Sailing Trivia – Tides

Tides (from low-German ‘tiet’ = ‘time’) are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of the Earth.

Most places in the ocean usually experience two high tides and two low tides each day (semi-diurnal tide), but some locations experience only one high and one low tide each day (diurnal tide). The times and amplitude of the tides at the coast are influenced by the alignment of the Sun and Moon, by the pattern of tides in the deep ocean and by the shape of the coastline and near-shore bathymetry

The semi-diurnal range (the difference in height between high and low waters over about half a day) varies in a two-week cycle. Approximately twice a month, around new moon and full moon when the Sun, Moon and Earth form a line (a condition known as syzygy) the tidal force due to the sun reinforces that due to the Moon. The tides range is then at its maximum: this is called the spring tide, or just springs. It is not named after the season but, like that word, derives from the meaning “jump, burst forth, rise”, as in a natural spring.

When the Moon is at first quarter or third quarter, the sun and Moon are separated by 90° when viewed from the Earth, and the solar tidal force partially cancels the Moon’s. At these points in the lunar cycle, the tides range is at its minimum: this is called the neap tide, or neaps (a word of uncertain origin).

Spring tides result in high waters that are higher than average, low waters that are lower than average, ‘slack water‘ time that is shorter than average and stronger tidal currents than average. Neaps result in less extreme tidal conditions. There is about a seven-day interval between springs and neaps.

-Ian Joseph, Tradewinds Instructor

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