Paddle during small craft advisories?

I’m curious if any of you go out paddling when there’s a small craft advisory on?

I don’t, which means here on Lake Superior, I don’t go out in rough water (NOAA seems to call a SCA on the south shore of Lake Superior at waves 2-4 feet, wind 20 knots, I think). So I don’t get much chance to use my braces and rescues (I’m not complaining!) All the serious kayaking accidents we’ve had up here in the last 2 years have been when people ignored small craft advisories (or ignored thunderstorm forecasts). The sailors routinely head out when there’s a SCA on, but I don’t know of kayakers who do.

Any thoughts?

many do

– Last Updated: Aug-15-05 9:55 AM EST –

i've paddled a couple dozen SCAs solo in my bell rob roy. similar conditions to what you describe. started off in protected waters and worked by way up to the Gulf. i understand that the Great Lakes can get as rough as any ocean, and the Gulf is quite shallow. that lack of depth, though, translates into 2-foot rollers that crash like surf waves. can knock you off course for good. i don't recommend it, but if you're going to paddle during SCA conditions, be careful and have a good understanding of exactly what can/will go wrong.

Myself and a group of kayakers were actually playing around in Superior a couple weeks ago in small craft advisory. We had consistent 3 footers with confused seas and the occassional 4 footer. It made for some fun paddling and some decent surf. I’m assuming anything above 2 foot waves would be considered small craft advisory so if I didn’t go out at those times, I would never have a chance to paddle the conditions I most enjoy playing in with a sea kayak. I am confident in my abilities though. I have a relatively “bombproof” roll, strong rescue and reentry skills, and am comfortable in those conditions.

Curious about the paddle plan Rob Roy
Chad, I am curious only, having paddled a Rob Roy, how you would handle your boat capsizing and filling with water. Do you use floatation bags that are secured, spray skirt, pump, etc. How would you handle mutiple capsizes and pump outs if caught out there. Do you plan for when your plan fails?

This is not ot say I or anyone should tell you wha to do or not, just really curious actually.


Paddles 30 miles along Pictured Rocks
National Shore and surrounding area in SCA conditions. Grew up in Michigan and if I had stayed off the water for all the over zealous SCA warnings I would have grown up a total small lake only paddler or a landlubber.

Very good common sense in needed. Look at the big picture and not just what is being broadcast or what the sky does or doesn’t look like.

Happy Paddl’n!



Yes, on Lake Superior.

Yes. And I am Jonesing.

Good practice
Tough conditions can be good practice if done cafefully. What I do is try to find a play spot with rough water near a launch point.

You want the wind and waves to blow and wash you into a place that gives easy access to your car.

I don’t paddle alone in tough conditions.

Had to look it up. Jonesing, me too!
Chase the thrill!!! Life is definately too short not to experiance it!!!



I actually watch the lake cam all day
for small craft advisory notices on Lake Michigan. I head to the beach straight away if they come to fruition. Mainly because those are typically the best surfing days at South Haven.

As to whether or not you should go? That’s up to you.

If your skills aren’t up to it, maybe you shouldn’t go. You have to make the judgement for yourself about how much risk you want to take.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’d be as comfortable in surf if, I had never gone out when it was rough, but that was my decision…

Where on Lake Superior are you? If there are nice sandy beaches anywhere to surf where you can get out easily no matter what, then I’d say you might give it a try in summer when at least the AIR is warmer than 38 degrees.

i do use large float bags held in place by d-rings and fairly large diameter lines. i can fold the float bags, secure them, inflate them and keep them at about half-size or i can inflate them to full size and have about 75 percent of the inner hull filled with bags. i’ve done a few “intentional” capsizes and was able to reboard the boat, pump it out and get back to shore in moderate conditions. in major conditions, it wouldn’t be so easy and i’d probably be in for a swim while towing the rob roy with me. having said that, i’m never more than a couple miles from land in bays and less than a mile offshore in the Gulf. i plan to get a skirt this year, but i’ve only needed one a couple of times in four years and more than 5,000 miles. i do have warm waters as an advantage during most of the year.

Interesting. I’m on the south shore, near Cornucopia. I do go out in the protected bays (Siskiwit and Sand) when the weather is rough. They’re good for practicing in waves, surf, and confusing chop, since they’re so shallow you can just stand up when you mess up. But I don’t go out on crossings, or along rocky shores, when there are SCAs, mostly because my paddling partners wouldn’t, and because my roll is in process, shall we say?

Doesn’t “SCA” mean
that those of you with small craft are advised to get out and paddle?


to me sca
means, surfing chances above-average.

If your skills and paddling partners are up for it, it’s probably a good idea to get comfortable in those conditions if you paddle big water (Lake Superior, Gulf of Mexico, etc).

Sooner or later you’ll put in with calm conditions only to have them get rougher once you’re away from shore. It’s good to know you’ll be able to get yourself back to the launch site. Plus, it’s fun!

Can depends
As mentioned in a post above, SCA’s tend to get issued based on conditions hitting a certain point. We mostly encounter this during our time in Maine in the summer. On days when the SCA gets issued decently in advance of the conditions occurring and is for conditions at the lower end of that scale, it is easy enough to do a less ambitious paddle nearer shore and in more protected areas. (Or not at all if what we hear is more than we think we can handle.) The full development of conditions in an SCA will be offshore from the mainland a bit, so times when it is just over that edge it can still be OK conditions closer in.

And, sometimes it can go over the edge to an SCA earlier than was predicted when you left for a paddle, so now it catches you on an island offshore. It may prohibit an open crossing, but if it is an area with very irregular shoreline and/or islands it is possible you could get back safely by going around a long way and hiding behind land for most of the trip.

As above, no one should be paddle in conditions without proper training, practice, gear, boat and mental prep. But even with an SCA up, the conditions that a small lobster boat may be encountering in the tidal current a mile off the mainland could be quite different from what a kayaker finds find in a large bay behind a good-sized island.

In my own not-expert opinion, once someone has correctly matched their prep to the conditions, the risk of paddling in an SCA is if the weather further degrades without much warning. Now you’ve lost some head room, on a day where that may be more of a risk than on other days. So, being near shore ends up being as much about running for it ahead of a storm as handling capsizes.

That’s what I heard
Downwind, if at all possible.

Yeah. On The Sound Side
of the NC outer banks. Never had to paddle straight into the wind.

I have been out many times…
and got caught in rough weather, and always feel confident and enjoy the adrenalin rush that it gives, but the only times I have ever gone out when small craft advisories are posted are in races that are still held in spite of them, such as the B & B two years ago.

S C A’s are just that, and I think it is very smart to heed them and put the paddle off until another day.