The cat fell overboard

To be honest, we aren’t exactly sure if Farley fell or jumped. Either way, the cat went for a swim on Sunday, making a few laps around the boat before being wrangled into the dinghy. It was only a matter of time as he’s been living on the boat for nearly ten months and has become increasingly bold with his exploration and curious about his surroundings.

We never let him roam the decks unattended for exactly this reason. If we are away, he is corralled below decks where he spends his time gazing out the port lights or napping in the sunshine. While aboard we keep him below with us but allow him to roam the decks while we are in the cockpit.  He has jumped off the boat before, at the marina, but always onto the dock. It’s incredible how far he can leap with seemingly little effort.

When we are sailing, he always wears his harness and is leashed into the cockpit. A cat overboard while at the mooring is manageable, but while underway would be a nightmare. Of course, we’d rather he not go overboard at all, but there’s just something about water with this cat.

Life aboard is all he’s ever known.

Seeing as this was his first swim we assumed he would be terrified and huddle below after the ordeal. Quite the contrary. After a fresh water rinse, rather than let Skye dry him off, he walked straight to the rail, hung his paws over and stared into the water. We are starting to wonder if he actually enjoyed the swim!

We should have seen this coming; he’s obsessed with water. Of course, like many cats, he plays with water dripping from the faucet or splashes in his water dish. But unlike others, he will go into the shower after we’ve used it and lay in the puddle. He’ll splash in it, roll around, paw at it and then distribute watery paw prints on every imaginable surface of the boat.

So what is our plan going forward to prevent the cat from unexpected swims? We have been planning to train him to climb back aboard on his own. I know what you are thinking, a self-resuing cat sounds ridiculous, but it is possible. I have read about it and seen it in countless online videos. There is an entire Facebook group dedicated to seafaring cats and beyond its entertaining face-value, it’s also a great resource for boating cat owners.

The training was (and still is) scheduled to start this summer, ideally once the water temperature has increased. The last thing we want is to harm Farley, and we feared that swimming in cold water would be terrifying and also potentially dangerous. We learned today that he is even tougher than we imagined. Nonetheless, he won’t be swimming again until the temperatures have increased.

The plan is to hang either a towel or a thick rope over the side of the boat; something that he can sink his claws into. We will have him use it first as a scratching post, so he understands how grippy it is. He already can climb several feet on the carpet we have wrapped around the mast below deck. Then, from a few feet away in the dinghy we will lower him into the water while guiding him to the rope, encouraging him to claw at it and pull himself out.

Here’s video proof it can be done:

I promise it is not as far-fetched as it seems, there are several accounts of success with this method. Eventually, we will increase the distance to the rope until he can enter the water from anywhere around the boat, find the rope and pull himself aboard.

I was not home when the unexpected cat overboard drill took place, so Skye had to pluck him out of the water all on her own. Whether he was enjoying the swim, or confused by his new surroundings, he certainly made her chase him down. Apparently, he’s a talented natural swimmer. Understandably shaken by the surprise of the morning, she took longer to recover than Farley. I can’t say I blame her. I was never a cat person, and in many ways still don’t regard myself as such, but I am a Farley person; he is family after all.

He recovered quickly.

Since we love him so much, and he seems relatively unfazed by the entire event, we are optimistic that with some repetitive training (and plenty of treats) he’ll be a rugged, self-rescuing kitty in no time.

If you just need more of Farley in your life, which you do, he is a regular star of both our Instagram and Facebook pages. Follow us to see how his training progresses.

Matt Garand

About Matt Garand

Lifelong Mainer, and professional mariner, Matt Garand is the creator of A Life Aboard, a look at year-round living on a sailboat in Maine. Matt and his wife, Skye, live aboard in South Portland and use every available chance to throw off the lines and explore the coast.