Boating With Cats

Boating with cats is a fairly common activity, even a lifestyle. There are sailors and cruisers who travel the world with their purr-friends and a litter box on board.

Some cats do really well with sea life, whereas others much prefer the grounding aspect of the land. Nevertheless, you somehow got the idea that you would like to boat with your cat, or cats (if you have many).

There is plenty to know in order to ensure that your experience, as well as the cat’s experience, is fun, uneventful, and healthy for all parties onboard.

Therefore, this article goes into depth on the ins and outs of boating with cats on multiple different levels. Read on for more information and tips for you and your cat’s upcoming adventures.

History of Boating with Cats 

Ever since seafaring vessels have been around, maritime pets have existed as loyal and courageous companions. When ancient cat DNA was first studied for global significance, researchers and scientists found that cats were domesticated in the Near East and Egypt around 15,000 years ago, as Vittoria Traverso explains.

Cats migrated to Europe because of mariners like the Phoenicians and the Vikings. They were known to be apt at warding off rodents, which made them an excellent addition especially in the eyes of the ship’s chef.

Vittoria Traverso gives an even more interesting story about one particularly famous cat who went by the name of Simon. She elaborates that Simon served aboard the British Royal Navy Sloop HMS Amethyst during the time of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

At one point, the ship was trapped for three months on the Yangtze River when it was attacked by the People’s Liberation Army. Simon was the first cat to ever receive an award, though many medals had been given to dogs.

Simon received the Dicken Medal by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, which is a British veterinary charity. He was honored for his survival of injuries, his act of duty in killing off a rat infestation, and for raising the morale of the crew members onboard.

What Type of Boating Trip are You Talking About? 

So you know the history of seafaring felines, and now it is time to make some more history. Boating can take on many definitions.

A day trip is much different from a weekend, to several months, to years. In addition, it can mean motoring or sailing.

Regardless as to the type of boating you are doing, Petcha recommends that you always want to be clear on several things involving safety.

Cat Overboard Drill!

Most cats are extremely good swimmers unless they get knocked overboard and are injured. For this reason, it is very wise and responsible to invest in a life jacket and a harness with a leash.

Keep the life jacket on the cat especially while underway. Many people allow their cats to roam freely without a life vest when they are at anchor. Still, good things to keep in mind is the current.

If the cat falls overboard while you are below deck, will the feline get carried away? Cats cannot survive long in the water before they exhaust themselves and drown.

Because of this, it is also wise to have a rope ladder or a piece of carpet, or an old life jacket hanging over the side of the boat.

In the event that your cat does go for a dive, your cat will be able to cling to safety until you notice your cat’s absence and go frantically searching the waves. Always check the lifeline first if your cat is gone.

You may also want to practice what to do in case your cat does go for a swim. Start in a swimming pool and train your cat to come to you, especially in a state of panic. This ensures a certain level of trust in both parties.

If your cat knows that you are trying to help, even in a chaotic situation, your cat will not be afraid to come to you. This could save your cat’s life.

Another tip is to keep your cat harnessed to the deck, which Eleanor Duse explains, especially if you are on a boat that does not have a below deck.

If you are uncertain, it is better to be safe than sorry, but try to not restrict the cat too much as this would take a toll on the cat’s spirits. When you do eventually arrive back on land, your cat might have had enough.

If your cat does run off, it is wise to have the cat microchipped beforehand. Your cat should also have the necessary vaccines if you are in a foreign country, otherwise, you may run into trouble with a foreign government and laws. Keep copies of up to date paperwork in case some get water damage.

Using the Head (Litter Box)

Long-term boaters (cruisers) have this down to a science. According to Svwondertime Website, some fellow cruisers, there are such as plastic grass mats that the cats are accustomed to using. They last longer, do not cause litter to be scattered all over the place and are cheaper to acquire on a long-term basis.

Food and Hair, Sun and Seasickness

Petcha says that cats cannot eat raw fish because they contain parasites, which can be deadly. In addition, if you are cruising the world, be sure your cat is accustomed to different types of cat food, or make sure you have ample stores.

Otherwise, your cat may starve to death, seriously. Cats can eat cooked fish, and they love salmon, but unless you are prepared to fish at all times (which you might be if you are an avid cruiser already) then you will need to have food that your cat will eat.

