Boats and dogs go together like, well, boats and dogs. The time-honored partnership dates back to long before the first recreational runabout was splashed. So it surprised a couple of boaters who sought gear that catered to canine crewmembers that there was little on the market.
"Jack and Riley, my two Labs, loved the water," says Scott Rowles, 39, a Florida native who walked away from a career in software engineering and spent two years living aboard a 50-foot sailing cat in Australia. "They were constantly diving into the water with no way to get back in. I quickly tired of hauling the two 100-pound soaking wet dogs back into the boat."
At about the same time, near the turn of the millennium, Amber McCrocklin, 38, a recent transplant from the Midwest, was enjoying her Four Winns 220 Horizon in her new year-round boating grounds off Tampa, Fla., with her yellow Lab pup.
"I had a boat and got a puppy, which was only 30 pounds. By the second year, he was 95 pounds," McCrocklin says. "I looked for a boat ladder for dogs and couldn't find one."
Their mutual moments of inspiration led to Dive N Dog, which Rowles co-founded and serves as president, and Paws Aboard, which McCrocklin founded and sits as president.
Paws Aboard designs and sells a dozen nautical pet products, from the bright yellow Doggy Boat Ladder (starting at $220) to a range of canine PFDs (starting at about $20). The company recently expanded into the mainstream pet market in a deal with the retailer PETCO.
"I just took what I'm passionate about and started a business with it," says McCrocklin, who designs all of the products. "It was easy for me."
Doggie PFDs are the biggest sellers, and
McCrocklin adds and drops styles and patterns based on what her customers are buying. A new neoprene line of PFDs, which offer a softer feel and greater durability, debuts this year, further catering to boaters' urges to pamper their pooches. Paws Aboard posts online a sizing chart based on weight, neck and body girth to assure owners buy a properly fitting PFD.
Dive N Dog's first product was the Folding Stair Platform (starting at $300), which was designed by Rowles to enable both four- and two-legged crewmembers to climb back aboard. The company still offers several dog-friendly boarding ladders but has since diversified into stainless accessories like cleats, grab rails, rod holders, anchor rollers and steering wheels.
"People still do tend to think of us as the dog ladder people," says Melissa Cahill, Dive N Dog marketing director.
While the manufacturer offers more than 400 products - most designed for boats in general, not dogs - a "dog culture" pervades its headquarters. "It's a very dog-friendly environment," Cahill says. "I have two dogs, and they're often here. I think everyone here in the main office has a dog, and there are typically several on the job." The newest addition is Ronan, a yellow Lab pup.
"I've always thought that dogs were a natural fit for boaters," Rowles says. "Most dogs love to be around the water and most boaters enjoy the companionship of their dogs aboard their boat. Some boaters don't take their dogs with them because they don't have a way to get them back in the boat after a swim. This product [the Folding Stair Platform] helps everyone, dogs included, enjoy a day out on the boat."
For information, visit www.divendog.com and www.pawsaboard.com.
See related articles:
This article originally appeared in the July 2010 issue.