Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Our Two Goldilocks

If you have followed the blog for several years, you probably remember there was an episode in 2014 involving little Miss Dee and dolphins.

Let's just say Dee Dee is the only member of the crew who experienced Swims With Dolphins.

The near catastrophic failure of her harness as her dad tried to pull her back onto the boat led us on a multi-month search for the "perfect" harness for cruising dogs. If you want the whole story, you can find the previous blog entries here:

Swims With Dolphins - Lessons Learned
Crew Safety - Let's Get Started
Crew Safety - Size Matters
Crew Safety - Putting Them To The Test
Crew Safety - What We Learned

We tried numerous options but none of them satisfied all of our requirements. We never did find the one that was just right. There were problems of fit, questions about the integrity of the fasteners, and issues with metal components rusting in the seawater environment.

What we have settled on over the 2 plus years since Dee Dee had her big adventure is a combination of harnesses, some while underway on the big boat and some for use on the dinghy and for swimming. A big problem being that any harness with metal components quickly rusts if used for swimming.

Currently, we are using a walking harness when the dogs are on the dinghy and going swimming. They have all plastic clips that don't rust and offer a handy way to lift the dogs in non-stressful situations.

While under way, we put them in more substantial harnesses with lifting loops and belly plates for support. Dylan's has not rusted as long as we keep it out of the water.

As Dylan and Dee Dee's harness are showing wear, Mom decided it was time to launch another search for the perfect harness. The crew would like to get the whole ActiveCaptain community involved - well, at least those that have canine crew. With a cross posting on Facebook, we're hoping to generate discussion and suggestions. Maybe we could even build enough excitement to convince some of these manufactures to create a marine harness. Mom tried to convince them before but was told the market wasn't big enough - really?!?!?

Below is the crew's list of requirements:

1. A belly plate to support them should they need to be lifted.

2. A large loop on the back, often referred to as a traffic loop, that offers an easy target for a boat hook and a good handle for lifting.

3. A comfortable fit. Yes, we know that the safest option is a life vest for the crew and we do carry them onboard. But the crew finds them uncomfortable. The harness needs to offer enough adjustments to allow for a comfortable yet snug fit.

4. Secure, rugged fasteners that won't rust in the marine environment. Maybe we're wrong but Mom worries that plastic clips may fail when lifting a large, panicking dog. Yet every metal fastener we have tried rusts. We need good quality stainless steel fasteners.

5. Fasteners on both sides. Many harnesses require that the dog step into at least one side of the harness. One of the things we loved about the Kong harness (other than the nice large loop on the back) was that the chest strap had fasteners on both sides making it quick and easy to put on the dog.

6. Fasteners should be quick and easy to use. The fasteners on the Kurgo Pinnacle harness are the same ones used on their crash tested harnesses for cars. While, they are sturdy, they are also more difficult to use. Is there something that can incorporate both security and simplicity?

7. The harness straps must not stretch nor the fasteners slide when they become wet and undergo stress. We are fairly certain that the ultimate undoing of Dee Dee's harness was that the plastic clips slid on the straps after a half hour in the water with a dog frantically swimming.

Do you have a harness or harnesses that work well for your canine crew? In what situations have you used them? Does your crew swim and does the harness hold up in saltwater?

We believe that together we can find a better solution. Help Dylan and Dee Dee find their next safety harness.

Oh, and Dee Dee says something in a nice hot pink or purple would suit her quite well.


Pamela said...

So glad to see you're looking for a really safe option. As you pointed out, so many harnesses are not up to the job needed on a boat.

We use a mountaineering harness for dogs, the RuffWear DoubleBack harness. It meets all your criteria and is SAFE! We use it to lower our golden retriever from the boom into the dinghy.

I wrote about our process: http://www.somethingwagging.com/taking-the-dog-for-a-walk-at-anchor/

My only wish is that Ruffwear could add some floatation to it. Perhaps if we boaters banded together?

MV Red Head said...

Wow, that is one serious harness. I like it. Have you used it for swimming? Had any problems with rust?

MV Red Head said...

Here is a link to the RuffWear DoubleBack harness on the Kurgo website:


MV Red Head said...

Another suggestion from the Facebook group. The Help Em Up harness:

Anyone with experience with this one?

Kent said...

