Skip to content

Changing the Small Craft Advisory System

BoatUS sent this message to its contact list on Wednesday: “In a move that could simplify and potentially reduce misunderstanding of urgent weather messages used by recreational boaters to make critical boating safety decisions, the National Weather Service (NWS) has proposed renaming ‘Small Craft Advisory’ to ‘Small Craft Warning’.” The NWS requests boaters’ feedback. “Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatUS) urges boaters to speak up now by taking a NWS survey for recreational boaters at The survey closes May 24, 2020.”

Yawl on beach
This yawl ran afoul of a Small Craft Advisory in December 2018, winding up on the beach in Moss Landing. Both the skipper and the boat survived the incident.
© 2020 Stefan Berlinski

“Every day they go boating, boat owners check the weather and then make the decision to either head out or not,” said BoatUS government affairs manager David Kennedy. “We think the name change will help clarify what this means, leading to a better understanding of the severity of a marine weather forecast, and help give recreational boaters the information they need to make smart choices about boating safely.”

For decades, NWS has used the Watch, Warning and Advisory system to alert users about forecast hazards, but it has recognized this can be confusing. The proposal to rename ‘Small Craft Advisory’ to ‘Small Craft Warning’ is part of a larger effort to reduce the messages to just two terms: Watch and Warning. NOAA also says the name change would better align with all other marine warnings — Gale, Storm, and Hurricane Force Wind — leading to greater understanding by recreational boaters.

Changing from ‘Advisory’ to ‘Warning’ would not change the term’s definition. While there is no precise definition of a ‘small craft’, a ‘Small Craft Advisory’ is issued when sustained wind speeds or frequent gusts have reached 20-33 knots, and/or for seas or waves of 4 feet or more, and/or for waves or seas that are potentially hazardous. The requirements vary slightly by region, and local conditions may also prompt a Small Craft Advisory.

Small Craft Advisories are no strangers to San Francisco Bay. It almost seems as if we get one most days when the winds of summer blow through the Gate.


  1. Richard Bradley Smith 4 years ago

    I expect we all know by now that ‘Small Craft Advisory ” means the big boats need to look out for small craft because it is really windy and everyone is going to be out sailing!

  2. chuck Pearson 6 months ago

    Asdivsories dont always stop me from boating but they remind me to always give the ultimate respect to the water and how mother nature is unforgiving.

Leave a Comment

Pandemic Adjustments
"There are two ways to say this: R2AK and SEVENTY48 are canceled in 2020. R2AK and SEVENTY 2020 aren’t canceled, but you can’t cross the starting line until 2021."
Resourceful Sailor Series
We’ve heard the mantra before, “Chafe is your enemy.” I thought this upon noticing the tow bridle for a friend’s inflatable dinghy was rubbing at its attachment points.
Sponsored Post
Passage Nautical offers live boating webinars, walk-through videos and podcasts. If you are in the market for a boat, the team at Passage Nautical can help you find it.
Wilbur Spaul achieved a significant milestone in his bid to sail the smallest boat to Hawaii: In February, he chainsawed the 8-ft Chubby Girl into pieces and tossed them into a dumpster.
The Aloha State
Fortunately, there are many other great spots to anchor or moor a cruising yacht while sailing in the oft-misunderstood cruising ground that makes up the Hawaiian Islands.