Hair can get to be an issue if your cat sheds a lot, especially if it starts to clog up drains or get in the bilge. Just another thing to consider if you are sailing or boating for the long term.

Resources to repair and fix clogged pipes while onboard a boat at sea is somewhat limited. Bring a cat brush. It is always good to be prepared.

Cats can get sunburnt. You might know how uncomfortable this is. Help your cat out by putting some sunscreen on the nose and ears, as Petcha advises. And, while it is fairly uncommon for cats to get seasick, it can happen.

Rough weather and keeping the cat down below for its own safety can be a bad combination. Down below is always a rougher place to be when the weather is bad.

If your cat does have a tendency to get seasick, go to the vet before you leave the land. They will give you Dramamine for future use.

Speaking of vets, it is always a good idea to have an idea as to where the nearest vet is, especially if you are traveling long term. You never know when your cat might get sick or injured and need medical help that you cannot provide onboard.

I Want to Bring My Cat Onboard, but is it Actually a Good Idea? 

This is a very good question to ask, and the answer depends on your philosophy and your cat. Cats have a long history of being seafaring companions, Kristin Bobst explains. They even served as good luck charms.

They have been good to catch the mice and can be easy, quiet, intriguing companions. Since their litter box is low maintenance compared to the fact that dogs really need the land, they are a very common animal to have onboard.

Then again, if you have tried to bring your cat onboard before, to no avail, maybe it is best to stop trying. Some cats simply want to be on land and will let you know in any means possible.

This is natural and okay, as cats were never made to live on the water. All this being said, the answer still varies depending on your philosophy.

Is it right to have a cat on a harness, in a life jacket, relieving itself on a plastic mat in a rocky boat? Well, some would argue that it is not humane to bring a cat where its most natural habits are disrupted.

Then again, others say the cat will have the best life. What might make all the difference is how young the cat is when you first get your cat out on the boat.

Kittens can adjust much better than a cat who is seven years old, who would do considerably better than a cat who is eighteen years old. At the end of the day, the cat calls you its human, so there is nothing to fret about.

In this free world called life, if the cat does not like boating, the cat will leave you for forever and you will just have to live knowing that the cat is happier in some other place.

Last-Minute Tips 

If you are preparing to dock for the night, or take off early in the morning, it is a good idea to keep your cat slightly hungry.

This will discourage your cat from jumping off a board and exploring (if you choose to let your cat wander at night) because your cat will be begging you for food instead.

If your cat does go exploring and is not back when you want to leave, you will have to make a decision, which can be a tough one to make, especially if you have been waiting weeks for a good weather window.

You can redesign your boat to make it more cat-friendly. It is a great idea to have a latchable cat door, according to Alison Smedley, in the companionway because it is a convenient and safe way to give your cat more freedom.

Simply latch it up (once you know your cat is inside) to shove off. Unlatch it when you know it is safe. Especially if your cat is a noisy fellow, you will not have to listen to him cry on the other side of the hatch while you are driving in smooth seas, simply because you forgot to let your cat out once getting underway.

Stay aware of your surroundings. If you tie up at night, check out the other boats. Your cat might go exploring and get locked up in a neighbor’s boat. Or, your cat could find the parking lot, and, not being accustomed to cars, could be scared silly and run away.

Even worse, if your cat is not used to other animals and using its natural instincts, another creature could attack and take your cat’s life. Just be cognizant as if your cat were your child because let’s face it, the cat already is in your heart.

Keep cat-retrieving tools nearby, like a fishing net or boat hook. If your cat falls off, you can scoop the cat up very quickly.

Make sure your cat has a comfortable place down below to sleep well and nestle up in the event of rougher weather.

Always, ALWAYS, know where your cat is at all times. Your cat is another crew member, so take care of your cat as such. Be attentive. If your cat is not happy, do not let the cat suffer. Take him back to shore.


You and your cat can have an amazing time together out in the water. Cats do fairly well, unless they despise it, in which case you will know almost immediately. If this is so, then you will probably want the cat off the boat too.

All in all, boating with a cat can be a very rewarding experience if done in a responsible and healthy way. At the end of the day, you may even have a great video of a catastrophe onboard.