I’ve been a delivery skipper since the late 1960s. I’m not a chicken on the water, but other people on boats scare me. I never know if that boat heading at me has a competent crew or is the local ship of fools. Today, anyone can own and operate a boat. In the old days, large vessels were naval boats owned and staffed by governments or by quasi-governments like the Dutch East India Trading Company. Back then, the sailing directions from Europe to North America were both ambiguous and direct. “Head south until the butter melts and then run west.” Most of the boats got there.

Over time, navigation got easier.

My own sailboat deliveries between New England and the Caribbean in the 1960s and 1970s were made with a compass, a Walker taffrail log (a spinning rotor towed behind the boat which attracted clumps of seaweed and occasional nosy fish,) a sextant and pounds of books of lunar sight tables. And a shortwave radio to get accurate time signals from Fort Collins. And pencils and paper to fix our position while the boat bounced around in the ocean.

Now that satellites are available for position fixing, navigation is easy. Chart plotters have been invented to combine every piece of data necessary for a boater.

The position of a boat is overlaid on an electronic chart with the locations of weather systems, marinas, fuel docks, ice vendors — and importantly, liquor stores.

There lies the rub. “I can run the GPS on my car, so I can navigate a boat, and buy a captain’s hat with lots of gold braid on the brim!” More fools without a clue as to marine safety, boat handling, weather issues or common sense are messing around in boats these days.

A few examples from my own experience:

• A 50-foot powerboat 20 miles off of Atlantic City charged up out of the fog (without his radar antenna turning, but he did have that gold braided captain’s cap) and hailed — “Sailboat, which way to Atlantic City?” When I gave him the compass heading, he shouted, “Don’t give me that magnetic crap, just point.” I will not tell you in what direction I pointed.

• An aluminum 15-foot fishing boat with a man and two shivering boys was anchored in an early spring rainstorm in the rapid currents of the outer islands of Boston Harbor. The three had no rain gear, no life preservers, no idea where they were and asked desperately for directions home.

I sold my 50-foot cutter to a duo of financial industry wizards in Annapolis. The boat had taken my family safely for a dozen years between Bermuda and Maine with its home port in Vineyard Haven. The wizards sank her in the Chesapeake three hours into their first voyage as owners.

A few examples from recent sailing events:

Several years ago, a professional delivery crew was moving a 92-foot sailboat for charter from Newport, R.I. to Greenwich, Conn., and turned their boat under the bow of an oncoming 623-foot coal carrier on a clear night in calm weather. One of the three crew died and the sailboat now sits at the bottom of Long Island Sound.

Last November, the racing crew of a 65-foot boat in the Volvo Ocean Race (an around-the-world race) ran aground on a reef, abandoned the boat and stood in chest high water before getting into life rafts in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

Not all these people are fools, but all made foolish mistakes. I’d call the skipper of the powerboat off of Atlantic City a straightforward fool. The crew on watch in Long Island Sound apparently panicked and failed to follow Inland Navigation Rules. The navigator of the Volvo Ocean racer didn’t zoom deep enough into his plotter’s magnification display to see the reef.

The stories all point to the need for masters of vessels to know more than their boat’s location and where it is on a chart. I have always told crew that my job is to get them home safely; being the master of a vessel is not a relaxed pastime.

Masters need to know boat handling in bad weather, the impact of tidal currents (Woods Hole and Menemsha Channel are a couple of great places to watch the surprise of skippers meeting currents), the behavior of their boat when wind and waves get heavy and much more. They need to know this for the safety of their guests and for the safety of others on the water.

There are courses given by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary; there are online courses and dozens of great books and videos. There are knowledgeable people who can offer experience and advice. Everything a boat operator needs to know is readily available.

When I lived in Australia, one day a friend took me fishing. As three of us set out for the day in a 35-foot powerboat, I asked how much fuel was onboard. The skipper assured me, “Yank, be a good mate, I filled her up last weekend. She’ll be right!” Five hours later, out of sight of Sydney Harbor, the engine quit. While the skipper ran the battery down trying to restart the engine, I put a dipstick into the fuel tank, which was completely dry. The boat had no drinking water, no chart, no back-up radio. Fortunately, another boat came within sight after two hours and hailed the marine police for us.

The story of foolish people in boats is international. A single item in your wallet can qualify you to own and operate a boat; that item is a credit card. If you own a boat, please learn boat-handling skills. If you are a guest on a boat, ask some innocent questions before you set out; you might miss a day on the water, but you won’t be wondering if you’ll ever see your family again.

Jim Malkin lives in Chilmark.