Travel by water

The following information has been written to aid guide and assistance dog owners wishing to travel with their dogs by sea or inland waterway. It summarises the procedures that should be taken for you to successfully travel with your guide or assistance dog.

As with all more complex journeys, you should first consider if it is appropriate to undertake a trip by boat or ship with your dog. If you are not sure, you should call Guide Line on 0800 7811444 (open Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm) or the assistance dog organisation who trained your dog for advice. You should also read and familiarise yourself with the section on the welfare considerations page.

A note of caution: not all boats, ships and landing places used by the public are deemed to be suitable to accommodate guide and assistance dogs. This may primarily be due to safety considerations with regard to the construction of the vessel, the suitability of the passenger accommodation on the vessel, or may be due to staffing levels. In any situation where access to a vessel is not permitted by a vessel operator, they should provide information as to why they are unable to accommodate your guide or assistance dog.

You may also find that some ports visited by operators, more especially with cruise ships, are not designed for the regular accommodation of passenger vessels. Therefore, you will need to check with the operator of the vessel you are travelling on, which ports may be less unsuitable for you and your dog to disembark from safely or without assistance.

If you wish to travel by sea or inland waterway with your dog on 'non-turn up and go’ services (for example cruise trips), you should inform the vessel operator, tour operator, or booking agent, that you intend to travel with a guide or assistance dog. Ideally, this should be done at least 48 hours before travelling, although every reasonable effort should be made by the operator or its agent to accommodate you and your dog, if less notice is unavoidable.

You should be aware that some cabins on cruise ships are very small, so may limit space for you and your dog to coexist comfortably. Larger cabins with a reasonable amount of space are often preferable but cost more and need to be booked a considerable time before departure. Please speak to your cruise operator or travel agent about suitable accommodation for you and your dog.

It is also advisable that you contact the port and vessel operator directly, even if booked through a third party, to ensure that everything is put in place to support your guide or assistance dog on the day of travel.

Operators may ask for evidence that your guide or assistance dog is trained by what is known as a recognised training organisation. A list of qualifying training organisations can be found on the International Guide Dogs Federation (IGDF) or Assistance Dogs International (ADI) websites.

Your Guide Dogs or Assistance Dog ID book may be accepted as documentary evidence by operators with pre-booking a trip, with the ID tag on the dog’s collar, harness or jacket, helping to confirm the dog’s status as being trained by a recognised organisation. Documentary evidence can also be supplied by calling Guide Line on 0800 7811444 (open Monday to Friday between 9am and 5pm) , or through the assistance dog organisation who trained your dog.

On point-to-point ferry journeys, PETS checks are usually carried out prior to departure, so you should have all relevant documentation ready to be checked, including your European PETS passport, prior to boarding the vessel.

If you are disembarking in other countries on a cruise with your guide or assistance dog you will need to arrange treatment against tapeworm before your dog is allowed to re-enter the UK. It is therefore worth you checking the itinerary of the ship to ensure that you can make arrangements with a local vet in the country you are visiting to get your dog treated before re-entering the UK. It's also worth noting that other EU countries also have tapeworm requirements which will need to be complied with if you are not travelling directly to that country from the UK (i.e. the ship makes a call in another country first).

On ferry journeys, pet dogs are sometimes expected to remain in the vehicle they are travelling in on the car deck. However, you should be able to take your dog onto the passenger portions of the vessel, although there may be some restrictions in where the dog can go, due to safety considerations. If pet dogs are allowed on the passenger deck, but are restricted to specific areas, you may still be able to take your dog to other areas restricted to pet dogs, as long as the dog is wearing its harness or jacket, has an ID tag on its collar and you have ID for the dog.

Some operators will have dedicated toileting/spending areas for dogs on the passenger section of the vessel, others will expect you to spend your dog on the vehicle deck. You should check with the operator as to where your dog should be taken to spend.

On some ferries, cabins can be booked for overnight or long crossings. However, the number of cabins dedicated to the accommodation of guide and assistance dogs may be limited, so it is advisable that you book cabin space, as far in advance as possible, to guarantee an appropriate cabin is available.

You are able to travel with your guide or assistance dog on some cruise ships, however, it is important before booking to establish which cruise lines, cruise ships and which cruise holidays dogs are permitted on. Depending on the cruise operator, there may also be additional limitations as to which cabins can be booked to accommodate a guide or assistance dog.

There may be a difference between cruise operators in the terms and conditions for carriage of a guide or assistance dog. This may be due to the type of cruise ship being operated, infrastructure on the ship to support a dog or the destinations being visited.

A note of caution: dependent on the cruise operator, there may be differences in their expectations as to how and where dogs should be toileted. Some provide infrastructure on deck much like a spending area on land, but with other operators, dogs are expected to toilet indoors in out-sized toilet trays, which the dog may not be used to. Therefore, some dogs may need to be acclimatised to a new way of toileting, prior to a cruise. You are therefore strongly advised to seek support and advice from your Guide Dogs Community Team or the organisation who trained your dog prior to taking your dog on a cruise.

Also, in most cases, shipping operators will expect you to manage health related issues with your dog:

  • as there are usually no veterinary staff on board a cruise ship
  • not all ports have veterinary support at hand
  • some sea crossings can be excessively rough
  • some trips between ports can be a number of days apart
  • cruise operators do not have relationships with veterinary services in each country visited
  • some ports on an itinerary may be missed out because of bad weather or port capacity issues

Therefore, it is important that you have provision in place to support your dog before taking it on a cruise, and are aware of the limitations with some cruise ships, destinations, ports and facilities or operators.

This page is general guidance. For a comprehensive answer to specific questions, you should contact:

  • the operator you are travelling with
  • the port you are leaving or re-entering the UK from
  • the Maritime and Coastguard Agency who are the National Enforcement Body on EU Regulation on ‘Maritime Passenger Rights’

Maritime Passenger Rights

02380 329 315