Why Does Knowing Tidal Height When Sea Kayaking Matter?

Why do you need to know the tidal height/range for a planning or leading a sea kayak trip?

Can you safely launch….

And more importantly, can you land?

This is Titlow Beach in Tacoma, WA – our landing site this past Saturday.

There was NO beach! (See below for tidal height comparisons.) 

We could only land one at a time. With no wind and no rush to get off the water, it was no big deal. It likely wouldn’t be for most paddlers – even in a large group.

For the record, we knew it would be like this.

But what if the wind picked up?

Here, the prevailing winds are out of the southwest – blowing on-shore. There’s a small fetch here. With even wind speed at 10 knots (possibly less), water hitting that break wall and refracting back would be possible. Probably to definitely at higher speeds. But even without series waves, it could be tough for some in a group to land. Others would have to hold and wait. There wasn’t much room for error.

If the winds did pick up, with our skills, we’d have been fine. All of us could swim to shore towing our kayaks in the worst case scenario. Aside from that, and what would have happened with a less experienced group – they’d have to paddle roughly a 1/2 mile further south or further depending on conditions.

Before planning or leading a trip, you need to account for tidal height and how it will affect your landing.

You also need to know tidal height and range throughout the trip to know where you’ll have access to land for break as well as for bail out points in an emergency.

How do you determine if you’ll have landing access?

The best way – local knowledge. We knew the access – or lack of – as we’d have based on plenty of experience launching and landing there.

The other method? Check the tide tables for your area, then grab a nautical chart and check the depth readings. Those figures combined will tell you what you need to know.

For those interested in learning more, I cover this in my Tide, Currents, & Weather module.

For tidal height comparisons:

These images from my NRS photoshoot show the pilings at a significantly lower tide and just how much beach is available. The second image….is at the far end of the picture above.

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