We all cringe, seeing that warning flashing on our devices or television screen. It always seems to be the day we can finally escape work that the wind whips up and keeps us shoreside because of a small craft advisory. It may be unclear what exactly a small craft advisory is and why they occur in coastal North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia for the weekend boater.

What is the meaning of a small craft advisory?

Small craft advisories are issued when the wind speed is sustained between twenty and thirty-three knots. The National Weather Service is the government agency responsible for issuing these types of warnings. They will include a start and end time; however, these can change based on the weather pattern.

What size vessel should adhere to a small craft advisory?

The term small craft would lead you to believe that a specific size boat should remain back at the marina or on the trailer. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all; it is, in fact, very vague. As the boater, you need to determine if the vessel you operate falls under the warning. 

A boat that will be negatively impacted by the wind speed and wave height should be deemed a small craft.

Let’s face it; a twenty-three-foot center consol can handle rough waters far better than a twenty-three-foot pontoon boat. Other factors that play into your decision besides the boat’s size are how experienced the operator is. A skilled operator knows how to handle the vessel in inclement weather.

What time of year are you most likely to have small craft advisories in coastal Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina?

The summer months in these coastal areas have small craft advisories issued very infrequently. One exception is a passing tropical storm or hurricane far off in the distance. These types of storms are so consequential the winds can extend for several hundred miles from the center.

Most frequently, advisories are issued in the fall and winter months. As the season shifts from summer to fall, cold fronts start approaching from the west. Cold fronts directly impact windspeeds as they approach and cause significant wind direction changes before arrival, as they pass, and when the front has moved on.

Considerations on deciding to head out or stay home during a Small Craft Advisory:

  1. First and foremost, if you have any doubts whatsoever, simply don’t go. It’s not worth risking you, your families, or the guest’s life. 
  2. Consider the body of water you need to navigate; is it wide open? Is it tucked back in creeks? Are you running offshore? Wide-open areas are more prone to rough conditions; however, creeks may have little to no impact from the wind. 
  3. When you read the small craft warning, read the time that is expiring. You may need to push back your adventure by only an hour or two for the winds and seas to lay back down. 
  4. If you’re hugging the shoreline from the direction that wind is approaching, expect calm waters. On the other side of that body of water, the conditions will be unpleasant. 
  5. With changing tides in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia, the waves can go from big to bigger when the wind and tide oppose each other. Step angled waves are hard to contest. 
  6. Protect your body against the elements. Expect to be splashed heavily with water. When combined with wind, it may be frigid. Pack foul weather gear. 


The next time you’re headed out on the water and that dreaded small craft advisory is posted, you will be more prepared in making an informed decision. No trip is worth injury or even death. Be smart and know what you and the boat can handle. Another more pleasant day is just around the corner.