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Review: Chico the Boat Dog Tests Critter’s Inflatable Life Jacket

Review by guest writer Vicki Lathom. Photos & video Copyright © Vicki Lathom.

WHO WOULD HAVE thought that my article on Chico the Boat Dog would take on a life of its own? Not only did I get blog comments and Facebook feedback on the story, but I also got a request from the creator of an inflatable doggie life jacket to do a test of his device.

It’s called Critter’s Inflatable and, after looking at the videos online, I thought: any famous dog like Chico, who’s featured on a travel blog, deserves the best.

Thus began the next chapter, Chico the Boat Dog Tests Critter’s Inflatable. Dan McCormick, inventor and retired Coast Guard employee, sent me two jackets, a medium and a large, since Chico is one of those “tween” dogs. Too small to be big; too big to be small. His weight is medium; the girth of his chest is large.

Fitting Chico with the Doggie Life Jacket

It’s a little intimidating at first, with several straps you have to set to adjust to the animal. However, once you go through the fitting, it’s just snap-it-on after that.

Critter's Inflatable Life Vest for boat dogs

Chico at ease wearing his new Critter’s Inflatable

The first thing I liked about Critter’s is that Chico didn’t even know he had it on. Most doggie life jackets are bulky—past experience with a typical PFD (personal flotation device) was that Chico just laid down rather than deal with walking around. Critter’s scored high for permitting ease of movement.

Now to the screen test. My son and I took Chico on our 26-foot power boat and beached it across the river. It was the closest to being a movie producer and director that I ever expect to be. Chico had his Critter’s jacket on and we did the setup, including kidding about getting Chico’s makeup on and his hair combed.

So it was lights, camera, action.

Critter’s Inflatable Performs in the Water

We lowered Chico into the water with the handle and slowly the inflatable part inflated. Fast enough to get him afloat but slow enough so Chico didn’t freak out. I thought that was a nice touch, since I had this image of the thing blowing up in an instant, throwing the dog into a panic attack. But Chico just swam around.

Inflatable life vest for dogs on boats

Success! Chico takes off swimming as the life vest inflates

I liked the fact that the inflatable part is a bright yellow, so if he went in water with white caps, he would be visible.

When we lifted him out, he had a moment of trying to figure out what to do now that he was so fat and couldn’t get through the opening. But deflating is easy. The CO2 cartridge gets replaced and you’re ready to go again.

Dan McCormick is understated about his invention, which is the only automatically inflatable life jacket on the market. Dan has no dogs, only cats. The reason he invented Critter’s Inflatable was because a friend who is a boater asked him why something that was used for people couldn’t be used for a dog. “Never thought about it before,” says Dan, “but since I was involved in personal flotation device standards for the Coast Guard for eight years, I thought, why not?” So he adapted one for pets and got it patented.

Thus began an adventure into the world of doggie marketing. Dan’s family is his public relations firm: his son did the web site (, his wife the copywriting, his daughter the graphics. Dad is the engineer.

Safety and Quality

What is so impressive about Dan is his concern about the quality and reliability of his device, no doubt a carryover from the Coast Guard’s mission to save and rescue people. He is so concerned about the quality of his inflatable that he recalled one iteration of the jacket because he wasn’t satisfied with the CO2 fitting—all at significant expense to him. “I just can’t have a product out there on the market that isn’t of the highest quality.”

So, we’re set. Next winter, Chico will meet the Bahamas, inflatable on, ready for any unexpected tumble into the water off our boat. The author and Chico’s owner will also meet the Bahamas next winter, confident that if her movie star dog accidentally goes overboard, he will live to paw-stamp more autographs for his adoring fans.


Safety tips for boat dogs from the U.S. Coast Guard

More YouTube videos of dogs using Critter’s Inflatable

Buy Critter’s Inflatable from

FTC Compliance: The reviewer tested this product at the request of the inventor and, according to the writer’s guidelines for this site, gave her honest assessment. Neither the reviewer nor Milliver’s Travels guarantees your results with this product. We recommend you read the product website and related literature before purchasing. See Site Policies for more details on Milliver’s Travels’ review policies.


Vicki Lathom

Vicki Lathom

Vicki Lathom has been a writer and sailor for 40 years. She retired from being director of public information for Montgomery County, Md., in 1996, and went to work for Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer as his speechwriter. Vicki has also done freelance travel writing and photography for such publications as SAIL and Maryland Magazine. She is currently a writing instructor for two graduate schools at the University of Maryland. Her higher education has been in journalism and public administration.

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  1. Wow, how great that Chico (and you) were asked to test this important product! And thank goodness Chico will be safe in the Bahamas (or when you come back to Maine!). Interesting post!

    • vicki lathom says:

      thanks. It was the last thing I expected — being asked to test a product. Just shows that this writing stuff can wander just about anywhere. The point of safety was uppermost in my mind, because dogs do fall off of boats and not all dogs swim…or, if they do, they get tired just like people do.

  2. I love the video! Chico looks SO happy in the water and how wonderful that there are caring folks out there thinking of our pets! Congratulations on your blog post taking off like a rocket!

    • vicki lathom says:

      The video was a challenge…another whole world. I’m comfortable with writing and even photography, but doing justice with a video camera? I really have respect for people who make movies. Thanks for your comment about Chico looking happy. As a sheltie, he’s not a dog that takes to water… but it was the closest I’ve seen to his being comfortable swimming.

  3. Well this is great. I love dogs, but being 100% honest here – am surprised it hasn’t been invented before ! I was reading your post thinking “it great” but also “damn i thought they had those things from a long time!”

    • vicki lathom says:

      Luke: You would have thought, but not so. Dan patented this and apparently it’s the only automatic inflatable doggie life jacket.


  4. Belated, I am glad I arrived here to read your very neat story Vicki! I just saw the link on Milli’s twitter page.

    I am forwarding this to my daughter who lives on the coast in SC. She takes her dogs out on the boat frequently. She has some kind of life preserver on them, but I am not sure what kind. This one looks like the top of the line for sure.

    Daughter said one time one of her dogs did go overboard and the reaction of the dog scared her pretty badly. As I recall, so did the problem of getting the dog back into the boat. That’s when she bought some kind of preserver.

    You are so right as you say in a comment above, some dogs can’t swim and ALL dogs will eventually get too tired to swim. I know of one fatality.

    Animals in the wild go into the water from the shore. Their instincts tell them how far out they can go and still return safely. When humans take them to the middle of a large lake, a bay or an ocean and they fall off, well they are but in danger.

    This is an important message. Thank you for sharing it.

  5. Yes my dogs all have one! It is required here and I feel it is very necessary! It is a very courious thing. Most people think dogs naturally know how to swim. Not so! They may for a bit but then they will panic and sink like a rock! So yup If they are out in a boat then they have a life vets on!

  6. Nice job! how to save dogs in water.
    Thanks for information.

  7. I love my critters life vest and I love to buy a size medium for my new dog but I don’t seem to be able to find one for sale

  8. Where can I get one in Australia?

  9. I want to buy one of those auto inflatable life jackets for My dog Please send me your number. I have questions. Thank you

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