Dogs on the Alaska Marine Highway System (Alaska Ferry)

I’ve shared a lot of stories/photos from my trip on the Alaska Marine Highway, but I have more!

When I decided to go to Alaska I wanted to bring my dogs with me.  The original plan was to drive.  After thinking about it and some sound advice from my dad, I decided to take the Alaska Marine Highway (Alaska Ferry) from Bellingham, Washington to Haines, Alaska and then drive the rest.  The change in plans didn’t result in my getting there any sooner, but it did limit stress on both my car and me.  And, my dogs could still go.

The Rules

There are specific rules for taking dogs (or cats) on the Alaska Marine Highway.

  • They must have a health certificate.
  • They must stay in a car unless they are service animals in which case special documentation is required.
  • The owner must clean up after them during deck calls.
  • They can be walked on land during port calls.

Room to Live

I knew my dogs would be spending a lot of time in the car, so I made it quite comfortable for them.  Since they are small dogs they had plenty of room to move around.  If I were bringing a larger dog, I would do everything I could to make sure they had the room to walk, stand, and stretch out.

Deck Calls

On days that didn’t include port calls, the only chance to see and take care of my dogs were deck calls.  Deck calls occurred at 8:30 am, 2:30 pm, 8:30 pm, and 12:30 am (times were dependent on weather and crew preference).  Each deck call is announced except the one at 12:30 am, which they call a silent deck call (you have to wake yourself up).

During deck calls anyone can get to their car, but it’s mainly for pet owners.  The car decks are open for 15 minutes at each deck call.  It’s not a lot of time to feed, water, and potty your dogs.

MV Columbia Dog ParkDeck calls are like being at a dog park without any grass.  The MV Columbia (which is the vessel we took each way) has two car decks.  We ended up on the upper deck going to Alaska and the lower deck coming home.  There is a HUGE difference.  The upper deck had very little room for the dogs and there happened to be an intimidating mastiff on board.  I had a hard time finding a private location for my dogs.  The lower deck has much more space to move around.  I doubt there is the ability to select between the upper and lower car decks, but it couldn’t hurt to ask.  By the way, large vehicles will only fit on the lower deck.

Proudly, my dogs are well trained (especially my oldest).  Going potty indoors was not something they wanted to do.  AkerKinley and Aker on Lower Car Deck finally went potty after holding it for over 24 hours.  Kinley never went on the car deck; he waited until our first port call which was over 36 hours.  It’s hard to believe, but it’s not uncommon for dogs to hold their potty on the ferry.  It’s not necessarily a good thing, but they WILL survive.

In hindsight, I think the entire deck call process was more stressful for me than them.

Port Calls

The days with port calls were my favorite.  I felt guilty leaving my dogs in the car for the entire ferry trip.  On the days we were in port, I loved taking them out for a walk/potty break.  Kinley had some anxiety about walking the narrow path, along the car ramp, to exit the ferry so I had to carry him off and on.  Although, Aker has knee issues he was a trooper.  I only had to carry both of them once…thank goodness because even though they are small breed dogs they are quite hefty.

Would I do it again?

I loved the ferry and even though I was a bit stressed about the well-being of my dogs I would take the ferry again.  I’d probably try a couple of different things:

  • Prior to leaving I would attempt to train them to the “Potty” command in hopes that they would be comfortable going no matter where we were.
  • I would take along a small piece of artificial grass.

More about My Trip

To see all posts about my Alaska/Canada Road Trip click here.

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