The National Safe Boating Council and the United States Coast Guard recommend as part of the “Wear it!” life jacket campaign that everyone wear a properly-fitting life jacket at all times while boating.

This same precaution should be extended to dogs, as specialized pet life jackets are now available, according to the Boating Council and the United States Coast Guard. With the dog population in California estimated at eight to ten million and growing, it isn’t just bird dogs climbing into boats these days, the agencies note.

Although many dogs are good swimmers, pet owners should never assume that their dog can survive an unexpected plunge. Once overboard, a dog can become disoriented and suffer the same hazards from cold water immersion as humans, including hypothermia.

A faithful friend in trouble can pose a danger for the owner as well, says the Coast Guard, which logs reports from all across the country of dog owners who drown trying to rescue their pets from deep water.

Before bringing the family pet along on a boating excursion, boaters should ask themselves the following questions:

How well does this dog swim?

How cold is the water?

How long will it take to turn the boat around to retrieve the dog if it falls overboard?

Will the dog be easy to spot in the water?

How will it get back aboard?

Boat owners can find dog life jackets and float coats in pet shops, marine supply stores, and on the Internet. As with life jackets for humans, it is important that the dog life jacket fit properly and keeps the dog afloat while still allowing the pet to move freely.

Also, when the boat is under way, boaters are urged to keep dogs safely restrained. A dog life jacket with a D-ring on back for attaching to a leash can perform dual-duty by providing a reliable restraint for an excitable pet.

Suggestions for fitting a dog

for a life jacket:

Check the width of the straps and where they cross under the dog’s body. The straps should not interfere with the dog’s ability to sit or lie down comfortably;

Be sure the life jacket fits snugly enough that the dog won’t slip out of it when wet or being pulled into the boat.

Choose a bright color to make the dog easier to spot in the water.

Conduct a “float test,” just as you would with a life jacket for a person. Try it out on the dog in shallow water and have a harness and leash on as backup.

Pet life jackets, unlike those for people, are designed to float the animal in a horizontal position. The jacket should support the dog in the water while allowing it to swim freely.

For more information and safe boating tips, www.safeboating council.org/, or www.uscgboating .org/.

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