You must have a pet flotation device (PFD) on hand while boating with your pet. Each pet on board should have its own PFD. A PFD act as a life jacket and protects against hypothermia in case your pet is in cold water for a long time [source: Animal Planet].
Give your pet a chance to get used to wearing its PFD long before you board the boat. Let the pet wear it at home -- just for a few minutes at first. Increase the amount of time the pet wears the PFD as your departure date approaches. By the time you get to the dock, the PFD should seem familiar and unthreatening to your pet.
Many dogs like to swim. Make sure your dog has a chance to try swimming in its PFD before you leave the dock. Dogs should wear their PFDs at all times on board.
A cat's onboard behavior, on the other hand, is much harder to predict. Cats have deeply personal -- and therefore dramatically different -- responses to water. Some boaters say that their cats find lifejackets more hindrance than help [source: Drummond]. Before boating with your cat, answer these questions: How healthy is your cat? How well does it swim? How does it react to being in water? At a minimum, it's a good idea to have a PFD handy for your cat.
All pet flotation devices should have a handle on the back that rests between your pet's shoulder blades. That's so you can lift the animal out of the water if the need arises. Before getting into the boat, make sure you have practiced this maneuver a few times so you and your pet can get used to it. You want to make sure you're strong enough to rescue your pet if you need to. Your pet also needs to feel somewhat comfortable with being carried like this -- or comfortable enough not to squirm violently.
Finally, don't forget your own life vest. A big, wet dog is heavy enough to pull you into the water, and dog owners have been known to drown attempting to pull their pets aboard boats [source: Stacey].
Now that you've got your PFD, you're ready to head to the dock, right? Not so fast. Keep reading to find the other ways you must protect your dogs and cats.