optimal time to kayak regarding tides?

I want to get some insight on tides and when is the best time to be kayaking…I’m guessing anytime after high tide is good, minus sketchy winds yeah?..What goes thru your head when planning a day long paddle regarding tides???

Know Your Area And The Conditions
generated by ebb and flow from tides. This is no absolute about which tide phase is best. Generally, if you do paddle near large estuaries or tidal rivers where the tides influence strength of current and direction. You would want plan your trip accordingly, e.g. paddle out with the outgoing tide and paddling back in with incoming. Narrow river mouths, points or any other obstructions, will speed up the current created by tidal movement. The tide movement builds quicker and stronger going into during the middle third of the tide phase (six hours for each tide). Don’t play near where current gets funneled during those times unless you comfortable negotiating currents and eddylines and you have the horsepower to paddle against the current if need be.

Also be aware of tides will generate current, though not readily observable, coming and going into WIDE channels created by land masses, e.g. the water between the CT shoreline and Long Island would have current going way or the other with the tide. This has to be compensated for when the paddle involves going across, or with or against in certain directions. Knowing how to compensate becomes part of your navigational skills. Also, important to get tidal charts/descriptions of areas you paddle to know the specifics.

If you play in wide open bays, it really doesn’t matter when you paddle during the tide phases since there isn’t any significant current being produced. However, some bays are very shallow and muddy, you wouldn’t want to get stuck out there and having to walk and drag your boat. Conversely if you’re launching from a steep shore line or beach, you may not want to launch or land in the high tide phase where even small waves create a dumping situation.

Speaking of waves and also wind, these also interact with tides to create favorable or dangerous situations. You need to learn how these interact in your area.

In other words, there is no easy summary of when to go out. It depends on your specific area, what you’re trying to do and your skills and endurance to match up with the intent of the day. This is all part of the learning curve.


with the tides
Depending on where you are planning to paddle, you might want to try to get the water to work with you. The further north you go, the higher the tidal range is. Here in NH, the range is generally 8-15 feet and can produce significant currents. As much as 4-5 knts in areas. Paddling against that could be difficult. In Nova Scotia the range can be upwards of 40 feet.

Some trips can be planned so that you have the tide in your favor both ways. Flood to carry you in, ebb to carry you back out. Or vice versa.

Another consideration is the wind. If you know you are going to be facing stiff afternoon winds you might want to consider which way the water is going. Opposing wind and water can make for some grueling paddling and timing of the tides, especially in an area of large tides, should be a factor in planning a trip.

High tide, low tide there really isnt a favorite. It depends on where I am going and what time the tides change.

I find that the time around low tide I see more wildlife and get to see more of the bottom features.

Before I do any ocean paddling, I look at the tide chart and the marine weather forecast to see what is expected.

You are in a place…
where only the locals can answer that question with such high tides, but with that said our experience with entering and leaving the smaller bays would be best done at high tide.

We came in Halbut Cove at a half tide with the very strong tidal current against us.

When we went to exit the tide was dead low and so strong coming in through the narrow exit that we got caught in standing waves and had to back track and wait for it to get higher before we could get out.



We also found that through out Alaska it was best to be heading back to the take outs by about 1:00 PM to beat the strong afternoon winds.



As above…
The difficulty that can be presented by tides is more determined by the features that control how the water will flow in and out - how much water has to get thru how much space and the obstacles it’ll encounter - than the state of the tide itself. About the only universal is that slack is calmer, but we’ve seen slack periods that were no more than 20 minutes between tides and slacks that went up to an hour before and around the change.

As above, you can predict the onshore-offshore breeze thing in many places by the differences in the warming of air over land and water as the day progresses. Tho’ a weather radio sure helps :slight_smile:

On how far you want to carry your kayak across mud flats—here in downeast Maine where the tide is between 10 and 20 feet that can be quite a stretch—lol—the other part of the answer involving strength of tidal currents can’t be answered in the abstract—it really depends on which way you are going and which way the tide flows—for example I like to paddle about 4 miles up a saltwater creek opening into a marshy bay but find I can only do it during the top half of the tides—both ebb and flood—also is easier to do on the flood due to currents–paddling up on the flood and down on the ebb—you should know about the rule of 12ths concerning tides—1/12 of the strength and volume of water in the first hour, 2/12 in the second, 3/12 in the third, 4/12 in the fourth, 1/12 in the 5th and 6th hours—the strongest currents being in the third and fourth hours

Tidal Range vs. Current
Actually, there are two separate rules for Tide and Current.

