Safety Spotlight - ‘It’s behind youooo...’ Tides can surprise you. It’s not fun when they do.

“It’s behind yooooo…Oh no it isn’t…..Oh yes it is…” If you hear shouts like that at the coast, it’s probably not a bit of Great British pantomime fun. Just as Captain Hook in Peter Pan finds himself on the run from the crocodile, if you're not careful, you could find yourself at the wrong end of a race with a tide...

Tides never stop coming in or going out and it’s not always in a straight line either. They are often very fast moving and they can ‘sneak in’ behind you, alongside you and all around you, leaving you and your loved ones cut off and in danger.

One of the Iron Men sculptures by artist Anthony Gormley keeps a
permanent watch on the tides at Crosby beach. Library pic by Tim Hill on Pixabay

Tides can and do surprise

Tides can be surprising when you know the area well and perhaps even more so if you’re visiting a coastal location for the first time. Some parts of the country are especially prone to very fast moving tides and in the UK and Ireland, we have some of the biggest tidal ranges in the world. According to the National Tidal and Sea Level Facility, the geographical location and weather has a profound effect on the tide.

All year round, people get caught out in situations which could possibly have been avoided. Just this week, incidents have included:

  • Rough time: Four walkers and a dog were cut off by the tide at Rough Island in Scotland after misjudging the speed of the tide last Monday. Sensibly they’d raised the alarm and retreated further up the beach to wait after calling us for help. They were brought back to safety by the RNLI.
  • In a fix at Filey: Five people raised the alarm when they were stranded by the tide at Filey. All made it to safety – with our help. Three were rescued by the RNLI lifeboat but the choppy seas meant it was difficult for the lifeboat to return for the others. The two others had to be lifted up the cliffs to safety via expert rope rescue by the local coastguard rescue team.
  • Stuck in the Middle: On Wednesday afternoon a swim went wrong for two young people at Middle Island, Mumbles. They’d swam to the island and were stuck as they couldn’t swim back due to the fast moving current. The RNLI lifeboat brought them back to be met and checked by our rescue team. They were both cold and had a few grazes but returned safely home.

Please stay ‘tide wise’ and don’t take unnecessary risks that could put you and others in danger. We’re on call and ready to help anyone in difficulties around the coasts 24/7 but we’d rather it didn’t happen to you.

Tides are not always in straight lines as this pic of Blackpool by Rob McKenzie
of Lytham Coastguard Rescue Team shows

Tides – what and why?

The orbit of the earth and the gravitational forces of the sun and the moon affect our tides. And without getting into too much detail, the simplest way is to remember that it a full tide (from high to high) takes around 12 hours and six hours to change from high to low tide and vice versa. Tidal times are constantly on the move, so a low tide at say 11am on a Saturday will be at a different time in the following days and weeks.

But there are lots of free and easy ways to ensure you know what the tide is going to do. It’s very important if you’re planning a visit to the coast and/or going out in or on the water.

This video shows just how tides can change in just a few hours

Be tide-wise

  • Visit a lifeguarded beach if possible
  • Get a free app for your phone. For example; ‘My Tide Times’, MSW - Magic Seaweed
  • Check out the information at lifeguard stations and beach offices
  • Tide timetables. There are lots to choose from such as:
    Met Office
    Tide times
  • Timetable key; H.W = High Water (High Tide) L.W = Low W (Low Tide) M = Meters (approx height of the expected tide)
  • Take a fully charged mobile phone (ideally in a waterproof pouch) so you can call for help if you need it
  • Tell someone where you’re going and what time you’ll be back. Allow extra time to get back

If you see anyone in difficulties around the coasts or if you need help, please don’t wait. Call us on 999, ask for the Coastguard and we’ll send in the experts. Fast. We’d rather be safe than sorry.  


Please help us to help you and stay safe. Here are some useful links so you can help yourself be 'tide-wise' and keep safe.

Credit: Rob McKenzie, Lytham CRT

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