dealing with tides

-- Last Updated: Aug-25-08 7:35 PM EST --

This weekend, my wife and I are paddling at the North Carolina coast for the first time. We were supposed to be paddling with a group but that trip fell through. We still plan to go, paddling from Swansboro to Bear Island, NC. This is supposed to be an easy paddle, suitable for beginners, about 6 miles round trip.

However, the one thing I keep hearing is to plan your trip according to the tides. None of the information I have read explains how to account for the tides. I assume that we should leave with the outgoing tide and return with the ingoing tide. Is that correct?

The nearest tide table shows a high tide at 7:41 am on Saturday and low tide 1:49 pm. If paddling with the tide, the trip would probably take us 1 hour to 1:30 by my estimation. So it sounds like as long as we leave during the morning hours after 8 am, we should be just fine on the way out. Then we would plan to return leaving the island around 2 pm. Do I have that right? (The tidal range is about 3 feet.)

Sorry for the stupid questions, but I'm new to this and don't want to get in trouble due to misunderstanding.

Carolina tides
Tides are always a local question, hard to answer on a national message board. Local kayak shops or other boating shops would be good sources for you. Local kayak groups can refer you to the appropriate resources.

Two issues

– Last Updated: Aug-25-08 7:55 PM EST –

Tides affect water levels and tides affect water flow.

Depending on where you are paddling, you may have to worry about one of these or the other or both at the same time.

If you are paddling in a marsh, you may not have enough water to paddle in if you go at low tide. In these kinds of places, the water level is often the most important issue.

In some places, the tidal currents are fast enough that you want to be paddling with the current not against it. In these kinds of situations, it's not uncommon that the water level doesn't matter.

It turns out that figuring out the water levels is much simpler than figuring out currents. Often, the current speeds don't match with the water level (the relationship between water level and current speeds depend on the place and are complicated).

I have been to Bear Island on several…
occasions with MarkinNC and it sounds to me like you have it correct.

Hopefully he will chime in hear since he is the resident expert and guide for that area.

That is a great destination.

If for some reason, (moon or otherwise), the tide is different then you figured just wait it out.

We were on the back south side of the island one time waiting to go to the north end, and we timed it so bad that there was about a 10MPH current running against us, so we just hung out on the beautiful sand beach, and I made a couple of white water runs with the current out to the edge of the breakers and just dragged the yak back each time.

That area is a hidden treasure.

I hope you enjoy it.

We’ll be back down there in November.



Call the ranger

Contact Information:

Hammocks Beach State Park, 1572 Hammocks Beach Road , Swansboro, NC, 28584, Phone: 910-326-4881, Fax: 910-326-2060,

I have never paddled there but I would bet the ranger would be a good source for info.

tide is water moving vertically. how much water beneath you?

current is water moving horizontally. where is that water headed?

both have a big impact on us.

the uscg aux offers coastal nav classes…they’re excellent in getting an understanding of the dynamics.

tides at bear island
where are you launching from? and are you following the kayak and canoe trail from the main park? send me a email and i can tell you all about it, as i go there alot, there’s 3 different ways to get over there.

try google
and check for tide times. The one that Environment Canada has will give you the times of tide change and the level of change at each hour. I am sure that the US Weather Bureau (if that is what it’s called) or the Coast Guard has something similar.

‘Usually’ the closer you get to the time of the tide change, the slower the current or change in water height will be.

However, having said that, if the tide is going out and the wind is blowing strong toward shore, then the wind could cause the flow of water at the surface to seem to go in the opposite direction. Just means some extra muscle to get where you’re going.

Normal breezes shouldn’t affect anything, and as was mentioned above it seems as if you have it figured out and should have a great day.


Take the local advice
I don’t know that area myself, but sometimes the changes in depth of water, the shape of the land masses can create some really-don’t-want-to-be-there spots as well as some fairly calm areas off to the side of the main tidal current. Above advice to check with those having local knowledge is best to get that sussed out.

I Usually ignore tides in a Kayak
A kayak needs so little water that there is usually enough. Currents are usually not that strong except near inlets. A 6 mile paddle is not that far so unless you plan to cross the mouth of an inlet or are paddling extremely shallow water the tidal effect should be slight especially for a route suitable for beginners. That said there are situations where the tides are very important!!! If there are waves the waves get very steep tall and close together when they are going into a current. I have seen 10’ waves at the pass at Panama city. 15’ waves at the Mouth of Mobile bay!!! Fortunately I was in my sailboat at the time. We have paddled in Mobile bay and had the tide fall exposing sand bars that we had to paddle around. But again this was not a major detour.

Call Barrier Island Kayaks
Lamar and the gang will give you the skinny. The tides in that area are an important consideration. There are a few spots (depending on where you are leaving from) that will be a chore going against the tide. This is most noticeable at the last bend of the ‘trail’ as you come up on Bear Island.

Also, the sand bars in the last portion of the trip change a bit. You could have to drag your kayaks quite a ways if you leave close to low tide time.

Currents are usually not that strong???
Well, I’ve paddled some pretty strong tidal currents that are not near an inlet or outlet.

Local knowledge is often invaluable. Tides often do not flood and ebb in the directions you might expect.

In my paddling on the Northeast coast, I find that tides are usually worth noting. Heck, even on the Hudson just below Albany the tidal current can make a difference.

In any case, an opportunity to talk with Lamar should not be missed.

If you "usually ignore tides"
You better never leave your local area cause your going to end up either in trouble or out of water stranded some day!



Not so simple

– Last Updated: Aug-26-08 8:06 AM EST –

At the least running against a tide can lose critical time to get home and get someone dangerously tired, at the most it can land you somewhere you didn't want to be or create nasty chop that can be difficult for newer paddlers to handle. I'd guess that you haven't paddled broadly up the east coast...

Low tide = dragging boats
When we paddled there 2 years ago, the low tide arrival meant that I had to drag my boat the last 1/2 mile. My wife was able to paddle all but about a hundred yards. I weigh more so there’s that.

We followed the #1 paddle trail the whole way to the beach. I think it took us maybe 3 hours but we took our time and explored some branch sections. The last little bit took the most time due to low water.

See this map:

Print out a map and laminate it. I was glad I took my gps because it looks a little different coming back…following the track made it easier. We did take a wrong turn one time going out but it was cool because we saw some interesting birds and some great crab pots just full of crabs. But don’t mess with them…

I forgot to mention that you HAVE to check in at the welcome center (can’t remember if we paid any fees or not) but you have to check in and out. The put in is at a different location on the east side of the welcome center. The’ll tell you where.

You’ll love it. It was one of the best paddle trips we’ve ever taken.

Thanks for the tips. I’ll call the park and talk to them. I’ve got the local tide charts already. Hopefully the weather will cooperate.

It’s a complex situation that can be…
made real simple. A good rule of thumb is launch with a falling tide, return on the rising.

You don’t have to launch at the state

There is a public launch not to far from the state park, and you only have to check in with them if you are camping overnight on the Island.



Unfortunately that rule doesn’t always
hold true when you are paddling to and from a barrier island that is an island that backs up to a tidal estuary.

On the main land side of Bear Island as well as many of the Florida Keys where I have paddled, the tide can run in complete opposite directions half way down the backside.

A good example that you should know about is on the Gulf (Florida Bay) side of Bahia Honda.

If you start paddling from one end with the tide, when you get about half way, you will meet the incoming tide from the other end.

Like others have said it is always best to check with the locals.