VHF: do you have a DSC radio hooked up to your GPS? If not, get one and set it up. Then John doesn't need to know how to operate the radio; he just needs to know how to hold a button down for five seconds in an emergency. Yes it would be good if he could tell the coast guard what's wrong, but I'm guessing that in a pinch he would figure out how to push the PTT button (the radio should automatically go to 16 after he pushes distress anyway).
We don't have the radio connected to GPS. We still use the old, non-DSC radio that came with the boat when we bought it. Since it broadcasts and receives, it isn't at the top of my list to replace. But you make a good argument for possibly updating it and making that this year's boat show purchase.
I had a DSC radio for the 22-footer but when I gave the boat away, I let them have the radio, too.
Besides the fixed radio, I keep two hand held radios on board.
Charts. These are also intimidating, but for different reasons. Working with charts is, to me, one of the fun things about boating. It's fun for the same reason that puzzles are fun; it just works a certain part of my brain. If John doesn't see it that way, it might be hard to get him motivated about charts.
Unfortunately, while you can probably teach him to use the chartplotter in an emergency ("Stay on the blue part. This is what the numbers mean.") if he doesn't practice it, he won't have a good feel for it.
At the risk of starting an entirely new war, we don't use a traditional chartplotter. We use a netbook with a GPS puck. John knows how to get the navigation software to talk to the GPS and knows what I mean when I tell him to follow the dark blue line (the course I plotted) and to give me a heads up when he approaches the blue area.
Where we differ is that I can navigate using the electronic chart without the pre-loaded course as well as with only the paper chart. John sees having the plotted course as something of a safety net and there have been times when I have quickly plotted a course for him to follow (he looked extremely uncomfortable without it) when I would have been fine.
Since baseball doesn't start back up until tomorrow night (Go Phils!), after dinner tonight might be a good time to talk about learning how to use the radio. I'll save the charts for another day.
I made a tropical-themed dinner to soften him up to agree to go on a BVI charter next year (as it turned out he was all for it). What food goes with "Honey, I'd really
like you to learn how to use the marine radio?"