We are planning on starting the Florida CIRCUMNAVIGATIONAL SALTWATER PADDLING TRAIL in February, but need to get info on paddling with tides. Is it best to go at high tide or low tide. We plan to start in Pensocola. We are from the midwest , and have paddled on Lake michigan and Lake Superior, but are clueless about tides!


You need to learn about tides as it is neither best to leave at a high or low tide.

Tide is the verticle movement of water either up or down.

Tidal CURRENT is the horizontal movement of water which affects you SOG.

no short answer
I’d recommend getting a good navigation book, (like the one by David Burch). There you will find an entire chapter on tides and tidal currents, and how they affect navigation and trip planning.

You’ll find lots of other good information in such a book if you’re not familiar with other aspects of ocean paddling and navigation.

Sounds like a fun trip! I’m envious.

Tidal currents will be a major concnern when paddliong across some of the larger inlets and passes. They can get above five knots, and when the wind opposes the current there can be a nasty chop. You will want to learn how to read tide tables and predict slack water - or just pull up on the beach and wiat it out for a few hours.

Tidal height can affect you when you land at high tide to make camp, then wake up the next morning to find the water a hundred yards away from your boat. Even thought the tidal range is farily small in FL, the beaches shelve so gardually in many places that a foot or tow of tidal variation can leave you a long way from the water.

There are a few places on the insides wilderness waterway in Everglades NP that can be impassable at low tide. And there are shoals and oyster bars all laong the gulf coast that you can paddle over at high tide, but will have to divert around at low tide.

Eldridge or some such
There are good annuaul publications that include tidal information such as Eldridge. Tidal current can be a much bigger concern than simply whether flood or ebb.

I also like checking the Coast Pilot for additional information.

Call some local outfitter?
By local I mean southern Florida. Or get in touch with paddling groups in the area etc.

I grew up on the coast so it’s pretty intuitive to me reading the tide and current chart/table. But some people find the whole idea of tide rather confusing…

The more tricky part is if a particular section of waterway is not on the chart/table because it’s not navigable by larger vessel, you need to “guess” the water behavior by looking at the chart and intepretating between the nearby known points…

Tides & Currents

– Last Updated: Dec-18-09 11:53 AM EST –

Here is a reference for Eldridge, that some have referred to. This is from Blue Water Books and Charts.


That will give you both tide and current data, and will be easier to carry that full tide and current books. Since there is minimal tidal range in Florida, it will generally be quite manageable except in limited places, such as entering an inlet or crossing an entrance bar. Since you will be using the inland waterway (safer and much more interesting), inlets and bars will seldom be an issue. A bigger issue than tides and currents will be coexisting with snakes and gators. Vigilence is your greatest weapon, but here's a link on safety around alligators.

I third or fourth a book

– Last Updated: Dec-18-09 12:11 PM EST –

There is not enough room here to write about tide cycles (which are irregular in the part of Florida I have paddled in..not the six and a quarter hour cycle of around heah), tide and wind relationships (can result in nasty waves or even no water as its all blown in another direction), tidal currents, tidal height variation tidal delays. They all interact too to influence your decison. Its quite possible with wind and tidal influences to have NO water in some bays if you use the Wilderness Waterway.

I do expect you will be taking marine charts and know how to read them, but a good navigational book is useful or if you can find one a navigational class..

Last March I did the 300 mile Watertribe Challenge from Tampa Bay to Key Largo. The tide information I like and use the most comes from my PN-30 GPS. On the spot current tidal information. Do you have a good mapping GPS you’ll use for this trip?

Height vs. current speed and direction
For shoreline camping (also for landing and launching), you’ll definitely want the tide tables. No big deal–these are often free at local stores. We got one at a Walmart in Ketchikan, for example. Bear in mind that the tide heights and times are for certain locations and you may need to extrapolate for where you are on a given day. Common sense helps a lot, as well as observing things like the line of seaweed left by the last high tide.

The tidal currents might be a big deal in some places. Four of us in Alaska did not have any of the current guides, no charts either, just topo maps and tide tables. While we didn’t have any disasters on our month-long trip, it would’ve been better to know more about tidal flows and navigation. The Franco Ferrero book is good, as is Ray Killen’s (read critically–I found what seem to be mistakes in at least one of the exercises in my edition of Killen’s book). These are just for giving you an intro to tides and currents generally.

Thankyou I was hoping someone would recomend a good guide.

GPS is Great for Tide Info

– Last Updated: Dec-19-09 5:43 AM EST –

Get yourself a GPS that provides tide info. Tidal current can be wicked at or near inlets. If you're travelling an inlet time it so the current is with you. Inlets can be scary.

check out this website
it gives tides and tidal currents for all the coastal states and Carribean. http://www.sailflow.com/windandwhere.iws?regionID=114&regionProductID=22&timeoffset=0

Seriously. GPS is the Thing

– Last Updated: Dec-19-09 5:55 AM EST –

If you're doing a long, coastal thing a GPS is a great, fun tool to have. Mapping detail is good for getting around in marshes and... tide information is at your fingertips. Garmin MAP76Cs with a chip for the area you want.

Did I say 'be careful at inlets'?

small tides make a big diff
You might laugh at the tides in Florida Bay, since they’re only like 3 feet. But that 3 feet might expose a couple hundred feet of marl between your campsite and the water. That’s nasty stuff knee-deep, full of sharp shells. It’ll suck your shoes off then cut your feet to ribbons.

thats where sea sense comes in
I dont know of a mapping GPS that changes with the tide.

You have to watch the water and anticipate its next move. Often brown water indicates a nice mud flat that might hang you up and you need to head to the blue…if you can …

We can digress to Florida Footwear…if you must wear sandals closed toe protection will guard against oyster shell lacerations. Sooner or later you will err and have to leave your boat. You will learn that to avoid sucky mud you want to step on those sharp shells but little aqua shoes are no protection and they will pull off.

That said I am hoping Santa brings me a mapping GPS for use in Lostmans Bay…get tired of guessing which mangrove to go to…it would make life easier. Not a substiture for chart and compass though. I have had a older GPS (non mapping) battery connection corrode in a few days. Hope that does not happen again(I do use an Aqua Pak)

Your absolutely best resource is
a good GPS such as a Garmin Map 76.

You can bring up the closest tide station to where you will be at all times, and then nyou can read the table and gett all the good info on how high and how low each tide will be.

Some days the change is almost negligable while others there is a greater difference.

Then you have to be aware of the changes in directions of flows from the various inlets and between the various Keys.

Only experience or learning to read the charts combined with the tides will teach you this.

Over the years my wife has become quite a expert on

this in the Keys except the day we took a group which had Scupper Frank, Grayhawk and a bunch more with us and she made a mistake on the date by about four days.

We all did a bunch of kayak pushups for a mile or so!



I don’t know about Florida too much …
… but the thing that would have my big interest is the knee deep mud in some shallow bays on a low tide … like has been said , a couple hundred yards of ozzz between camp and water could make for a tough launch I’d think .

I’d be lookin for deep water to exit and enter from on the camp site choices .

If you know
when and where you will be paddling the tidal and current information is available at NOAA. I have a GPS (Lowrance) that has live tidal and current info for every inlet in the US, but that only is for the same day. The Garmin Blue Charts has an unlock code for each area so you get scammed on the maps with a bunch of gagitry crap to sort out. they are pretty handy but most people would use the free tidal charts and free nautical maps to plan their trip well in advance, and use the GPS as a supplement.

If you paddle with JackL
in the keys, bring some gloves for the pushups :wink:

(best damn week of paddling with the best damn paddlers)