Tides of the Time: How to read a tide table & chart
The Ins and Outs of the Tide
Before we explore how to read a tide table, it’s important to understand exactly what tides are, and how they can affect your paddleboarding experience. While most people have heard of high tide and low tide, there’s far more to learn if you really want to have the best time out on the water. For example, most places experience not two, but four tides per day, which are caused by the gravitational attraction of the moon and sun! Usually, there are two high tides and two low tides, and each of these is not guaranteed to be the same. This is why understanding tide tables are so important!
Another useful tip to note is that, depending on the type of tide you experience, the very geography of where you’re planning to paddleboard could change drastically. Be it around coastlines, bays, gulfs, inlets, or oceans, high tide can submerge bits of the land, and low tide can reveal them. This difference in height between high and low tide is known as the tidal range, and while the tidal range in some locations is minimal, in others, you might literally not recognize the landscape at all depending on the tide!
What is a Tide Table
A tide table shows predictions for three things in relation to the tides in your local area. First, you’ll find predictions for the number of tides per day (which is usually constant in each area), then, you’ll be able to view predictions for the time you can expect each high and low tide, and finally, you should find estimates for the height of each tide.
It’s important to make sure that the tide table you consult is specifically made for your area. The tides even just a town away can vary drastically to the ones you will experience where you plan to go paddleboarding. Without a tide table specific to your location, you could be totally unprepared when heading out on your board, and that’s never a good thing. When it comes to staying safe, knowledge is key, so make sure you have a relevant tide table not only for your locale but also for the specific day you’re planning to go paddleboarding.
Reading a Tide Table
Accurately reading a tide table (not to be confused with a tide chart) can be split up into three steps.
Step 1: Find a Relevant Tide Table
As mentioned before, there’s no use using a tide table for a different location and then applying it to where you’re planning to enjoy the water. Not only will the information be inaccurate, but it might put you in danger. The best source of tide tables and information can be found from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA)
online tool, which not only shows you the tide information for the current day but also the tide history of 3,000 locations around the US. Pick the location closest to you, and you should have a relatively good idea of what to expect when you get out on the waves.
Alternatively, you could also pick up a tide table booklet for your local area. These can usually be found in fishing stores, hardware shops, or sports stores. Failing that, check your local newspaper, which should print a tide table for you to reference.
Step 2: Check Relevant Predictions
Once you’ve managed to procure a relevant tide table for your area, it’s time to find the information you’ll need to understand the tide conditions on the day/s you plan to go paddleboarding. This information is important because it lets you know which areas will be accessible and which areas won’t. For example, some beaches may be almost completely submerged during high tide, which could put a damper on your plans.
Once you’ve managed to locate the specific dates you’re planning to paddleboard during, you will find the tide predictions represented in two different formats: in the form of a graph and in the form of a table.
The graphs provide good visual indicators for the depth range between high and low time, while the table format shows the data in a simple numerical format. Utilize both types of data to truly understand how the tide will play out during the times you plan to go paddleboarding.
Step 3: Make a Note of the Information
It’s important that you have a way to access the high and low tide information on the go. Whether you make physical notes on paper or store them on your phone, make sure you can refer to them in case you don’t have an active internet connection or mobile signal while you’re heading out for your paddleboarding adventure. Whether you use graphs or tables, the heights of high and low tides will be clearly labeled, along with when you can expect each tide to arrive and pull back. Take notes of these times, as well as the difference between the highest and lowest points of each tide.
What are the Best Tides for Paddleboarding?
Aside from taking into account whether the beach or area you plan to launch from is actually not submerged by high tide, or is miles away from the water due to low tide, how else should paddleboarders use tide table information to decide when to enjoy the water?
Generally speaking, slack tides are the best for most paddleboarders. This is the period two hours before and after the highest and lowest points of each tide. The reason that slack tides are the optimum time to go paddleboarding is because water movement during these periods of the day is at a minimum. This allows paddleboarders to enjoy a stable ride, while also not having to battle the currents – whether they’re going toward shore or away from it.
If you’re an advanced surfer, though, there is an argument to be made for going out during low tide. This period usually offers the largest waves, which is pretty much the holy grail when it comes to surfing. However, it is still best to exercise caution, since strong tides can sometimes be unpredictable.
While consulting a tide chart is certainly a great step to staying safe when paddleboarding, there are some things that tide charts simply cannot tell you. For example, you should always check the weather report before heading out onto the water because you don’t want to be out paddling during a storm, or in extremely windy conditions. You should also keep in mind the schedules of local ships and boats, especially if you plan to go boarding in a high-traffic area. Another thing to consider is whether the water, itself, is safe to paddle in. Be it pollution, an excess of algae, or a sudden influx of stinging jellyfish, always ensure the water is suitable for you to be in before you head out with your board. Finally, as an additional precaution, try to paddle in places where there is an active lifeguard on duty. This can help keep you safe, as well.
With the knowledge of how to read tide tables now at your disposal, you should be able to pick the ultimate spots and the best times to head out on the water and enjoy some paddleboarding. Remember to check tide tables that are relevant to your area, keep the timings and height of each tide on hand, and also be mindful of additional precautions to stay safe. Taking these precautions will let you board with peace of mind, so you can have a swell time!