Please select your home edition
Edition
RS Sailing 728x90

PFDs for man's best friend

by NMMA on 19 Jun 2013
Even strong swimmers need a jacket ..
The rising popularity in life jackets for dogs in the US indicates going out with our four-legged friends is an important part of boating. Here, the NMMA presents some points to consider.

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?

The BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water has tested human life jackets several times over the years and with the growing popularity of pet life jackets, we thought it was time to look at these devices.
But this Foundation Findings, which focuses solely on dogs in life jackets, presented a new set of questions and challenging test protocols.

For one thing, there are no design or performance standards for pet devices against which to measure devices currently on the market. The pet products industry has none and neither does the U.S. Coast Guard (nor would we want them regulating life jackets for dogs).

Another challenge is the fact that dogs come in more sizes, shapes and anatomical configurations than humans. Their real-world use is different, too. Research had shown us that pet PFDs serve as flotation aids and 'dog overboard' lifting devices. And finally, we knew we had to rely on human observers to interpret each dog's performance and reactions so we included the owners on the test team.Don't All Dogs Swim?

Don't All Dogs Swim?
The first question we asked is whether a dog needs a life jacket in the first place. All dogs swim just fine, right?
As a matter of fact, no. Some dogs just don't take to the water well. Breeds with low body fat like Doberman pinschers and boxers can have trouble in the water.

Older dogs may tire easily and breeds prone to hip dysplasia may have difficulty swimming. Hypothermia can be a threat to some breeds of dogs when they are unduly exposed to cold water.

'No matter how well a dog can swim under supervision, any dog can drown,' reports Georgia Molek, a veterinarian we contacted through the American Animal Hospital Association. 'All dogs can get fatigued, too, and/or become disoriented. I'm sure life jackets are a good idea but they should never replace caution and common sense.'



If your dog ever took a long walk off a short dock (or deck), chances are you've thought about the advantage of having your pooch in a life jacket. Most products on the market have lifting handles that make retrieving your retriever much easier for you and safer for all concerned. Thus, the handles, straps, buckles and overall fit of the jackets became the most important consideration in our evaluations.

Some breeds like the Labrador and the Newfoundland are time-honored 'water dogs' but it's clear that dogs of all types go to sea these days. Thus, we selected four popular breeds, somewhat arbitrarily, from the Big Dog, Little Dog, Long Dog and All-Around Dog categories. We recruited Jackson, a Labrador retriever; Skipper, a Jack Russell terrier; Lanie, a corgi; and Aspen, a golden retriever, all accompanied by four willing owner/boaters.

Prior to testing, we weighed each dog and measured its girth just behind the front legs. From that we selected products from four manufacturers based on sizing information they supplied (see chart). Our test site, YMCA Camp Letts on the Rhode River off the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, offered a sandy beach ideal for easy entry to the water and a floating dock of adequate height to simulate a boat's freeboard.

Fetch!

To get our subjects warmed up to the tests, we had the dogs and their owners play at retrieving a favorite toy tossed into the water, sans life jacket, to watch their swimming characteristics.

Next we wanted to observe each dog's swimming ability in jackets from each manufacturer in what we thought would be the correct size, based on the guidelines supplied. That sounds simple enough but we found that each manufacturer uses different size guidelines.

As a result, Skipper, our 22-lb. Small Dog, fit in XS, S and L vests from three different manufacturers. On the other hand, Jackson, our Big Dog (106 lbs.) modeled a jacket for dogs 'over 75 lbs.' and we found that while it worked, it seemed ridiculously small. Moral: Try before you buy.

Swim!

Pet life jackets do not come with buoyancy ratings, as do human life jackets (the Coast Guard requires it). We had hoped to come up with some meaningful measure of buoyancy but decided it would have little relevance given the way dogs behave in the water. In lieu of that, we opted to document in photographs how each dog floated and swam with each jacket.

Three of the four vests buckle underneath the dog and around the neck. That puts the flotation on the dog's back or ribs. The Super Soft Doggie Vest is basically all flotation, an Ensolite panel that the front legs go through, covering the chest and buckling over the front shoulders.

The life jackets clearly changed the way each dog floated and the added buoyancy should certainly help a tired dog. Pet life jackets are designed to float the animal in a horizontal, swimming position, not with head up, out of the water. Thus, we could not measure freeboard - the distance from nose to water - as we would for humans.



None of the jackets interfered with the dogs' swimming ability although we had some concerns about extra-long straps. The straps on the Kent Pet Vest and the Safegard Dog Life Jacket were long enough to allow for wide girth variations. While the excess strap length did not pose any problems with swimming, an owner might want to shorten the straps to avoid any snagging problems. (Leave enough for a half-hitch to keep the nylon material from slipping in the buckles, though.)

Roll Over(board)!

Except for the Super Soft Doggie Vest, the jackets we tested, as well as others we've seen, all have handles in the middle of the back. Whether you just pull the dog in with a boat hook or you actually lift the dog out of the water with it, the handle transfers the pressure to the straps that go around the midsection.

All of our observers felt the one-inch straps on the Kent and Safegard jackets could have been wider and where they cross under the dog's body concerned several owners. They felt the straps impeded their dog's ability to sit comfortably and might cut into the body unduly when lifted by the handle.

The handles on all jackets proved strong enough to lift three of the dogs; however by the time we got to this part of the test, our Big Dog, Jackson, had other interests (and at 106 lbs. bone dry, our test crew didn't chase after him).