I"ll bet a Sail Repair Shop could replace the rusted parts on the Harness with S/S..
And if the repair shop loves Doggies-- They just might do it for free..

I know just the place too-- Red Head went by it already though..


MV Red Head said...

A member of the Dogs Who Sail Facebook sent along a link to this great article on dog life vests:


The Red Head crew uses the Ruffwear vests - they're great. If you don't have a life vest for your canine crew, check out the article and get one today.

We're still hoping to find a harness solution,so keep your input coming!

Mike, Linda and Jake said...

No suggestions, but we are glad to see the discussion. We are in the market for a new harness for our 12 /12 year old lab, Jake, who is beginning to have issues getting on and off the boat and with stairs. He needs a little helping hand.

Unknown said...

A great harness that meets many of your criteria is this one. Does have plastic clips and coated metal hardware, but my dogs have given it a lot of abuse and it has held up. Plus it comes in a bunch of fun colors.

Another option is Canine Outfitters. We got my dog's flyball harness there. The harnesses are all handmade and he does a lot of custom work so he may be able to work with you to create exactly what you are looking for.

Pamela said...

Follow up comment re: swimming in Double Back harness--I have a golden retriever who doesn't care to swim. She will wade so we do get the harness wet in salt water. But don't have any information about how the harness holds up to daily swims.

Unknown said...

I did a lot of research on harnesses for the car and landed on sleepypod. It has strength and comfort. I use it on my boat as well when my dog is not wearing her life jacket. look at the crash test videos run independently from the company


Unknown said...

The nice thing on the sleepy pod is that the handles are attached to the straps to the chest piece, no pressure is put on the clips at all. the plastic clips are not included in the lift they just keep the sleepy pod on. all pressure is on straps only

MV Red Head said...


I found the Sleepy Pod interesting... But had some questions and sent a request to them last week. I've heard nothing back after several days which concerns me. I always say that customer service never suddenly gets better after the sale. How did you find their customer service?


Aced Again said...

I just ordered some of this...http://www.microcortech.com/....it was featured in a Boating Mag test and may solve the metal problems on your harness. It may solve tons of boat problems, particularly on a steel boat! From their website, "MC-300 has a dielectric characteristic, so it’s safe on electronics and completely shuts down electrolysis between dissimilar metals. You can use MC-300 on anything you don’t want to rust, including engines, generators and anything related to boating and sailing, including saltwater and coastal environments". I don't have anything to do with the company, just a boater down here in Jax on the Ortega River. Passed Red Head several times while you were here, awesome boat.

Eddie Marie said...

Hi Karen and Crew,
I just ordered a Kurgo Impact Harness for our cross country car trip. I am still looking for that all purpose harness for the boat. I use the Ruffwear life jacket on the boat for certain conditions and love the handle. Peppe is 32 lbs. and I use it to lift him off the boat and on to the dock. But again it is bulky and hot for conditions where you do not need a life jacket but want a harness with a handle for nice conditions.
I am following your research. I just talked with your contact at Kurgo and she was very helpful. Thank you for all your work on this subject.
Eddie & Peppe
M/V Tothill

Eddie Marie said...

Hi Karen,
I just got the Kurgo Impact Harness for our car trip in medium for his 32 lbs. It fits well and the two handles at the top for the seat belt are super strong. I am thinking it might also work for his light harness on the boat. This harness is crash tested and the material is supper strong. Maybe you should take a look.
I also got a Kong padded two handle Traffic Leash which has a super strong buckle. All for now.
Enjoy Maine.
Eddie & Peppe
M/V Tothill

Unknown said...

I have to reiterate the best one is one where none of the stresses go into the clips at all
if the stress goes into the clip it will fail
if the stress goes into the webbing it self and the clip is just to hold it on the dog (sleepypod or others with the same concept) your dog will be safe and happy

I just know that sleepypod does the same crash testing they do with people and
it has been rated as such

Unknown said...

Karen i have talked with them and even suggested that they advertise in marine publications

maybe i can answer your questions

BY the way We had a yellow lab boat dog abbey rose, seeing your dogs brings back memories and tears (of remberance not sadness)

We now have a new member of "the Doghouse" crew a black golderndoodle Cairo who wears her sleepy pod anytime she is on the boat.

She abides by the code "if you are looking for us... we are out in the doghouse"