What is the most important piece of safety equipment on your vessel? It is an interesting question with a lot of potential answers.  You could say it’s life jackets or fire extinguishers. Some people may even say it’s a compass or a first aid kit. I posed this question to someone once, and I received an answer that was so profound that I have never forgotten it.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Linda Greenlaw. You may have heard of her. She is a legend to many who consider themselves avid boaters.  She is the first lady captain on a swordfish boat in the US and has also written several books about her boating/fishing/lobstering adventures. If you have ever seen the movie “The Perfect Storm,” you may remember her name. She was played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in the movie.

As a licensed captain and a passionate boater, I was excited to have an opportunity to meet with Ms. Greenlaw. The chance to have a conversation with someone who constantly lives, breathes and sleeps boating was thrilling for me.  My entire conversation with her had me sitting on the edge of my seat. What she does as a boat captain can be a dangerous business, so I asked her what she felt was the most important piece of safety equipment on her boat. Without hesitation she said, “Your brain … because if you get out there and do stupid (bleep), it doesn’t matter what other equipment you have on board.”

We often focus on making sure we have the right equipment on our vessels when we leave the dock. But how often do we check our frame of mind? For most of us, a day on the water is a chance to relax and unwind. It is a chance to leave responsibility behind for a bit and focus on having some fun for a change; however, the reality is that we are taking on a new set of responsibilities. There are boating rules to be followed and courtesies to be observed.

If you own a boat and you are taking some friends out on the lake for a day of fun, you are the captain of that vessel. You may not have a license, but you are the one in charge. There is some responsibility that comes along with that.  You oversee making sure that your vessel is safe to operate and that it is operated safely. You must ensure that proper safety equipment is aboard, including properly fitting life jackets. You are also in charge of ensuring all passengers are conducting themselves in a manner that does not potentially put themselves or others in harm’s way.

Let’s face it. Many of us take on passengers that really do not know anything about boats or being on the water. A lot of the unfortunate accidents we hear about are the result of someone making a bad decision. As the captain, you are accountable for your passengers’ well-being while out on the water.  Failure to do so could result in an unfortunate event and/or have an unforeseen financial impact. If I have newbies on my boat, I usually do a bit of a safety talk before we leave the dock. It may come off as a bit corny, but the information passed on can help ensure that our outing is a safe one.

Shedding light on the importance of responsibility is not meant to be a buzzkill. After all, we still want to enjoy our time on the water. The pleasure is one of the main reasons we get out there. Just remember to check your brain, too, while you’re checking the rest of your safety equipment.

Safe and Happy Boating!