The chart below indicates whether or not each dog's owner felt comfortable lifting the dog in a particular jacket. All owners said that in an emergency, they would not hesitate to hoist their hound aboard using the handles and anything else they could grab.

Speak!

If you are thinking about a PFD for your dog, talk to other boater/pet owners. And when you shop, remember that while size guidelines come with the jackets, based on our experience we strongly recommend that you take Rover in for 'a fitting.' Pet shops and marine supply stores should allow you to bring your dog in and try the vests. (All BoatUS Marine Centers encourage shoppers to bring in their dogs.)

Look at where the straps or other attachments contact the dog's body. In the wrong spot, these can make the dog miserable and they may try to chew them off.

Some of these devices are available in colors and patterns designed for high style but not necessarily high visibility
although Ruffwear life jackets have strips of reflective tape on the back. If visibility is important, choose your color accordingly. (A black jacket on a black dog is hard to spot; just ask Lanie.)

Based on our research, these tests and the experiences reported by BoatUS members, we think these 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.

So, do dogs need life jackets? In the final analysis, only the dog's owner can make that decision. After all, this is one case in which you are your dog's best friend.

More at www.nmma.org

NaiadPredictWind.comNorth Technology - Southern Spars

Related Articles

Keep the water out with Zhik’s new Superthermal Hydrobase
The lower arm and leg of the new Superthermal Hydrobase is made from a water-repellent, stretch woven fabric We’ve all done it - and fished a rope out of the water, pushed the rudder down or stepped down the slipway one foot too far and gained that unwanted wet sleeve or leg.
Posted on 9 Aug
North Sails releases new 3Di Headsail for the J/105 Class
North Sails released its latest headsail design for competitive J/105 class. The Li-5 3Di jib replaces the L-4 3DL jib North Sails released its latest headsail design for the competitive J/105 class. The Li-5 3Di jib replaces the L-4 3DL jib bringing the ultimate consistency and performance of North’s exclusive 3Di technology to this light-air optimized headsail. The Li-5 is the perfect complement for the Mi-4 3Di jib which is an all-purpose sail.
Posted on 4 Aug
Hands up - Who is wearing the Zhik Boot 460 at the Moth Worlds?
The Zhik Boot 460 are known as the active dinghy sailors ‘best friend’. The Zhik Boot 460 are known as the active dinghy sailors ‘best friend’. Last week Peter Burling rang the Zhik product development team in Sydney, for assistance to get hold of a pair of the Boot 460s in time for the Moth Worlds in Lake Garda. And looking around the fleet it seems he’s not alone, and the 230 strong fleet of Moth sailors are voting with their feet too.
Posted on 29 Jul
Yacht Racing Forum extends partnership with Zhik for two more years
Top sailors choose Zhik gear to win world championships, and demand it for their OIympic campaigns. The company sells its products into an international network covering more than 40 countries, in Europe, the Americas and the Asia Pacific.
Posted on 25 Jul
Moth Worlds – Moth speed uncovered
C-Tech’s Tim Willetts takes time to reflect on changes in Moth class rig design and development over the past six years With the 2017 Moth world championship starting Tuesday, C-Tech’s Tim Willetts takes time to reflect on changes in Moth class rig design and development over the past six years. A lot has happened behind the scenes that is giving the top sailors the edge by staying ahead.
Posted on 25 Jul
Int Moth Worlds - Zhik returns to its spiritual home at 2017 Worlds
Zhik is returning to its roots as the official clothing sponsor of the 2017 McDougall McConaghy Moth World Championships Zhik, the innovative sailing apparel specialist, is returning to its roots as the official clothing sponsor of the 2017 McDougall McConaghy Moth World Championships. And, ten years on, the Moths are returning to their spiritual home on Lake Garda. Zhik and the International Moth class are virtually synonymous with each other.
Posted on 20 Jul
World Sailing confirms strong presence at Yacht Racing Forum 2017
The tenth edition of the Yacht Racing Forum, in Aarhus, Denmark will reassemble the sport’s key personalities and actors The tenth edition of the Yacht Racing Forum, in Aarhus, Denmark (November 27-28) will once again reassemble the sport’s key personalities and actors, including a strong delegation of World Sailing representatives.
Posted on 19 Jul
Watch Change in Crosshaven - UK Sailmakers under new command
'Our strength has always been service, quality and people. Right now, they are Graham, Claire and Barry.' The famous Crosshaven loft that is part of the UK Sailmakers organisation will shortly have a new crew on deck. Barry Hayes, Claire Morgan and Graham Curran are taking over from Des McWilliam who is stepping down after 39 years in the business and 25 years at the helm of McWilliam Sailmakers.
Posted on 3 Jul
When the going gets hot Zhik has the answers on what to wear afloat
Whilst many of us Brits are looking in the sailing bag wondering what on earth to wear afloat in this heatwave Whilst many of us Brits are looking in the sailing bag wondering what on earth to wear afloat in this heatwave, Zhik the Australian sailing apparel innovators are set up for dealing with extreme heat, moisture management and sun protection.
Posted on 22 Jun
AkzoNobel named as official supplier to the Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard
The competing boats– including team AkzoNobel’s brand new Volvo Ocean 65– have already been coated with Awlgrip products AkzoNobel will be the official coatings supplier to the Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard in 2017-18, after signing a deal to ensure that the fleet of Volvo Ocean 65 racing yachts will be coated with the company’s International and Awlgrip range of products
Posted on 29 May