in fact, I’ve never seen it on the canals) and even if fitted, would draw a huge amount of power. You might think a large solar array would be the answer but for that to work, the boat would have to be left in the sun which causes exactly the problem you’re trying to avoid.

It can be better to moor in the shade as far as possible (there are many places where trees overhang the canal) taking into account the movement of the sun over the day, and ask a friendly boater to check on your pets often. Alternatively, you may need to pay for pet-sitting on the warm days.

Another factor just to bear in mind is that having a pet means you’ll have to lug all their food along the towpath from the shops as well as your own so this means extra effort and possibly multiple trips to the shops.