You don’t have to be a meteorologist of maritime student to appreciate the cause and effect of tides. Vacationers to Maine should know about tides because they are dramatic – up to 11 feet of water rises and falls on the Maine shoreline twice every day. Tides are caused by the gravitational interaction of the Earth and Moon. The gravitational attraction of the moon causes the ocean to rise in the direction of the moon.
Full moons cause very full tides, but every day in Maine the tides are significant – ranging from 8-11 feet of water ebbing and flowing – up and down the shoreline, the beach and in the rivers that flow to the ocean. Tides are fascinating, and fun when you work with them, and challenging if you are naive to them.
Why you should know tides when you are on a Maine vacation:
Where you place your beach chair in Maine matters…
If you arrive at a Maine beach at low tide and place your picnic towels and chairs near the ocean, you may well get very wet in just a few hours, loose your stuff, or at minimum have to move your beach gear quickly as the waves reach suddenly higher up the sand. On the flip side, arriving at the beach at high tide, you can feel free to get very close to the water and set up your beach blanket knowing that the water will continue to retreat for the next 5 hours.
Kayak, canoe and SUP (Stand Up Paddle Board) excursions vary greatly with the push and pull of the tide. Going up river with an incoming tide is great fun, you get an extra push from the incoming flow of water, just know that if you don’t wait until slack tide or the reverse tide- it will be a stiff current and hard work returning into an incoming tide.
Smart kayakers, canoers and SUP go with the flow, then have a rest, picnic or swim at peak tide at their destination before turning around as the tide turns – you feel like a hero both ways with the assistance of the powerful tidal current. Conversely, fighting the tide, or following an incoming mid-tide then returning into the tide can make for an exhausting workout .
Boating in Maine with the tides…
Tides have hung up many a Maine boater. Passing between islands, or within a harbor or river at high tide things look completely safe, while 5-6 hours later exposed ledges, rocks, reefs and ground appear. Imagine 11 less feet of water and the many dangers that lie below. Having a navigational chart handy at all times and being aware of your depth is key when cruising around Maine’s tidal harbors and rivers.
Enter and anchor at low tide.
Smart boaters tend to enter harbors at low tide when shoals, rocks, reefs and sand bars are visible. Entering in high tide may seem safer, but you must study your chart very carefully as hazards are not apparent to you. Ignorance is not bliss when boating in 11 foot tidal areas.
If you anchor, you should put out enough scope for high tide, but also know the radius of your boat and any danger at dead low for your boat’s draft (draw) which is the amount of water need from the bottom of your boat so as not to run aground, hit your prop or keel.
A fish finder or depth finder alone is not sufficient to knowing where you are in your boat and what lies beneath. A depth gauge will often sound an alarm when its too late and you have just struck a ledge, shoal or sand bar. You should know where you are on a chart at all times. Chart depths are marked with the depth at normal low tide. A dramatic low tide can be -1 foot or more below the chart indicated depth.
Finally a word of caution on RipTides.
Riptides in Maine are strong tidal currents caused by the ebb and flood jets created in restricted tidal areas which can be dangerous to swimmers and small crafts. Rip current is different, describing tidal wave action.
Maine has a semi-diurnal tide – two relatively similar high and low tides each day. See our Maine tide charts here. To Mainers, especially Maine fisherman and Maine lobstermen, the tide chart is as important as their traps and pots. Tide charts are unique to each Maine town, region and harbor, changing daily, geographically.
Enjoy your Maine vacation and keep in mind the tides – the Maine tide can be your friend or your frenemy!
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Vacation Guide to the Southern Maine – Ogunquit, Kennebunkport, York, Old Orchard Beach – Resorts Inns