Rule of Twelves: For determining the percentage of tidal height change through a tide cycle.

Hour 1 - 1/12

Hour 2 - 2/12

Hour 3 - 3/12

Hour 4 - 3/12

Hour 5 - 2/12

Hour 6 - 1/12

50/90 Rule: For determining the percentage of current strength during a tide cycle.

End of 1st hour - 50% of max

End of 2nd hour - 90% of max

End of 3rd hour - 100% - max

End of 4th hour - 90% of max

End of 5th hour - 50% of max


– Last Updated: Jul-17-07 12:57 AM EST –

you are correct I can never remember the exact percentages just know the tides are strongest in the 3rd and 4th hours btw do you know who figured this out and how---it always struck me that a lot would depend on the local topography

Some books
The “launch and land at high tide” bit was touted by half of our little group that paddled in AK. It was overly simplistic. I remember asking which way the current was flowing in a particular area and getting a blank look for an answer.

Those little tide level books are free and ubiquitous but they don’t tell the whole story. Having said that, we made do with those and USGS topo maps for our whole journey, without any disasters. But we did get stuck in mud flats, fight strong current sometimes, etc.

I’ve been trying to learn more about tide levels and currents since then. There are some books out that may help with this. One in particular I like for its explanation of tide levels vs. flows. It is Ray Killen’s “Simple Kayak Navigation”, published in 2006. You can jump to the chapter on tides but the preceding navigation instructions are good, too. (Do not confuse this book with another older book of similar name by another author!)

"It depends"
There’s a bit you need to know, and it changes every new place you go to.

Mostly, you need to know currents in the area you plan to paddle, and if there are any rips, headlands, or reefs. Some places, the stage of the tide isn’t much of an issue, and in other places, you’d better know all you can before launching.

Problem is, it’s different everywhere, so there’s no universal answer to your question. What you need to do if currents are an issue where you want to paddle is to plan your paddle around the tides, and try to have the current with you as much as possible. That requires knowing how fast you paddle, what the currents are, the distance you’ll be paddling, and the tides for a given day. It’s simple math once you know all that. Break it down into legs, and estimate each separately.

As an example, I do a 20 mile trip for two local clubs every year, where we circumnavigate Jamestown, RI. I figure on paddling at 5 mph with the tide, 3.5 mph for the first leg where we oppose the tide, and 4 mph the last 5 miles, when fatigue (And onshore breezes) sets in on the first-timers. The current diminishes slightly as you go north, and intensifies around headlands, but the areas are so small that they have no real effect on overall speed. It works out that I need a high tide at Conanicut Point 4 hours after we launch to have optimal currents. Last 3 years, we’ve hit the point exactly at high tide.

Best advice is to take a navigation course. There are paddler-specific classes out there that are great, but if you can’t find one of those, ask your local Power Squadron or Coast Guard Auxilliary.

rules of thumb only
Those rules are good enough to be useful, but permanent or temporary local conditions can create significant deviations from the rules. For instance, in New York City, the current on the East River rises toward its max much faster than the current on the Hudson River does. At least at some times, the East reaches half its max current 30 minutes after the flow changes. If you trust the rule and wait till an hour after the flow changes, you will have a 4-knot current to play with.

The current pages at http://tbone.biol.sc.edu/tide might give you better data for your area, and they have interesting graphing tools. NOAA also has excellent predictions at http://www.tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov. They give computer-generated predictions for important locations, plus offsets that you can use to derive predictions for places near the “important” locations.

For purposes of distance you can cover, currents matter more than levels. For purposes of whether you can land or not, or whether you’ll be on a mud flat, levels matter. Predictions for levels are more common, so if you’re looking for currents, you’ll have to dig a little. The tbone site I gave above mixes them all together; you haev to know to look for “Hell Gate Current” rather than just “Hell Gate.” The NOAA site separates the two. I used to think that you could derive the current prediction from the level prediction without local knowledge, but I have been corrected. At my club’s location, the max current occurs at the same time as the max level, but my simple prediction would have put the slack current at the same time as the max level.

To sum up: To predict the tides, you have to have detailed, authoritative, local knowledge. There is no substitute.

– Mark

good answers…
…to a very complicated subject.

Probably your best advice & info will come from the experienced paddlers in the waters you are interested in exploring.

Thanks for posting this question
I had been wondering about some of the same things regarding the tides and was just about to post some similar questions when I saw this.