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UPDATE: Cruising with Pets Onboard in the Caribbean

Ellie and Jim Watson with Labradoodle Cali
Ellie and Jim Watson with Labradoodle Cali

After reading the article Pets Onboard in a recent edition of All At Sea I thought a little additional information would be helpful. My wife Ellie and I, with our dog Cali, have spent the last eight years cruising with pets in the eastern Caribbean. It has been quite a learning experience. So I thought I should share this hard earned information with the readers of the magazine.

Having been dog lovers all our life it never was a question of whether or not we would bring a dog with us. We decided a medium size non-shedding dog would make sense, so we got a Labradoodle. She was six months old when she was introduced to the boat and the cruising life. I think it is much easier to train a young dog then an older one. Potty training was the first thing we worked on. The windless up on the bow was a good place to start, since we have a convenient wash down hose located there. It took a few days of not going on shore leave before she got used to the concept of going in this spot. The next thing we worked on was making sure she could swim and feel comfortable around all this water. She didn’t like the dinghy until she realized it meant ‘shore leave’. Don’t ever let your dog jump off the boat, even at anchor, to fetch something. It could happen while you are sailing and cause a major problem.

Getting your dog prepared to visit the Caribbean Islands can be a costly and a time consuming process. It usually takes about a month and costs between $400 and $550 U.S., depending on your vet and other factors. There really is no difference in the requirements you must meet between importing a pet and being in transit (see sidebars). If you plan to go both south and north in the same season, be sure to ask for an extended time frame on the permit, so you don’t have to go through the process twice. Remember to maintain a patient and positive attitude when dealing with the island vets and their staff. It’s their island and their rules. Don’t ever try to sneak your dog ashore because you may not like the consequences. The results could be a fine, have the dog impounded, or even euthanized.

Fax or e-mail all the required documents to the government vet’s office and wait for them to issue the permit. I usually call them to make sure they received the documents and answer any questions they may have. This process could take one to three days so allow for the necessary time. Agree with the vet on where you plan to check in so they can meet you there. You must provide 48 hours advanced notice of your arrival. Also agree on whether to keep the dog on the boat or bring them ashore for inspection. There could be a fee for doing that inspection of up to $50.00 US.

Once you have met with the vet and they have cleared your dog into the island there are other things to be aware of: Always carry the permit with you at all times. Have a strong collar with the dog’s name and your boat name and contact information attached, and a leash to maintain control. I always carry poop bags with me to pick up her waste. Do not let your dog run free, because you never know what she might be chasing. Once, on St. John, Cali chased a mongoose for half an hour. She was out of sight and voice command, and when she returned, she was full of burs. On some of the islands the locals put out rat poison to deal with the stray dogs, so always keep your eye on them. Also, be prepared to deal with the island dogs. Some are pets (have collars on) and they are okay but other are strays or guard dogs. I usually carry a small bat and mace with me to protect both of us.

Another unexpected benefit of having a dog on board is security. Cali always barks when someone approaches our boat and only stops when I say okay. This alerts us to any possible issues and makes us feel more comfortable when going ashore at night.

It sounds like a lot of work, but it’s worth it to have your dog with you.

Jim and Ellie Watson have cruised the Caribbean since 2003 on their sailboat Last Tango.


• An International Health Certificate signed by the USDA within (7) days of travel to the first island. Be sure to bring your current titer test results.
• The pet must have a Microchip.
• The pet must have a current health check by a licensed veterinarian.
• All vaccinations must be current within one year, no three year rabies shots accepted.
• You will need a current titer blood test which is done by Kansas State University. This process could take three to four weeks.
• A current Heartworm Snap 4dx blood test.
• A current fecal stool test.
• You will have to send all the necessary paperwork to the island vet (fax or e-mail) prior to your visit and wait for approval. This could take three days.
• Once you receive approval you will need to notify the vet on the island you wish to visit 48 hours in advance of your visit. Also the place and time of check-in.
• Some islands require a current (within three days) Health Certificate, i.e. BVI when coming to their islands from another island.
• Meeting these requirements could cost from $400 to $550 US.

• Bring all necessary medicines for the term of the trip.
• If your pet has a special diet, bring enough food to last the trip.
• Have an appropriate pet medical kit.
• Have a pet health care book.
• Have the necessary grooming tools.
• Have a pet life-vest and harness.
• Have a strong collar and leash with the necessary contact information, rabies tag and Microchip information on it.


Strict Islands:
(requires import permit)
BVI  284 468-9108
Anguilla  264 497-2615
St. Kitts/Nevis*   869 465-2110
Antigua/Barbuda**  268 460-1759
Dominica  767 266-3824
St. Lucia  758 450-3213
St. Vincent/The Grenadines***   784 457-2452
Tobago Cays
Union Island
Petite St. Vincent
Grenada/Carriacou/Petite Martinique****  473 440-3195

Non Strict Islands:
Puerto Rico
St. Thomas
St. Johns
St. Croix

* You can only get the import permit in St. Kitts
** You can only get the import permit in Antigua
*** The permit can only be issued in St. Vincent and is good for all of the Grenadines. Make sure the expiration date is long enough for the return trip north if necessary.
**** Permit issued in Greneda

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  1. …. unless your rich , the jet set always bring
    their cats & dogs ….. in the grenadines and anguila.

  2. Thank you for this terrific information, I’m currently doing my due diligence on making sure I’ve all the proper documentation and procedures organized before I start my sail. I’m going to start in Grenada in February 2016, I noticed that you say that you can get a permit in St Vincint for the Grenidines. Everything be read has basically said that if you’re not brining your dog in directly from the UK Austrailia or New Zealand you won’t be able to land the dog. Do you have other information?

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