Cats have a reputation for hating water. But what do they really think about it? Is sailing with a cat that complicated? What if this water was full of fish for your furry friend’s next meal! From the safety of a boat deck, cats are in fact truly reliable sailing companions.
Take Jessie, the adventurous feline who has been sailing with her human Lyn since she was adopted as a kitten. We had the chance to interview Lyn about her experience on the topic of sailing with a cat. How does she ensure smooth sailing with her furry skipper on board? Keep reading for some tips and tricks from our own in-house expert! Who knows, maybe next time your beloved Whiskers will join you as well!
You can follow Jessie’s journey on her Instagram account @jessie_the_sailing_cat
Want to sail with your dog instead? Here is Thais, Beto and Google’s story on bringing your dog on board.
Sailing with Jessie: The interview
How long have you been travelling with Jessie?
“We have had Jessie since she was 8 weeks old and she has always been a ‘boat cat’. For the first 6 months we cruised on the inland waterways of England in our Princess 32 river cruiser. Following this, we had a Sealine 365 Flybridge cruiser for coastal cruising on the East Coast of the UK. Jessie always came with us.
In 2017 we became full time liveaboards on our Broadblue 385 sailing catamaran and of course took Jessie with us. We left the UK in July 2017 and have sailed almost 4,000 nautical miles with Jessie throughout the Mediterranean. So Jessie has been on boats since she was 8 weeks and we’ve been sailing with a cat for almost 7 years!”
Did you have any hesitations when you decided to bring her on board?
“We didn’t really have any fears about bringing Jessie on board as she had experience with us on our previous boats. Our main worry is her falling overboard, but she is very good and knows how to stay safe. She does have a life jacket, but she is not entirely comfortable wearing it as it is quite restrictive. Whilst we are underway, she is always safely tucked inside the bedroom.
However, when we are at anchor, her favourite time of the day is just after the sun has set, when she likes to wander around the deck. To allay our concerns about her falling overboard, we have a Safety Turtle. It attaches to her collar and sets off an alarm when it is submerged in water. However, having lived on board the catamaran for 3 years now, Jessie knows her ‘safe’ routes around the boat and onto the different roof levels and is really careful. We are extremely vigilant and either stay with her or check on her regularly.
In addition to this, we do have other safety systems in place. Inside the boat, her basket is fastened securely so that it does not fall or move when the seas are rough, giving her absolute security.”
Was there a transition period? How did you manage it?
“No, we didn’t have an adaptation period really. When we moved on board the catamaran full time, we all moved on board at the same time! Jessie loved it immediately. She has a 360º view of her surroundings and we are always moving to different places. This keeps her from becoming bored! She loves to sit and watch the birds and the fish jumping alongside the boat.
Jessie also loves that we are with her all the time now, rather than going out to work and leaving her at home alone. She has her own routines and gets upset if they are disrupted!”
What essentials do you recommend to someone who is considering bringing their cat onboard?
“We have the basics such as her litter tray, a plentiful supply of wet and dry food and her favourite toys, cushions and blankets. In addition, we have a special water filtration bowl for her that is powered by 12v (USB). We also have a separate veterinary first aid kit for her, including ear drops, eye drops and special swabs for minor wounds.”
Do you have favorite brands for Jessie’s supplies?
“We find that we can get good quality Purina food products in most countries and try to keep a variety on board at all times. Our water bowl is from Cat It. It is excellent because of its low power consumption and ability to run off 12v.”
Are there any issues with customs when sailing with a cat?
“So far our main cruising has been within the EU so we have had no major issues with customs. However, we did experience some challenges when entering Guernsey in the Channel Islands. This was because we had visited France before entering Guernsey, where they are very strict on rabies control. We had to complete a customs form before entering the country and they advised us that we would not be able to dock in a marina.
However, we had problems with our windlass which meant we were unable to anchor. We were therefore permitted into the marina on the condition that we did not allow Jessie off the boat. This wasn’t a problem as she doesn’t routinely leave the boat anyway. But the customs officials were extremely vigilant and visited us regularly throughout our 3 day stay. One even advised us that Jessie was not allowed to be visible on deck and should be kept locked below at all times, otherwise they may take her away and quarantine her. We resolved this by leaving!”
Any pro tips for dealing with the dreaded litter box?
“We have tried a variety of litter boxes and litters and learned through observation of our cat’s behaviour and the general impact on the surroundings. This led us to design our own solution that has now been tried-and-tested over a period of 8 months and that has proved very successful.
Our bespoke system eliminates smells, reduces litter consumption and contamination and most importantly has earned approval from our discerning Jessie. Basically, we use a silica type cat litter on a “run through“ arrangement with two stacked trays. This way solids are removed and disposed of as they occur. The starboard hull of our catamaran has a workshop at the bow. We keep the litter tray on the floor wedged to prevent movement.
If we are on passage, going to the litter tray can be a bit daunting for Jessie. However, she does let us know when she wants to go and we give the necessary support. Sometimes that support is just moral. Other times, physical support in the form of a firm hand either side of her to stop her swaying is needed. No smells, no mess, cheap to run and a happy cat.”
We’re dying to know, can cats get seasick?
“Jessie has always been an indoor cat, so she has had no contact with other animals and has always been very healthy. She has never displayed any signs of seasickness. She gets plenty of fresh air and, although we drink desalinated water from the water maker, we ensure that Jessie always has bottled spring water to drink. Finally, She also has plenty of space to move around and loves to have a play ‘fight’ every evening to keep her hunting skills honed!”
Do you recommend special visits to the vet for a cat on board?
“We make sure all vaccinations and medications are in place prior to leaving, including a full health check. If you’re sailing with a cat, in each harbor you visit, you should always know where the nearest vet is located.”
What’s your favorite Jessie story?
“We do spend a large portion of our cruising life at anchor, so it is rare for us to go into a marina. However, once when we were in a marina, a boat docked beside us with 3 cats on board! All of a sudden, we heard a lot of commotion on our deck and rushed to investigate. We realized that we had other cat visitors on board and Jessie was busy herding them off ‘her’ boat!”
Any last anecdotes you’d like to share?
“When we had our flybridge cruiser, there was an occasion where Jessie was extremely insistent to get our attention. She made lots of fuss, trying to get us to follow her. Eventually, her Dad followed her up onto the fly bridge where she showed him that there had been some water ingress!
Also, she is very attuned to the wind. Her ‘benchmark’ seems to be 15 knots of wind. Anything above this and she will retreat to her basket in the bedroom. The minute the wind drops below 15 knots, she immediately joins us in the saloon. We don’t even have to look at the wind instruments as her assessment is so accurate… Sailing with a cat really has many benefits!”