How To Read a Tide Chart: The Coastal Hiker's Ultimate Guide

How To Read a Tide Chart: The Coastal Hiker's Ultimate Guide

There are few things on the planet so immediately powerful and unending as the pulse of the tides. The inward and outward flow of water is something that we have to work with. Rivers, lakes, and other inland water sources can be stanched or altered by man-made dams and canals. The same can’t be said for the unfathomable scale of the ocean.

Everyone comes to the sea for different reasons. Some want to get into the water to surf or swim. Others may want to take advantage of running at the beach for the bracing air and new experience of sandrunning. Others may simply be passing through on their way to their next hike. 

All the above cases share one commonality, beyond a journey to the coast: They all need to be able to know how to find and read a tide chart. Join us below to discover how to read a tide chart and how they became the precise tools they are.

What Is a Tide Chart?

All oceanographic estimates are only accurate to a certain extent. Tide charts, among these measurement tools, are the most accurate. Tide charts are utilized to identify when high and low tide is.

A tide chart is similar to a tide table, though some use them to mean different things. This can also be confusing because the terms are used interchangeably by many. Thankfully, because of the similarity between the two, learning to read one allows you to read the other.

Tide tables are regularly produced by the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services and are much more widely available. This U.S. organization has produced tide tables for over 3000 locations across the nation. More local governments often create localized tide tables. 

A tide chart provides users with information on both high and low tide, estimating the sea level for each. They usually cover a period of several days. Some tide charts provide hourly metrics on estimated flow. The level of detail required for this means that they are rarely produced on a mass scale.    

Why Do We Need Tide Charts?

Knowing when high and low tide is and what the particular level is, is essential. Anyone who finds themselves going on or near the water needs to be aware of the tides. For sailors, low tide may make certain areas unnavigable without scraping the ship or running aground. Some paths are also only accessible during low tide.

High tide also has its benefits. Swimmers and surfers are both given a greater deal of water to deal with. This also allows users to enjoy the water without going too far beyond the shore. Meanwhile, being out at low tide will result in a slow growth of distance between you and the shore. 

Depending on how close your nearest coast is, coastal hiking may only be a rare activity for you. You may only have a little while to explore the area. In situations like this, it would be a shame to miss out on beautiful beaches. Tides also affect sea life movements, which is critical when fly fishing.

Sometimes the difference between high and low tide may be minor. In other cases, it may completely change the topography of where you are. The Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia is famous for a nearly 56-foot difference between the tides. 

Planning the perfect trip requires knowing where the tides will be on the coast. Your activities may be curtailed or enhanced depending on the position of the waves. Next, we’ll be explaining how to go about reading a tide chart. 

How To Read a Tide Chart

Tide charts are often separated into either a single “sheet” or multiple graphs. The most traditional one features columns of information and numbers. Some may feature infographics tracking the chart of movement. We will be explaining what a traditional tide chart looks like and the information it maintains.

Even if a given tide chart looks different from our description, it will still have the same information. This makes it easy to parse them no matter how they are organized. 

The top of a tide chart usually includes the name of the location tracked and the month of the year. For dating purposes, it may also feature the year, though online tide charts are updated frequently. This means the immediate result from an online search will likely be the most current one.  

The leftmost column will usually feature the date. The next two columns measure both high and low tide. These are usually subdivided into AM and PM for the two varying measurements throughout the day. These specify the time, usually down to the minute, as well as the sea level during this time.

Some of the best tide charts even mark sea level down to the hour. The vast majority, however, simply provide twice-daily highs and lows. 

This is the core information that all tide charts provide, though some go above and beyond. Some use wave graphs to estimate the overarching movement of the waves. Others may feature the phases of the moon since astronomy plays a part in tide movements. Online resources may even count down the minutes until the next high and low tide. 

Reading a tide chart isn’t especially complex once you know what to look for. The only thing left to do once you’ve done so is to begin your next major exploration.

How Tide Charts Are Made

Now that we’ve explained how to read Tide charts, it’s of interest to also know how they are made. There is no single field of science more essential to calculating regular tidal movements than astronomy. The rotation of the Earth and the presence of bodies influencing its gravitational orbit all help create tides.

Thus, tracking the strength of tides comes down to tracking planetary movements. The position of the moon and sun allow us to accurately predict future and backdate past tidal movements. The first U.S. tide prediction chart was published in the American Almanac in 1830. It only took fourteen years before these tide charts regularly included lunar phases along with tidal measurements. 

Today, the U.S. maintains 210 tidal research stations. These stations take the form of recording devices that send out audio signals. They then track the time it takes for the signal to bounce back, measuring the time elapsed.

These are automated to repeatedly track and send data every six minutes for updated and accurate information. These detect tide levels as well as pressure and other relevant measures.

Both the unedited and highlighted data are available on the internet, making planning your trip easier than ever. 

Safely Hiking the Coasts

Finding high and low tide is as simple as googling a tide chart for your destination. Once you have that information down, the rest is up to you. 

The next step is packing for your day trip. The best apparel for your trip includes sun-protection in accessories and water-resistant technical fabrics.

The brisk sea air and the warmth of sand make a coastal hike appealing and alluring. Make the most of unique sights at low tide, embrace the power of high tide, or go somewhere between. No matter how you travel, you’ll never be caught unawares, thanks to the wide availability of tide charts.


What is a NOAA Tide Table? I NOAA

High and Low Tides in Bay of Fundy I Earth Observatory

150 Years of NOAA Tide Tables I NOAA

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