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What You Need to Know about Ocean Tides in Charleston

November 7th, 2017

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As a coastal city, Charleston’s shorelines and harbor experience the effects of the ocean tides four times a day. Most of the time, the natural ebb and flow of the waters don’t cause any disruptions, but a deeper look at Charleston’s history, past and recent, shows how these ocean tides in Charleston leave their footprint on the habits and characteristics of the region.

Thinking of going on an excursion in the waters around Charleston, SC? You’ll want to learn a little bit about the ebb and flow of the ocean tides in Charleston before you head out. Here’s a quick guide with a little history and the most important information you need to know.

What You Need to Know about Ocean Tides in Charleston

What Causes Ocean Tides?

The gravitational pulls of the sun and moon combine with local weather conditions that push or pull the ocean waters at the shorelines. Both exert an invisible force on the ocean’s waters that create bulges. As the earth moves in its orbit closer or further to the sun or move, the forces increase or decline, and the bulges ebb and flow.

Full and new moons create the strongest high tides and the lowest low tides. Within these moon phases, there are also the supermoons that occur in the spring and fall that exert even more pull on the oceans, which intensifies the bulges even more.

Charleston has already experienced King tides, or sunny day floods, when the normal tide rises from five feet to over seven, caused largely by sea level rise.

How to Predict Ocean Tides in Charleston

Since the tides behave in precise cycles, tide tables provide highly accurate data about the high and low tide occurrences based on location. Several websites that provide tide tables for the Charleston area include:

E-Z Fishing. This website lists high and low tides at six of the tide stations in the Charleston area.

Mobile Geographics. These charts detail the times and water levels at Folly Island.

My Tide Times is an app available at online retailers for iPhones and androids.

Charleston Tides and Recreation

Fishing enthusiasts in the Charleston area keep track of the tides routinely because they influence where the fish are. Low tides are best for angling off piers, bridges and boats, as well as digging for shellfish along the beaches.

Boating at high tide means you’ll be closer to the water and there’s no risk of getting caught in the mudflats near the shoreline. At low tide, beach goers have a chance to observe marine life in tide pools, as well as shorebirds feeding at the water’s edge.

See also Ways to See Charleston by Water

Tidal Influences on Charleston

In its natural state, the Charleston Harbor’s water depth at low tide stood at 12 feet, hampering ships from using it as an inland waterway. Work to dredge it to 17 feet in the 1800s was interrupted by the Civil War and finished after the war ended. The jetties on each side of the harbor were constructed between 1878 and 1886. As a result of the jetties and the dredging, the harbor became the inland waterway that helped Charleston to flourish.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has developed plans to deepen the channel to 52 feet by the end of the decade to meet the access requirements for Panamax ships, the most modern of all container ships. When completed, the Charleston Harbor will be the deepest harbor waterway on the east coast.

Sunny day floods (aka King tides) from high tides are expected to increase in Charleston. In the 1970s, the city averaged seven King days a year. By 2045, the city estimates they will reach 180 days per year of tides at or over seven feet. Recently, Hurricane Irma inundated Charleston with a 10 foot storm surge, doing untold damage to low lying neighborhoods.

Can’t get enough Charleston, SC history? Sandlapper history tours share the stories you want to hear most and show you the best historical sights right from the Charleston Harbor. Book your tour now.