LifeLines: Ask Mario

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I started writing about recreational boating safety eleven years ago because my regular job as a helicopter rescue swimmer for the Coast Guard had changed my thinking. Though my career was unendingly rewarding, and I was able to reunite many of the lost with loved ones ashore, that is not what I did most of the time. 

Most times we would take off on a search, look out the windows at nothing, find nothing, and then return to base having made no impact whatsoever on anyone’s life. Most people lost at sea stay lost. It was those failures, not the successes, that informed most of what I know about staying safe on the waters of the world.

Writing these articles has been an honor and it truly feels like we’ve done some good here this past year. But, a few weeks ago, my editor at Soundings asked me what I wanted to do next. The Lifelines blog was doing well; the magazine had reached a larger online audience; and she had used the better blogs in print as a monthly column. “What’s next?” was a fair question. What I told her was that I wanted to quit. She talked me out of it, but it was close. Here is why.

Since July of last year, we have discussed my primary philosophy regarding safety at sea. We’ve dug deep into float plans and checklists. We’ve discussed the environment and the water itself. I’ve warned you of what (and who) to avoid at sea and what goes wrong out there more than anything else.

We’ve talked about the gear you have, setting up the gear you don't yet have, training and drills, and even some things I know you didn’t think you would ever need on a boat  (but you do). I’ve given you the best - not all, but the best - of everything I know about recreational boating safety. And the stuff I didn’t write about, I put in a five-hour course at Boater's University.

Sure, I could keep finding things to tell you, week after week, but I don’t think I should. I’ve got several reasons for that, some personal and some professional, but mainly it’s that a blog is really just a weekly “here is what I think” outlet. While I believe strongly enough to write down a lot of the things that are vitally important to your safety on the water (like, Hypothermia Myths, or especially why Drowning Doesn't Look Like Drowning), the Lifelines blog was in danger of becoming a weekly rant on what I call “theories of mine that I happen to agree with.” We’ve all got them, but they are almost always more interesting to us than to anyone else.

I was convinced that I had said all that was really worth saying and I was about to try one more time to convince my editor that I was right, when it hit me: I haven’t said everything worth saying, I just think I have.

This feeling comes every time I teach a class on boating safety. I get to the end of the lesson, I’m sure I’ve covered it all, I think I’m done, and then I ask: “Any questions?” Then the hands go up, and the class goes on for another thirty minutes. If the Lifelines blog was a class, I just got to the part where I need to ask: “Any questions?” So here is our idea.

Any questions? Ask Mario.

I’m going to stop telling you what I think and instead I’m going to ask for questions. Throw up a hand. Is there some piece of equipment you are thinking about buying and you can’t decide between two models? Are you confused about EPIRBS or radios? Did something happen to you on the water and you want my take on a decision you made? I don’t know what you want to know, but I’m pretty sure do, so here’s how you can ask me.

Simply fill out the form below, and your question will be sent to Soundings. I’ll answer those questions I believe I can provide a valuable response to, and the answers will then appear in the “Lifelines: Ask Mario” blog, or as a video in the Soundings Dispatches, at Soundingsonline.com and on the Soundings Facebook page. I might even answer some of the questions instantly by whipping out my phone and sending a quick video response.

Soundings and this blog have been the perfect forum for me to write down what I’ve learned about the difference between the boaters I met through my work and those I didn’t. I want to thank the magazine and especially editor-in-chief Mary South, who believed in me enough to give me the space and the freedom to say what I wanted.

So now it’s your turn. What can I tell you?