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23 Jan 2020
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Ocean & Beach Information

When you come visit Holden Beach, you’re likely to hear locals chatting about high tide or low tide — especially if you’re hanging around one of our local seafood markets, as our fishermen perhaps feel the effect of tides more than anyone. 

holden beach sunrise

If you aren’t from a coastal area, you may not know exactly what tides are or why they are important. So, we hope you find this Tides 101 crash course helpful!

What are Tides?

Tides are long-period waves that originate in the oceans and move towards the coastlines in response to the gravitational attraction of the sun and moon. The sun is 360 times farther from Earth than the moon, so the production of tides is more affected by the moon.

Because of the processes involved in the creation of the tidal system, high tide and low tide each occur twice a day. The height of each high and low tide differs during each cycle, which is caused by the changes in distance between Earth and the moon throughout the day. Earth and the moon revolve around a common point that restarts every 27.3 days and creates the cycle of the tides.

Each lunar day is 24 hours and 50 minutes long, and consists of two high tides and two low tides. A lunar day is longer than a regular 24-hour day because Earth spins in the same direction as the moon rotates around it, and Earth spends 50 minutes each day “catching up” to the moon.

If you look at the three-day sample below, the times aren’t labeled as high tide and low tide because it depends on where in the 27.3-day tide cycle you are. Due to the way the cycle changes, sometimes the day will start with high tide and sometimes it will start with low tide. 

So, you’ll notice in the chart that each tide is a little more than six hours apart. You’ll also see how it adjusts slightly during each day, so each day the tides are different than the day before. By the end of that 27.3 day moon/tide cycle, it starts over. In other words, today’s tide times are occurring at essentially the same times as they will occur 27.3 days from now. Read the Holden Beach tide charts.

tide chart example

Moon phases, hurricanes, and other weather patterns can also impact tide levels. During these patterns, there will still be high and low tides approximately 6.2 hours apart from each other, but the actual height of them can vary.

Are you wondering what the tides will be during your next Holden Beach vacation? You’ll have a copy of our 2020 tide chart waiting for you in your Hobbs Realty welcome sand bucket when checking into your vacation rental. Good news — that sand bucket will also come in handy during your beachcombing adventures! And be sure to stop by the Hobbs Realty office if you need an extra copy of the tide chart — and to say hello!

How Tides Impact Holden Beach

Tides affect all coastal areas, and here in Holden Beach they impact the oceanfront beaches, inlets, canals, and the Intracoastal Waterway. Both of our inlets - the East End (Lockwood Folly Inlet) and the West End (Shallotte Inlet) - enable boats to travel through during high and low tide, but certain larger boats may want to stick to high tides.

baby loggerhead sea turtles going to the ocean

The high tides of hurricanes and winter storms can push Holden Beach sand up onto the beach or cause erosion, depending on the situation. Tides are also important to our sea life, and when tides are higher or lower than normal it can disturb their habitats and breeding patterns.

Tides can also alter sea turtle life, as the turtles frequently have Holden Beach vacations of their own when they come onshore to lay their nests. If a turtle lays her nest too close to the high tide line it is in danger of being washed away, and the Holden Beach Turtle Patrol will safely relocate the nest to a safe location. Holden Beach is a sea turtle sanctuary.

How Tides Affect Fishing

Tides are important in the fishing world mainly because of the currents they create. Fish love currents, and when the current is moving on a rising or falling tide (in between tides), you’re more likely to catch fish. This is especially true in the inlet areas where the currents travel between the Atlantic Ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway.

fishing holden beach

Many people prefer fishing during low tide because it concentrates fish in the warmer, shallow tide pools in and around the Intracoastal Waterway. Also, for those with oyster permits, oysters are harvested from beds during low tide.

Alternatively, high tide can make the water temperature drop slightly, depending on the season. Fish like cover and grass, so when the high tide comes in they seek shallow cover in the backs of creeks and areas that aren’t as affected by high tide. Also during high tide, boaters are able to get into areas they can’t always access during low tide. If luck strikes just right, those hidden areas the fish escape to during high tide may be the same places you can reach by boat during high tide. 

As you visit these secret shallow areas accessible during high tide, pay close attention to the tide changes so you don’t run aground when the tide goes back out. If you do, you just have to relax and wait approximately 6.2 hours for the tide to come back in. Not that anyone around here knows anything about that happening! But, hey - it all makes a good story, right?

For those fishing from the beach, high tide can also benefit surf fishing by filling in troughs in the sand. 

How Tides Affect Beachcombing

For those who enjoy beachcombing, tides also make a difference in the best times to find treasures. An hour before and after low tide is generally the best time for beachcombing. After hurricanes and other winter storms are especially popular shell-hunting times for unique finds.

Holden Beach Shells Beachcombing

Many visitors and locals will visit the East End (Lockwood Folly) Inlet to search for sand dollars. Just before low tide in ankle deep water is where many people find them. Just be sure they are no longer alive before you take them home. (Hint: If they are alive, they will have follicles that look like hair on the sides and bottom, and if you set them in the sand and look closely, you can see them slowly move across the sand.) Read more about beachcombing in Holden Beach.

Dangers of Tides

Perhaps one of the most important things to mention when considering tides is the danger of rip tides, which are commonly called rip currents. Rip currents occur during specific stages of the tide cycle when certain conditions between sandbars and currents exist. They can form in a variety of conditions, though certain weather patterns make the rip currents more likely.

Rip currents pose danger to swimmers, especially those who aren’t familiar with what to do if facing them. If you find yourself caught in a rip current, you need to swim at a right angle to the flow of water; in other words, swim parallel to the shore in either direction until out of the rip current. Once you’ve escaped the current, it will be easier to swim toward shore as well as pushed towards the beach by the waves. Swimmers who aren’t familiar with rip tides have a tendency to panic and try to swim against the flow to get out of the current (towards the beach).

The nature of the rip current is that it will pull the swimmer away from shore, so the natural instinct is try to swim towards shore. Don’t do this and do not panic. Remain calm and simply swim parallel to the shore in either direction until you’re out of the strong current and able to ride the waves/swim to shore. Read more about ocean safety and prepare your family for a fun, safe vacation!

Book your next Holden Beach vacation today!

Here at Hobbs Realty, we’re ready to help you book your next Holden Beach vacation. Call us at (800) 655-3367 to speak to our Hobbspitality experts so you can make plans to enjoy the tides of Holden Beach!

Darcy Geho is a contributing author to this Hobbs Realty blog. She spent 11 years working in the vacation rental industry while she lived on and traveled the North Carolina coast. Like most of our visitors, when Darcy isn’t on Holden Beach, she looks forward to her next visit. In her spare time, Darcy enjoys sharing her adventures on her blog.