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A BEGINNERS GUIDE TO TIDES

In this detailed guide, we give you all the understanding you need about tides...

Have you ever wondered:

How are tides created?

What is the difference between high tide and low tide? 

Do tides affect how waves break?

In this detailed guide, we answer all of these questions and more to give you all the understanding you need about tides.

The tides that shape our coastlines play a huge part in how and when we deliver our surf lessons Cornwall and coasteering activities here in Newquay Cornwall.

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Sea tides explainedguidetotides

WHAT ARE TIDES?

Tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun, and as we all know we have high tides and low tides.

A way to get one’s head around the process of tides is to think of a massive, slow-moving wave created far, far out at sea that travels gradually towards the coastlines with every ebb, flow and cycle of the moon.

The moon and the sun do not have an equal gravitational effect on the tides, with the moon counting for roughly 2/3rds of the gravitational pull as opposed to 1/3rd from the sun.

Although we experience a stronger gravitational pull in our day-to-day lives from the sun than that of the moon, the tides are not generated by the strength of gravity but instead by what's known as gravitational gradient. Since the moon is closer to the earth it exerts more gravitational gradient than the sun and so has a stronger effect on the world’s oceans.

Despite the moon being smaller, it is much closer to the Earth so it exerts a greater gravitational gradient over our oceans. This is why you would have heard of the connection between the tides and the moon.

What is a High Tide and a Low Tide?

High tide and low tide refer to the two points in the tidal cycle when the water level reaches its maximum (high tide) and minimum (low tide) heights. They occur due to the gravitational forces between the Earth, the moon, and the sun.

 

Time Between Low and High Tide

The time interval between low and high tide can vary significantly and is influenced by various factors such as the location's geography and the gravitational forces of the moon and sun. On average, this cycle spans roughly 6 hours and 12.5 minutes, although it's essential to consult local tide charts for precise timings.

According to Coastal Wiki, the duration between low and high tide can differ based on the coastal topography and tidal influences (Coastal Wiki, "Tide").

 

What is a high tide? 

A high tide is when the ocean is at its fullest point on the beach. On the beach, we notice that there isn’t much sand to walk on and the waves are breaking close to the shore or at the top of the beach. A high tide is caused when the moon is overhead or at its closest to the earth and when it is at its furthermost away.

High Tide:

  • High tide is when the water reaches its maximum height along the shore.
  • It happens as a result of the gravitational pull of the moon (and to a lesser extent, the sun) on the Earth's water.
  • There are typically two high tides and two low tides in roughly a 24-hour period.

 

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WHAT IS A LOW TIDE?

A low tide is caused when the ocean is at its lowest point of the beach. On the beach, we notice that the sea is far away and leaves a large patch of sand once covered at high tide. Low tides are caused when the earth is at a right angle to the moon.

Low Tide:

  • Low tide is when the water retreats to its lowest level along the shore.
  • During low tide, more of the shoreline becomes exposed.
  • The period between high tide and low tide is known as the ebb tide.

 

Difference Between Tide and Swell

Tides and swells are distinct phenomena. Tides are the periodic rising and falling of ocean water levels caused by gravitational forces, primarily from the moon and to a lesser extent, the sun. On the other hand, swells refer to the waves generated by distant storms and winds that travel across the ocean's surface.

NOAA's National Ocean Service clarifies the contrast between tides and swells, emphasizing their separate origins and characteristics (NOAA, "What is the difference between a tide and a tsunami or a swell?").

 

SPRING TIDES 

As well as having high tides and low tides each day we see a variation in the size of these high tides and low tides. This again is due to the rotation of the earth and each phase of the lunar cycle that we pass dictates the size of the tides.

 

WHAT IS A SPRING TIDE?

A spring tide or king tide can be defined as high, high tides and low, low tides or large tidal movement between one tide and the next.   If you are surfing or at the beach during this phase of the lunar cycle you will notice a big difference between low tide and high tide.

 

WHAT CAUSES SPRING TIDES?

You’ll notice a spring tide occurs when there is a full moon and/or a new moon. When the sun and the moon are aligned (both on the same side of the earth) that makes the gravitation pull is very strong creating high, high tides and low, low tides.

