Did you know that boating is one of the top family-oriented activities in the country? On any given Saturday, you’ll find parents out fishing with their kids, water skiing, or simply swimming while at anchor. Of course, boating isn’t always a family affair; you might be out with friends. While I’ve taken my boat out solo on occasion, it’s always more enjoyable with friends or family aboard.

As the captain of your vessel, you bear the responsibility for the safety and well-being of your passengers. This means piloting your vessel safely to your destination and back to the dock or boat ramp. If an incident occurs, it’s also your duty to make decisions to mitigate any dangers.

But what if you’re unable to perform your duties as captain? Do you have a co-captain?

I’m not suggesting you might shirk responsibility and indulge in a few too many drinks while on the water. I’m talking about unforeseen events that could leave you unable to manage your vessel. While it may be uncomfortable to contemplate such scenarios, it’s necessary to be prepared.

The unfortunate reality is that people can experience medical events or injuries at any time and while engaging in any activity. Picture a day when you’re out on your boat with family or friends, and suddenly you’re unable to safely pilot your boat back to shore. Is there anyone aboard who could take your place? It happens, and I’ve been in a situation where I was a guest on a boat and the captain became incapacitated. I was the one who had to get us back to shore. If it happened to you, who else on your vessel could step up? If you can’t identify someone, perhaps it is time to do so. Maybe it’s time to train someone.

If you regularly boat with your family or the same groups of friends, you probably already have some prime candidates. After all, these individuals have observed you piloting your vessel many times before. They are familiar with some of your procedures and may have even assisted you in the past. It’s possible that all they’ll need is training in a few additional skills.

The first skill you should teach is how to properly use a marine radio. In an emergency, this can be one of the most valuable skills for a fellow passenger to possess. Knowing how to operate a marine VHF and understanding which channel(s) to use for help are crucial. It can literally make the difference between a challenging situation and a disaster.

Additional skills should include anchoring, navigating the vessel, tying lines, and approaching a dock. Acquiring these skills will take some time. It’s important to remember that your co-captain doesn’t have to be an expert; they just need to be comfortable with getting you and your passengers back home safely.

Here’s another benefit of having a co-captain: letting someone else take over every now and then gives you a chance to enjoy your boat from a different perspective ­– as a passenger.