People sometimes ask me to explain the difference between a ship and a boat. Well, my answer to that, may it not be scientific, is very simple. You can always put a boat on a ship, but you can’t put a ship on a boat. Simple.
Because small craft entails so many sizes of boats, it’s up to you to know what conditions are dangerous to your specific boat. The authorities are just giving a general warning to let operators know that conditions may be dangerous to some boats when they give small-craft warnings. If you have a small outboard, then obviously all small-craft warnings apply to you. No official agency could possibly gather all the possible differing factors and put them into something more specific.
The criteria to use is wind speed and sea state. Twenty knot winds make for nasty, if not big, seas. Your obligation is to be sufficiently educated in order to understand when conditions become a threat. No one can tell you that because they do not know you, your boat, or your skills.
Since different boats behave differently under differing circumstances, it is up to the operator to learn how to become a good seaman, learning about his boat’s strengths and weaknesses. In maritime law there is an axiom that no boat is seaworthy without a skilled captain.
No one is going to learn much without making the effort to learn. You can try to learn from others, but nothing is going to take the place of actually being out there under the kinds of conditions you want to learn about. That means that you have to challenge yourself and your boat a bit and test the waters.
Around the docks is another very important reason why you should practice. There is nothing more embarrassing, not to mention the damage you could encounter, than to come into a slip and totally mess-up your approach. Practicing on a couple of posts in the bay or an empty dock space would be the best solution to this problem.
To become a certified captain or just to get some info on the subject, give me a call at (956) 639-8697.
As always, be safe and see you on the water.