Small Craft Advisory: What Does It Mean and Why Is It Important?

Written by Shreya Agrawal
Updated: July 26, 2023
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For mariners and boating enthusiasts, understanding weather conditions and forecasts is crucial for safety on the water. One commonly issued advisory is the Small Craft Advisory, which warns boaters of potentially hazardous conditions for small boats and vessels. By understanding the details of a Small Craft Advisory, individuals can understand its purpose and importance in ensuring the well-being of both mariners and their vessels.

What Is a Small Craft Advisory?

A Small Craft Advisory informs mariners of potentially unsafe conditions for small boats. It is a weather advisory issued by the National Weather Service in the United States. It specifically targets conditions at nearshore and coastal waters. Officials issue this advisory when they expect that certain weather parameters will be met or will be exceeded. These conditions can potentially pose risks to the safety of smaller vessels.

Some potential risks associated with conditions that trigger a Small Craft Advisory include rough seas, high winds, reduced visibility, and strong currents. These conditions can make navigation more challenging, increase the likelihood of capsizing or swamping smaller boats, and reduce the effectiveness of maneuvering and controlling boats.

In the case of a Small Craft Advisory, mariners should closely monitor weather conditions, check for updates from the National Weather Service or other relevant authorities, and consider the potential limitations of their vessel. Officials recommend postponing or altering boating plans to avoid putting oneself and others in danger.

To remain safe, boaters should have appropriate safety equipment onboard, such as life jackets, communication devices, navigation aids, and emergency supplies. It is vital for mariners to maintain situational awareness, practice good seamanship, and heed the advice of local authorities to ensure their safety and that of passengers during a Small Craft Advisory.

Three motorized fishing boats reflected in the water at dawn in Chain O' Lakes State Park near Antioch, Illinois

It is necessary for mariners to be aware of the weather conditions before they go out into the sea, especially when officials issue a Small Craft Advisory.

©Martha Marks/

Criteria for Issuing a Small Craft Advisory

The specific criteria to issue a Small Craft Advisory may vary slightly depending on the region and body of water that is monitored. However, the primary factors considered by the National Weather Service are wind speed and wave height.

When the National Weather Service issues a Small Craft Advisory, it means that sustained wind speeds can reach or exceed 25 knots (about 29 miles per hour) or when seas can reach or exceed 5 feet. These conditions are adverse but do not meet the criteria for a more severe advisory like a Gale Warning or a Storm Warning. It is important to note that these thresholds may differ for different regions, such as the Great Lakes, the Gulf of Mexico, or the coastal areas of the Atlantic and Pacific.

Vintage wooden boat in coral sea. Boat drone photo. A fisherman on a fishing boat is casting a net for catching fish.

During a Small Craft Advisory, wind and sea conditions are too adverse for small boats to remain safe.


Importance of Small Craft Advisory

The major reason why the National Weather Service issues a Small Craft Advisory is to make sure small boats can remain safe in strong weather conditions. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Safety Awareness

The primary importance of the Small Craft Advisory is to raise awareness among mariners of potentially hazardous weather conditions. Through this advisory, boaters can be alerted to the risks they may face while on the water, which allows them to make informed decisions regarding their boating plans.

Risk Mitigation During Small Craft Advisory

The advisory serves as a proactive measure to mitigate risks associated with adverse weather conditions. By providing timely information about expected wind speeds and wave heights, mariners can take necessary precautions to protect themselves, their vessels, and their passengers. This may involve altering plans, delaying voyages, seeking safe harbors, or modifying routes to avoid areas of concern.

Avoiding Accidents and Damage

Small Craft Advisories help reduce the likelihood of accidents, injuries, and vessel damage caused by challenging weather conditions. High winds, rough seas, and strong currents can significantly impact the stability, control, and maneuverability of smaller boats. By heeding the advisory, mariners can avoid putting themselves and others at unnecessary risk.

Enhancing Preparedness

The issuance of a Small Craft Advisory encourages mariners to prioritize preparedness. It prompts boaters to review their safety equipment, such as life jackets, communication devices, navigation aids, and emergency supplies. It also reminds boaters to check the overall seaworthiness of their vessels and keep up with any necessary maintenance and inspections.

Regulatory Compliance

For commercial operators and professional mariners, adherence to Small Craft Advisories is also necessary to comply with regulations. Ignoring advisory warnings can lead to legal implications, penalties, or loss of certification or insurance coverage.

Sailboat Fort Adams Brenton Cove Newport Rhode Island

During a Small Craft Advisory, mariners should reconsider their boating plans and return to safety, or take precautionary measures to avoid disastrous outcomes.

©Michael Sean OLeary/

Response to Small Craft Advisory

In the case of a Small Craft Advisory, mariners should take immediate action for their safety. Some key response measures are given below.

Monitor Weather Updates

Stay tuned to weather forecasts, local radio broadcasts, or reliable weather alert services to receive the latest information and updates on the advisory.

Reconsider Boating Plans During a Small Craft Advisory

Evaluate the necessity of the trip and the potential risks involved. It may be smart to delay or reschedule the voyage until conditions improve.

Seek Shelter

If already on the water, consider seeking safe harbors, marinas, or protected anchorages to ride out the adverse weather conditions. Take into account the proximity and accessibility of suitable shelter options.

Maintain Situational Awareness

Continuously monitor weather conditions, paying attention to changes in wind speed, wave heights, and other meteorological factors. Be aware of local marine hazards, such as shoals, reefs, or other navigation challenges that may be exacerbated by the current weather conditions.

Update Safety Equipment

Ensure that life jackets, communication devices, and other safety equipment are readily available and in proper working condition. Make sure all passengers are wearing appropriate personal flotation devices.

The Small Craft Advisory plays a crucial role in safeguarding mariners and small vessels. It provides early warnings of potentially hazardous weather conditions. By understanding its definition, criteria, and significance, boaters can make informed decisions to protect themselves, their passengers, and their vessels. It is important to prioritize safety, stay informed, and adhere to advisory recommendations. These steps will ensure a safe and enjoyable boating experience while minimizing the risks associated with adverse weather conditions.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Michael Sean OLeary/

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About the Author

Shreya is a climate scientist. She also studies paleontology and evolutionary biology. She enjoys reading all kinds of literature and listening to rock music in her free time.

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