One of the main reasons that ocean travel is so very different from land travel is the tide. The ocean level rises and falls every day. The tide makes a quick jaunt down the coast a bit more complicated than a quick trip by land to the next town over. Tides are one of the essential areas of knowledge that boaters should be fluent in.
Before we get into how exactly tides affect your boating excursions, there are a few things to know about what tides are and how they work.
The tides are an integral and relatively stable part of the sea. Unlike wind, storms, or even other boaters, the tides can be predicted with accuracy and ease. Tides, however, are not consistent across different areas, so before you head out you should consult a tide table so you know the times of high and low tides. Tide tables are widely available both online and in print form, so find one relevant to your area and obtain a copy so you can prepare yourself for each day on the water.
Just knowledge of the tide is often not enough when you are not familiar with the area in which you are boating. If the tide moves through a channel or other narrow waterway, it can cause rough conditions. For some channels, you will need to plan your passage entirely around the direction of the tidal flow, as trying to move against the current may prove impossible. In addition, obstacles which are hidden or do not pose a danger at high tide can become dangerous at low tide, so familiarize yourself with the relevant seascape and, as always, carry a chart with you when you head out on the water.
If you end up out on the water without any knowledge of the tide schedule for the day, you can still read the water — especially when you are in close proximity to the coast. Look at the water and the shore; the tidal current is visible as the water flowing in towards or ebbing away from the land. This may take a while for your eyes to get used to, as the tidal current can resemble the small waves that are a constant on the sea’s surface, but keep observing the water and you will distinguish its undivided and constant lines. It often looks like the ocean is chasing itself onto or away from the shore.
With some aspects of the tide, reading and predicting it is as easy as looking at a table. Once you are on the water, you will need some additional practice and experience, but as long as you have your eyes open you will soon learn to navigate the tides.