All You Need to Know About the Tides For Your Vacation


When you are on a beach vacation, you often hear locals talking about the best times to go to the beach, fish, go shelling, or build a sandcastle. It’s usually when you also start hear them talking about the tides. Now, even after living on the coast my whole life, I must admit that tides can get a little confusing if you are not paying attention and they really can make a difference in the coastal activities that you want to enjoy. 

So, here are some things that you will want to know about the tides that will help you determine which beach activities to do and at what times. Before you step out of your Emerald Isle beach rental and onto the sand, be sure to read this first. 

1. What is the tide?

In a nut shell, tides are the rising and falling of water levels in relation to the land around it. Tides are the result of the moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth. The Earth’s gravity is strong enough that it keeps all the water together while it rotates and moves around the sun. However, the moon’s strong gravitational pull can cause the water to bulge. The bodies of water closest to the moon, and on the opposite side of the moon bulge out, creating an increase of water to those areas: high tide.

Meanwhile, on the two other sides of the Earth, the water is receding as it pulls to be closer to the moon’s gravitational pull: low tide. It can be a little bit confusing to think about, but if you check out the video clip at the bottom of this blog post, you will get a better idea. You can also check out the NOAA website for more information on the tides and how they work.

Basically, what is happening is that the water is being pulled towards some places and away from others because of the moon’s gravitational pull—but what does this mean for you? Well, depending on the activities that you are planning while on vacation in Emerald Isle, it is important to know when the high and low tides are going to be and what you can do during each time. 

⚠️ TIDE TRIVIA: Your highest and lowest tides will normally occur during Full and New Moons.

2. What can I do at high tide?

During high tide, waves generally have more water in between them and the bottom. The waves tend to spill over and onto themselves causing mushy or slower waves. That’s because there is less resistance at the bottom of the wave to slow it down enough and create a decent face. 

During an incoming tide (low to high) you may hear the term High Tide push. This is when waves tend to become larger and more powerful with the added "push” from the incoming tide. Sometimes a high tide will make the surf miss all the bottom contours completely and cause the waves to pitch right over and onto the sand. This happens at many beaches where there is a steep drop off into deep water. Many call this type of surf shorebreak or shorepound and it can be very dangerous to an unsuspecting beach goer. It's always good to be aware of what the tide level is any time you're heading to the beach! This is especially true if you have kids in tow. 
With that being said, high tide is a great time for on the water activities. Whether you are boating, kayaking, or fishing, high tide is generally what you are going to want. This is because the water levels against the docks are higher than at other times. The higher water level gives better access from the dock to the boat, kayak, or canoe that you are trying to board. Just imagine the difference between trying to go from the dock to the boat by stepping right over versus trying to lower yourself a few feet down from the dock: uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. 

You can build a sandcastle during high tide as well, but you may have to do a little extra work to make sure that your sand is wet enough to hold the shape of the castle. However, the benefit to building a sandcastle at high tide is that you don’t have to worry about gauging how far away you have to build the castle so that the tide won’t come in and mess it up because the tide is already in! 

Fishing, especially from the dock, is best during high tide. While you can certainly go fishing during low tide as well, you are more likely to have a variety of fish when the water level is higher and there is more room for the fish to swim freely. When you are on the beach during high tide, it also allows for more fish in the area closest to your comfy beach chair. 

High tide is great if you’re looking for the shortest walk from the car to the water. The water suddenly becomes far closer than during low tide: a fact that always amazed me as a child when I tried to figure out why the walk was all of a sudden much less tedious some days.  

⚠️ TIDE TRIVIA: The most extreme tides happen when the gravitational pulls of the the sun and the moon are aligned and tug at the Earth. This special gravitational alignment creates what oceanographers call Spring Tides. Spring Tides are your most extreme tides meaning really high highs and really low lows.

3. What can I do at low tide?

Low tide is a great time for our kid-friendly activities that we mentioned in a previous post. Things like shelling, wading, walking along the beach, or searching in tide pools are great low-tide activities. During low tide, shells appear that have been washed ashore. The water moves out, and the shells stuck in the sand are left for anyone to be able to grab! 

Low tides, especially extreme ones, can expose reefs, tide pools, and sandbars. This can be hazardous to inexperienced surfers, as waves will break with less cushioning for falls. But it can be great for free-divers who can now dive to the deeper areas with less effort. It's also great for surf fishing because now you can cast out to further depths from shore. Low tide is absolutely perfect for anyone who wants to check out everything onshore that was underwater 6 hours earlier.

Low tide is also a great time for wading and walking along the beach. The water is really shallow during low tide which is great for your little ones. It’s also good for walking along the beach because the sand that has been saturated by water is more compact and easier to walk on than the dry, loose sand that you find further out away from the water.

Sandcastles are another fun activity to do when the tide is low because the good, packing sand is left over to work with. You do have to be careful though because when the tide comes back in, you don’t want your masterpiece to be too close to the water. If you bring buckets with you, you can always carry the wet sand further up on the shore so that the ocean doesn't try and claim your castle as its own.

⚠️ TIDE TRIVIA: A Neap Tide is a relatively minor change between high and low tides when the moon is in first and third quarter phases. The tide changes are relatively minor  because the moon and sun pull at an almost right angle and create relatively equal amounts of force on all sides.

4. What are tide pools?

Tide pools are essentially where deep indentions in the sand have filled with water after the tide has pulled away. These little pools often have crabs, shells, and even little fish left inside. It’s a great way to check out some salty sea life up close. Tide pools also happen to be really child-friendly places for the kids (and kids-at-heart) to explore. Just remind them to look but not touch.

There are many kids of creatures that live in tide pools such as sea stars, sea anemones, mussels, barnacles, crabs, sea cucumbers, seaweed, algae and lots of tiny fish. These sea plants and animals must be tough enough to avoid getting washed into the ocean by strong waves and currents. They must also be able to hide from hungry shore birds, and the drying rays of bright sunlight. On hot, sunny days some tidal pools can dry up completely!

Sea creatures in a tide pool have to be tough to survive in their extreme habitat, washed by the tides each day. But they aren’t so tough when humans are poking at them. Disturbing creatures in a tide pool can hurt or even kill them, so please don’t touch. Just observe and be amazed by all that’s going on in this “mini” ocean. You can read more about the amazing world of tide pools here.

⚠️ TIDE POOL TRIVIA: A tide pool is always changing, so the creatures that call a tide pool home have to be able to live with all these new changes. Being able to change like this is called adaptation. Tide pool residents have learned to adapt, or live with, a water level that changes all the time; changes in water temperature of their pool from cooler to warmer; and the amount of salt and oxygen they find in their pool which can be changed by falling rain or the drying sun. 

5. Watch This Tide Video

Wait, before you go—watch this quick video clip on How Tides Work. It will reinforce the things we talked about here and give you a little more insight. Enjoy!

These are just a few suggestions for some fun things that you can do at high and low tide, as well as in tidal pools. You can check out this link for the local Emerald Isle, North Carolina tide predictions so that you can be fully prepared for any tide you may be experiencing on your next trip to Emerald Isle. Bookmark it!

We hope you found this tide information helpful and useful for your next beach vacation, whether it's in Emerald Isle, NC or beyond. 

Knowledge is power! Share this post with your family and friends so they can learn all about the tides, too.

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