A Simple Guide to Tides

Tides play an important part in both your safety and your enjoyment. Getting the tides right or wrong can be the difference between a peaceful paddle in calm water and a strenuous workout.

Tides are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by a combination of gravitational forces exerted by the Moon, and to a lesser extent, the Sun, and the Earth’s rotation. Ultimately tides are very long waves which continuously move across our oceans. When the highest part of the wave hits a coastline, you get a ‘High Tide’ and so on. Either side of low and high tide is called ‘Slack Water’. This is a period of time where the water is unstressed and there is no movement in or out.

Tides do vary throughout the world with there being four main types. 

Diurnal Tides have only one episode of low and high water each day. These typically occur in locations where the moon is furthest from the equator such as parts of South-East Asia.

Semi-Diurnal Tides have two episodes of low and high water each day with the water rising and dropping to the same levels on both tides. This is the most common type of tidal pattern and occurs throughout the UK.

Mixed Tides are the same as Semi-Duirnal tides, however, whereas the levels on the Semi-Duirnal tides remain constant for both low and high tides, Mixed Tides do not. It could be that both the high and low water levels differ, or it can just be one of them. Mixed Tides are common along the West cost of America.

Meteorological Tides represent all of the above tides. Whereas they are astronomical tides (influenced by gravitational actions of the moon and the sun), Meteorological Tides also take into consideration wind, barometric pressure, rainfall, ice melting and land drying. A commonly seen type of Meteorological Tide would be the tides experienced after a storm surge. The increased wind, rain and barometric pressure, when combined can create increased sea levels.

High Tide, Low Tide and Slack Water each offer their own good points and some do carry additional factors you should be aware of.

High Tide, or the period where the water is at its highest point is a popular time to be out on the water. They require less walking which when carrying kayaking or SUP equipment can offer very favourable conditions. There are some pitfalls that you should be aware of. High Tide can hide rocks which could damage your board. Also, if it is a steep beach (such as Budleigh Beach), the waves can be larger as they crash into shore which makes entry and exit to and from the sea more treacherous.

Low Tide, when the water is at its lowest can be a fantastic time to be out on the water. Low Tide can bring with it calm and shallow waters which are perfect for people new to kayaking or paddle boarding. Occasionally, when the tide is coming in small waves can be produced which can benefit more experienced paddlers looking to have some fun.

Slack water is without a doubt the best time for new paddlers to enter the water. This refers to approximately an hour either side of low or high tide when the water is at its calmest, neither moving in or out.

Mid Tide refers to the period between low and high tide. These two to three hours are when the currents are at their strongest. It would be best to avoid these times unless you are very experienced.

So, why is this so important?

Before jumping on a Paddleboard or Kayak (link to web page) in tidal waters, it is essential to check the tide times (link to Tide Times and Tide Chart for Exmouth (tide-forecast.com)) to ensure you are getting the most out of your day. As already mentioned, the optimum time to Kayak or Paddleboard is in slack water, when the water is at its most calm. Two hours either side of low or high tide is still a good time to be on the water as the sea is moving slowly. The period three or four hours either side of the tides (the middle) is when the currents are at their strongest, and it would be best to avoid these times.

Getting the tide times wrong doesn’t necessarily mean you are in perilous danger, but it can be the difference between having an enjoyable paddle in calm waters and fighting against the currents.

Before you set out it is vital to check the tide times and the weather to ensure you are doing everything to maximize both your safety and your enjoyment.

Stay safe, always let someone know what you are doing and where, always check the weather and where applicable the tides, always wear a life jacket and most importantly keep smiling!

Hop-On-Hire Team

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