How to Read a Tide Table
Last updated: October 6, 2020, at 1:59 p.m. PT
Originally published: October 5, 2020, at 12:08 p.m. PT
What are tides and what causes them?
Tides are the daily change in water level for bodies of water connected to the ocean. They act like large waves formed out on the ocean in response to the gravitational pulls of the sun and moon. On the coast of Washington, we have two daily tide cycles, meaning that there are two high and two low tides in one day. This is common for most places, but in some areas, such as the Gulf of Mexico, there is only one tide cycle a day. Depending on the area, the difference between high tide and low tide can either be really big, or really small. Generally, it takes about six hours for the tide to go from high to low.
What is a tide table?
A tide table is used to show the daily predictions of the tides in a local area, showing the high and low tides of the day.
When reading a tide chart, the goal is to find out when the low and high tides are for the day. If you’re planning to go on a beach walk and want to have lunch while at the beach, it’s best to look for a low tide in the middle of the day. If you’re looking to take a boat out of harbor, it’s best to wait for a high tide. If you’re planning to camp out on the beach, it’s always a good idea to know what the highest tide will be, so that way you can pick a spot that is well above the high tide line.
Where can you find a tide table?
Newspapers often publish local tide charts near the weather forecast. Another way to find a tide table is with NOAA Tide Predictions. Choose the station closest to where you are, then pick the date you want to know the tides for.
How do you read a tide table?
This is an example of a tide table for Gig Harbor, with the date set from August 20 to the 21st. According to the chart, the lowest tide of the day happened at 12:50pm and was predicted to be -1.69 feet, meaning that the water level was 1.69 feet lower than the average low tide. The next high tide will be at 7:40pm, at 12.53 feet above the average low tide.
Not all tide tables come in graph form though. For example, the one below uses a table format. While this can be a bit trickier to read, it gives similar information to the graph above. Can you find the lowest tide on January 5?
Now that you have an understanding of tide charts, let’s put it to use.
Let’ say your family wants to spend a day in La Push. You want to go looking for tide pools while there, so you want to pick a low tide. Looking at the tide table below, what would the best time be?
Next week, you and your friends want to go for a swim. You know a spot that has a swimming dock, but the only time you can use it is during high tide. Looking at the tide table below, what would be the best time to go for a swim?
The lowest tide is at 9:30 am, so that would be the best time to look for tide pools.
There’s a high tide at 2:00 pm, so that would be a good time to go swimming.