What we have learned about traveling with a cat onboard
Though for years we had taken our cat Leo on the boat the longest trip with him was 5 days. As we were making plans for our “Loop” trip Leo passed away and we adopted a new kitten,
Admiral Peary. The Admiral was 1 year old when we started our trip.
What we did right to get him ready for the big adventure:
We regularly put him in his kitty carrier with treats, took him for rides in the car, and to visit relatives with cats and on our boat for several overnight trips, all with the hope of getting him used to adjusting to new surroundings. This worked pretty well, he does not get car or seasick and is a pretty adaptable little guy.
What we did OK:
We bought a collapsible 16 x 19 x 23 inch wire crate so we would have an option to keep him on deck when we were at a marina. On average we stay at marinas about one night a week. The crate was set up at home in the living room for about 4 weeks before we departed. I regularly fed him in it which somewhat decreased his fear on the crate. I tried leaving him in his crate overnight and he was so miserable and crying I usually let him out after a few hours. I thought on the boat he would sleep in the cuddy with us and we would only be using the crate when we were tied up at a marina. Boy was I wrong. The first week the cat ran wild every night in the cuddy, we got almost no sleep. The cat was happy to sack out all day and was again ready to romp that night. We decided to put him in his crate on deck at night. He was miserable and howled and rattled the cage for hour after hour until I would go rescue him, then we were back to romping in the cuddy. Finally on night three using the crate I just put a pillow over my head and left him out there. Night four was much the same but night five much to my amazement he curled up in the crate and went to sleep. We didn't hear a peep from him until just before sunrise. I have a food and water bowls and kitty litter boxes in both the cuddy and the crate. His preferred food bowl and litter box are in his crate. So, though I wish we had started him earlier getting used to his crate in the end it has worked quite well.
At home our cats have their own “kitty” door and come and go as they want. The Admiral loved to climb trees, race around the yard and chase bugs. He would head out of the house an hour before sunrise and return for breakfast when he heard the coffee grinder in the kitchen. I have worried that a 24' boat is a pretty confined world for this guy. An “indoor” cat might have an easier transition to the boating life.
What we failed at:
I had hoped to be able to walk the cat on a leash. I bought the halter and leash when the Admiral was 8 months old, read the instructions and realized I was 7 months late for leash training according to the directions. He got used to wearing the halter but being on a leash has not worked at all. He panics when he feels restrained by the leash and tries to back out of the leash and kind of goes nuts. On a lock on the Trent Severen Waterway in Canada I found a nice quiet grassy park areas away from people with no traffic,a bicyclist went and he panicked, We tried a night time walk at Kentucky Dam Marina in and a very quiet 6:00am walk at Pebble Isle Marina, nothing works I am afraid in one of his panics he will succeed in getting out of his halter and we will never be able to find him.
This cat is very sensitive to noise and very observant, He gets more alarmed at noise and movement than any cat we have ever had. When Leo heard another boat he would often get on the cuddy roof and practically wave to the passing boaters; he seemed to love profiling and having his picture taken. The Admiral will hear a boat long before Steve or I do and immediately leaves for his safe spot on the roof or dives into the cuddy. Would cats with a different more laid back personality be able to handle a leash better? I think they might. Best to start young.
What we have learned so far:
Cats can swim. Actually I already knew this because when I was 7 years old my sister and I took our cat for a ride in the boat, when we got about 30 feet from shore he made a great leap of about 15 feet and had to swim the rest of the way.
The Admiral is in his crate at night but has full run of the boat when we are doing a slow cruise (5MPH) and when we are at anchor. His favorite place to hangout is on the wheelhouse roof under the kayak. We try to anchor in areas that have little current but that isn't always possible. He is not allowed on deck unless Steve or I am on deck with him.
The first month he fell in twice when we were at anchor and then again about 6 weeks later. It has now been 5 months since his last swim so it seems his sea legs and judgment have gotten much better getting better but I do worry.
Cats can do a self-rescue if you have ropes and covered bumpers out. At anchor we probably look a little sloppy. We loop and drape the dock lines from the side and stern cleats so they drag in the water a couple feet. I also made polar fleece covers for the bumpers so the cat can get his claws into them to re-board. We were at anchor the second week of the trip on the Erie Canal when Steve and I had heard a splash knew the Admiral had gone overboard; we were grabbing the fishing net and anxiously looking over the gunnel for him when he hauled himself in on the dock line.
After several months without an overboard incident we had gotten a bit complacent. We anchored late in the day on the Perdido River, is was a glass calm night and I forgot to put the “kitty ropes and bumpers overboard. Suddenly we heard a splash but it was dark, he is a black cat and we couldn't see him, he got swept back behind the transom but was able to cling the the outboard engine. It was very frightening to have him overboard and not be able to see him, as I had always thought if he began to be swept away I would just jump in and rescue him. After that experience he now goes in his crate as the sun goes down, no more on deck after dark.
Admiral Peary enjoys watching the birds, is fascinated by fish coming on board and would like to figure out how to help Steve clean the fish. He keeps us and is good traveling companion. Of course I am a cat person and really could imagine spend a year without a cat.