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Staying onboard for Pets: Lifejackets, warps, and netting

When we first brought Onyx, our cruising kitty, onboard, she was just a baby, six weeks old. We were terrified that she'd fall overboard and we'd lose her. You see, Onyx is all black, and we knew that it would be very difficult to spot her in the water. So we bought her a tiny lifejacket in brilliant orange. But every time we tried to put it on her, she'd lie down and refuse to get up. We even tried to just let her get used to it by lying there, but after several hours, we gave up. Alex thought it was because the brand of the lifejacket is Fido and Onyx wouldn't be caught dead wearing doggie garb! Well that idea wasn't going to work whatever the reason. Luckily, at this point she was too small to scale the companionway ladder so we weren't too worried but we knew it wouldn't be long before she overcame that problem.
Onyx safely prowling the deck during her favorite time of day. The bungy cord through the bottom of the netting keeps her onboard while making it easy to pass things like docklines underneath.

Sure enough, it was only a few short weeks before she was practically jumping up the companionway, running round the deck, climbing up onto the boom for a better view, and sneaking up on us from the top of the dodger. This scared us enough to take some precautions. She didn't leave the cockpit while we were underway luckily, and boats approaching caused her to flee below and hide under the covers of the V-berth. But at night, she took anchor watch, and danced her way round the decks. She also developed this annoying habit of running up the companionway, down the full length of the deck, in through the hatch in the V-berth and back around again.  She'd repeat this for hours, jarring us awake each time she jumped between us.

First, we started trailing warps while at anchor. We'd read a story by Tania Aebi that her cat was saved once that way - turned up very wet and frazzled but alive one night. We thought it was worth the effort. The idea here was to provide her purchase for her claws and a way to climb back onboard if she fell overboard. We knew we'd never see her and were unlikely to hear her fall overboard at night. And we knew she wouldn't be able to swim far, especially in a current. So we took a big old anchor rode, and trailed it coiled over several times from the opening at the gate in the lifelines to fairly far back behind the stern. As far as we know, she never had to use it. She has certainly never taken a voluntary bath.

Next, we went out and bought lifeline netting, the kind you see on boats that sail with small children. It took a whole day to get it on the boat. You have to thread it through the top lifeline, and most people tie it down at the bottom to the toerail. We opted instead to secure the bottom with bungy cording to make it easier to lift the netting up for docklines and other necessary activities. This has been a great addition. Not only is Onyx quite happy and comfortable on deck where the netting is, but also the netting has saved many items from being lost at sea and has spared us numerous hat overboard drills. True, it is not as aesthetically pleasing, but I now feel uncomfortable without it. It has kept me from going overboard in a rough sea as well.

We were also worried that she might jump ship and get lost while in port at a dock. So we bought a harness and leash and thought we could secure her onboard if we had to. Luckily, she's a bit of a 'fraidy cat' and hates the thought of leaving ship on her own. The only time we ever used the leash was when we took her for a ride in the dinghy to the 'giant litter box' beach. And that is another story altogether.

Onyx draws anchor duty. She likes the unobstructed view but keeps a safe distance back wherever there is no netting.
Meanwhile, we've learned that Onyx is extremely cautious. She rarely leaves the cockpit while we are underway and never under rough conditions. At night, she likes to sit a fair distance back from where the netting does not reach at the bow so she gets an unobstructed view. She also sticks her head through the opening at the gate and stares down at the fish for hours on end it seems, but she's never tempted to lean too far out. And she's got great sealegs.

We did one other thing to help her remain safe onboard. That was to provide enough nonskid rugs below to let her walk comfortably along the cabin sole while underway. She needed to get to her litter box and food sources and back to her sleeping quarters of the day without sliding all the way across the cabin sole. Now we have a happy vessel where people and critters can safely enjoy all the comforts of home. We no longer trail warps, and we haven't tried the Fido jacket in years. Onyx will be five this August, and she is truly a cruising kitty - on her second boat with many adventures behind her and still ahead.

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