My wife Celeste and I began trawler-shopping in January 2007 and soon recognized that cruising with Striper, our 45-pound Portuguese water dog, might present a problem in getting her on and off the boat and into the dinghy while anchored. We felt it important to have a boat layout that allowed the dog to be with us and to move about the boat on her own, so we looked at several basic boat designs, including pilot-house trawlers and trunk-cabin trawlers.
The pilot-house trawlers offered the ease of allowing the dog to simply walk from the deck level through the stern door onto the swim platform and into the dingy. However, they also had a fly bridge that required climbing a ladder, something the dog could not do on her own-and she is too large and heavy for us to carry up and down the ladder. The trunk-cabin trawlers offered a fly bridge with relatively easy access for the dog, but the trade-off was that the trunk cabin trawler has a deck level about three and a half feet above the water. This meant that our challenge was to figure out the best way to get her to and from the dinghy from deck level.
Before we took delivery of Say Good-Bye, our 1982 41-foot DeFever, we read many articles and books and talked with other cruisers traveling with pets. We gleaned a lot of great information, but really nothing that would quite work for us. We considered a ramp, but the placement of the steps-and the davits that protruded from the transom just above them-made it a poor choice. We were stymied until I suddenly realized that we could simply transport Striper in much the same way that livestock are offloaded from ships. We could use a customized reinforced doggie life jacket and a block and tackle system on the boom to hoist Striper up and over the stern rail, drop her down to the swim platform, where she could make her own way into the dinghy.
Here's the technique we devised:
The life vest we purchased is a Fido Float Life Vest from Arcata Pet Supplies - Online pet shop for all your supply needs
for just under $20. It's a padded floatable doggie life vest with mesh underbelly support that zips up the back.(Other well-made vests will no doubt work as well.) The dog steps into two front leg holes in the mesh underbelly and the vest is zipped snugly. The original design of the vest had one woven adjustable strap handle sewn onto the front of the vest near the collar and a second strap handle located near the hind leg area. The front strap goes around the dog's chest, forming a "handle" on her back near her head, but lifts her from underneath. We had The Ship's Tailor (a local canvas and sailmaker) add a woven adjustable strap just in front of the dog's hind legs, going around her belly area, thus reinforcing the second "handle" on her back near her tail. This modification affords total support from underneath and distributes her weight evenly between the two handles. The woven straps are adjustable to fit comfortably.
We feed a heavy line with spliced eyes at both ends through both handles of the vest and attach both line eyes to a shackle. Using a block and tackle attached to the boom, we attach the snap shackle to the two eye splices of the lifting line. Then I go down to the swim platform, where I control the 4:1 block and tackle that hangs from our lifting boom. I carefully hoist the dog from the aft deck up and over the stern rail, then lower her to the swim platform. My wife assists from the deck level by ensuring that the dog is guided up and over the stern rail so I don't snag her legs on it! A lightweight Rubbermaid container lid approximately 2 feet by 3 feet is all that's needed to cover the slots in the swim platform, allowing her a solid place to touch down. The line is unshackled and removed from the life vest and attached to one of the davits temporarily while we are ashore. Striper gets a dog treat, then hops into the dinghy and we're off. This method is safe and efficient . . . and best of all, Striper likes it!
One caution for dog owners. Don't just lift your dog with the boom and expect the dog to cooperate. Training is essential so the dog knows what to expect. We started by putting her in the vest, then manually lifting her a few inches off the deck. allowing her to hang while holding her. We rewarded her with a treat, petted her and verbally reinforced the good behavior. We repeated this several times so that she associated getting into the vest and being lifted with a fun and rewarding activity. Next, using the block and tackle, we lifted her higher to the level needed to get her over the stern rail. Again we reinforced the maneuver with a reward and repeated it several times. Finally, we went for broke and lifted her up, over and down, disconnected the apparatus and she hopped into the dinghy.
Your dog will soon learn that the process enables her to go with you in the dingy where more fun activity takes place, like exploring the land areas, beaches, the essential personal relief . . . and of course, all those dog treats!