From coastal city living in Auckland, New Zealand to picturesque island life on the Isle of Wight in the UK, Superyacht Veterinary Service founder Siobhan Brade has always lived by the sea. So it seemed almost natural to join her two great passions of animals and the water when a chance opportunity came up just three years ago.
"I qualified as a vet from the Royal Veterinary College in London before moving back to New Zealand to work as a small animal vet,” Siobhan Brade explains. “The idea [to start Superyacht Veterinary Service or SVS] came about when several visiting captains in New Zealand needed assistance with the import and care of dogs travelling into the country with their owners. My sister works in the superyacht industry and suggested I help these captains, which I did. Everything grew from there.”
She is currently the only known and registered vet in the yachting industry and is consummate in her aim to provide a level of service and knowledge that cannot be matched by competitors - “If and when they do arrive!”
Shortly after setting up her company two years ago, Siobhan moved back to Cowes on the Isle of Wight from her New Zealand home and hasn’t looked back since. She officially launched SVS in 2014 following a year of informal assistance and when she isn’t working with her yachting clients, Siobhan spends a day or two a week working as a ‘normal’ veterinary surgeon in a small animals practice. “It allows me to keep up-to-date with the latest treatments and technologies,” she says.
Planning & legal requirements
Her role is primarily based around helping yachts navigate the complex waters of import and export procedures and preventative medicine - most of which she can manage remotely. “The aim of my service is to prevent emergencies, either logistical or medical,” she explains, “but I am always available to discuss any potential issues and answer my clients questions. Preparation is key and I would recommend that clients contact me as early as possible in a trip’s planning stages.”
Yachts travelling the upper fringes of the Mediterranean and other places in the European Union have the advantage of the EU-wide PETS travel scheme, which allows relatively free movement of pets between most EU countries once the initial requirements have been met, she explains. However, travelling to and from countries in other parts of the world with an animal on board can be more difficult.
“Further afield, deciphering and complying with the rules of every country can be a time consuming headache for captains and management teams, with significant penalties for non-compliance,” Siobhan says, “and SVS can take care of all of this. From the medical side, I can act as the animals’ primary veterinarian, but I can also provide country by country risk assess-ments that inform owners of what diseases their pet may be exposed to and, more importantly, how to prevent them. This ensures that pets remain well-protected from illness or injury and stay happy and healthy whilst abroad. I can also provide veterinary first aid training to crew and medical supplies – from individual items to a fully stocked veterinary medical kit and key veterinary contacts.”
Pet food and nutritional plans - often prepared by a yacht’s chef - are also part of her service. Siobhan’s experience as a vet and animal owner (her border collie Starla is the SVS mascot and you can find many of their coastal excursions on Siobhan's Instagram @superyachtdog) has given her an expert insight into the types of products suitable for on board living. “I can supply or recommend tried and tested items such as cleaning supplies that are suited to the high quality furnishings of a superyacht, grooming kits to keep hairs and cleaning to a minimum, and gear such as dog beds, toys and collars that are in keeping with the aesthetics of a yacht. SVS is a one-stop-shop for all the needs of superyacht animals and no request is too big or small!”
A sense of familiarity in a transient world
Since launching her business, Siobhan has noticed a growing trend in owners taking their pets with them on their trips away.
“Pets are members of the family so it makes sense for owners (and sometimes captains) to bring their pets with them,” she says. “With changes to pet travel regulations over the past decade, travelling with your pets is now a reality for many people, including those who own or charter superyachts. Having their pet with them removes the anxiety many owners feel when leaving them at home as well as providing a sense of familiarity that is often lost in the busy, transient lives of superyacht owners. The yachts often act as a second home for owners and it makes sense to include pets in this picture. Equally, bringing your dog or cat along with you can add an extra dimension to the luxury experience of a superyacht, making the whole trip more memorable for everyone on board.”
But not all furry friends are cut out for life on the waves and just like humans, some pets have their sea legs and others don’t!
“The dogs that are used to travelling on superyachts seldom get sick and if they do, it is only in rough weather. However, vets such as myself can prescribe sea sickness tablets to any pets that need them.”
On call 24/7 worldwide
If an emergency arises at sea, Siobhan is always on call: “Any time of the day or night, [clients] can call me for help and advice, and I can get on board in the fastest way possible as arranged by the captain or crew. If I am needed in person then I can travel directly to the patient without delay. Some owners and crew may also want me to travel with them if they are cruising somewhere remote or if an animal needs particular veterinary attention.”
Heading off in the middle of the night isn’t always practical however - “The aim of my business is to prevent emergencies and any last minute panics” - so Siobhan advises anyone considering taking their pet away with them to have a veterinary medical kit on board at all times so that all the medication and equipment that is needed is always close at hand. “As part of a support package I can provide a boat with a list of local vets and information on the standard of care in that area. Following verbal consultation with me, we are able to arrange for them to see a vet in the fastest way possible if they need one and make a decision as to whether or not the patient would have to be taken further afield to receive appropriate treatment.”
The goal of SVS is to try and avoid any desperate situations occurring, but as she points out, preparation and prior-planning is important: “Before setting out on a trip, the yacht and I normally work together to create a plan where we coordinate what would happen if the patient got sick or needed surgery.”
On board life on four paws
Living on board a yacht many seem like a curious place for an animal, but there are many yachts that have been specially adapted to provide creature comforts such as the laying of turf for an animal to do its business on, modifications to railings and door sensors for safety purposes, and even modified swim platforms. “I heard of one swim platform that was the perfect height to let water-loving dogs launch themselves into the water, but also get back on board with ease,” Siobhan says.
A salty sea dog will of course enjoy cruising the seven seas, but what about other household pets?
“I mostly see dogs on yachts,” she explains, “but there are other animals living on superyachts including cats, iguanas and fish in aquariums. In keeping with the nautical theme, I have even heard of a parrot on board!”
“A yacht can be a suitable place for a pet and certain animals, particularly some dogs, are made for a life at sea,” she adds. “They enjoy their life on board more than on shore and clients can always ask for my honest advice as to whether their pet is suited to life on a superyacht. The answer is almost always ‘Yes’ as yachts are large and well-equipped with crew growing so attached to the pets that they are never short of care or attention.”
Siobhan is yet to come across a yacht harbouring any wild animals, although there are plenty of stories about lions and tigers climbing aboard for extravagant parties. “As a vet, I have taken an oath to care for all animals and if there was a wild animal that needed treatment, I would certainly give it!”