 

WHAT IS A NEAP TIDE?

A neap tide is where we don’t see much difference between low tide and high tide. The tidal range is smaller than that of a Spring tide. Neap tides occur when we see a waxing and/or waning moon. This occurs twice every month when the sun and the moon are at right angles to each other the solar tide partially cancels out the lunar tide making for a small tidal range.

Sublunar tides – this is when the moon is directly over a specific point on the earth and the moon’s gravity pulls water towards the moon.

Antipodal tides – this is when the moon’s gravitational effect on a particular spot on the earth is at its weakest. i.e when the moon is furthermost away or opposite side of the earth from the ocean.

HOW DO TIDES AFFECT THE SURF?

 

The tide will affect the surf in a variety of ways.  Waves are formed as the energy or swell in the ocean moves from deep water to shallow water and is forced upwards, waves will then peak and start to break as they hit sand banks or reefs that make up the bathymetry of the sea floor. The volume of water that covers these sandbanks or reefs will affect how quickly the waves form and break.

Bathymetry – is the shape of the sea floor

Waves at high tide are said to be fat and slow,or lumpy due to the large amount or volume of water that is sitting over the sand banks or reef on that particular beach.

Waves at low tide are said to be quick, steep or dumpy, this is because there is very little water sitting over the sand bank or reef allowing the ocean swells to travel from very deep water straight into very shallow water.

Every beach is different: All beaches have a different topography which causes the waves to form and break. Some beaches suit a high tide whereas some may suit a mid or lower tide.

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Guide to Tides1

TIDES FOR SURFING IN NEWQUAY 

For our surf lessons Newquay we typically avoid running lessons within 1 hour before, during and 1 hour after a high tide. When the tide is full or high this typically causes the waves to break close to the beach which we find doesn’t always create the best conditions for learning to surf.

 

TIDES FOR COASTEERING IN NEWQUAY 

Many people that join us for a Coasteering session are surprised that we cannot deliver Coasteering sessions any given time of day. Typically the most popular Coasteering session will involve a mixture of elements such as wild swimming, low-level traversing, and deep water cliff jumps.

With many folks interested in challenging themselves to a cliff jump Coasteering companies in Cornwall need to keep a close eye on the tidal movement in their area each day to ensure that there is enough water for customers to plunge into.

Never attempt to go Coasteering without a local professional Coasteering provider

Here in Newquay, our high tides are usually in the morning or late afternoon, this makes for some fantastic still early morning or classic sunset Coasteering experiences.

WHAT IS TIDAL RANGE OR COEFFICIENT? 

Tidal range or coefficient refers to the distance between a high tide and a low tide and is measured in meters.

surgewatch.org refers to it as: Tidal range is the vertical difference in height between consecutive high and low waters over a tidal cycle.

The tidal range will change slightly each day due to local weather conditions and as the cycle of the moon moves around the earth from neaps tides to spring tides.

When reading the tide times or surf forecast this is shown as 6.2 or 5.7 in the middle column after the morning high tide or low tide time. The higher the figure, the greater the coefficient or tidal range that day.  As we know this is directly related to spring or neap tides.

When we refer to “how big the tide is” this is in reference to the coefficient or tidal range on that particular tide. Not the distance that the sea has travelled up or down the beach. 

 

What is Chart datum?

Chart datum is the highest or lowest astronomical tide possible or the highest or lowest point that the tide is expected to rise or fall under average meteorological conditions.

This level then sets a benchmark for tidal movement. All tidal movement is measured above the lowest astronomical tide and below the highest astronomical tide and is used in part to map out minimum or maximum depths of coastal waters.

One of the points in the UK where the chart datum is measured is Newlyn in Cornwall. In the UK we measure chart datum as a figure of zero. Rising tides will then measure how many meters above zero or chart datum that particular tide will rise or fall.

American chart datum is taken from a mean or average low or average high tide.  This means that you can often get negative tides during spring tides and bad weather.

Congratulations if you made it here!

Although a very interesting topic, truly understanding the process behind tidal patterns takes quite the explanation.

 

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