Cruising with cats

We’ve cruised with two different cats: Gremlin was 10 years old before we introduced him to boating and Spitfire was a kitten when brought him aboard several years later. Both have enjoyed being on the boat and have seemed as content afloat as on land.

In our experience, cats need time to adapt to a new environment. They’ll want to inspect a new area and understand its limits. We’ve read of people who brought their cat aboard for the first time, stuck the animal below, then immediately started the engines and set off. This is not the ideal way to introduce any pet to boating. The animals will likely be frightened and resist further attempts to bring them aboard.

For both our cats, we brought them on board and spent the night at the marina first. We wanted to ensure they were comfortable with the new surroundings before doing anything else. For cats, cleaning or using the litter box is a good sign that they feel secure. Once they seemed relaxed, we started the engines a couple of times to accustom them to the sound. But we didn’t move the boat. Spitfire finds new sounds terrifying—he bolted from the room when we turned a blender on once. But he eventually got used the engine sound (and the blender.)

We monitor our cat’s location frequently, either underway, at anchor, or at a dock, and keep him inside if we are sleeping or away from the boat. We’ll keep a hatch open overnight only if it has a screen. A collar bell helps in tracking his movements. This is particularly important for kittens. Like people, young cats take more chance, are less careful near the water, and can fall in. They do get smarter and more careful as they mature–Spitfire is a testament to both ends of that spectrum. The collar has a breakaway safety buckle that releases if the cat becomes entangled, reducing the chance of choking. For the most part, neither cat has exercised this safety feature, but we recently found Spitfire’s collar dangling on a window latch above an open stairwell. We’re not sure what happened, but were glad he was wearing that kind of collar. In case he does escape our monitoring and become lost ashore, he wears a tag with his name, our cell phone number, and our boat name. And we never sail until we know he is onboard. We’ve never had a problem, but have heard stories of people losing their pets this way.

On the previous boat and in our house, we used a standard-sized covered litter box and regular clay litter. A major disadvantage of clay litter is that the cats tracked it everywhere, along with very dusty paw prints. On the 52 we went with a new system, Tidy Cats Breeze. A special litter box holds non-absorbing pellets and solid waste, while liquid waste drains through to a diaper-like liner in a tray underneath. The liner lasts a week with no odor at all. And the pellets, because they aren’t designed to absorb moisture, last at least 4 weeks (we’ve got them to last up to 6 weeks). The Breeze system has a number of advantages over standard litter systems, particularly on a boat. Cleaning the box is almost trivial–once a week we simply pull out the tray and replace the old liner with a new one. We clean solid waste out daily (we did that before anyway) and change the pellets as needed. Spitfire took to the box right away as soon as we’d set it up–we didn’t need to follow the instructions for acclimatizing him. He occasionally kicks a couple of pellets out, but they don’t track and are almost dust-free. Perhaps the best part, however, is how little storage space the refills consume compared to regular litter. In the picture above right, the large bag at the bottom is a 2-3 week supply of standard clay litter. Above it is a 6-9-month supply of pellets and a 10-month supply of liners.

Spitfire has adapted to living aboard as well as we have. While he may not appreciate the 52’s many amenities, he loves the extra space and is constantly finding new places to perch and check out the surroundings. We love having him aboard and some of the systems we’ve developed help ensure that he has many years of safe, comfortable and relaxed cruising ahead of him.

Update 12/20/2019: For tips on cruising internationally with cats, see Spitfire Arraow the World.

If your comment doesn't show up right away, send us email and we'll dredge it out of the spam filter.

5 comments on “Cruising with cats
  1. Tim says:

    Great information, and appreciate the litter tips. We will have 3 cats on our Lagoon 44 that we will live aboard. Never did it but then again, we never lived this life…until we did. :-)

  2. Brian Smith says:

    Fran and I are both cat people, but we have been cat-less for a few years, and thought we would remain that way on Smartini. But we recently found ourselves in the care of May, a wonderful black cat (she looks a lot like Spitfire). She’s up in years (about 13), but in good health, and is as well behaved as any cat we’ve ever had. We’ve thought about bringing her along once Smartini heads for the islands, but weren’t sure if that was a good idea.

    This post makes it seem not only doable, but actually a good idea. Thanks for writing it!

    • We had Gremlin on boats until he was 16 years old and Spitfire has spent his entire 14+ years on boats. It’s a bit more of a hassle traveling with him but he’s great to have along on the trip. No regrets on our end. There is little better than company from Spitfire on a night time watch or waking up to him wedging in underneath the covers when waking up.

  3. Thanks Matt. Having a pet on board is rewarding, but does require more planning and responsibility compared to strictly land-based pets.

  4. Matt Baker says:

    A great post! Thanks! The things you never quite consider, but that are incredibly important if you are a pet person and a cruiser.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.