When boating in the coastal regions of the southern states, navigating can be challenging at low tide. Many obstacles, including sand bars, oyster beds, sunken trees, and underwater debris, can stand in your way. Hitting submerged objects can lead to extensive damage to both the running gear and the boat’s hull. What are the five critical navigation tips for low tide?

What is a low tide?

Low tide occurs daily in South Caroline, North Carolina, and Georgia. The coastal areas of these three states have both a low and a high tide. Low tide is when the water is at its lowest point because of the earth’s gravitational pull. The sea level difference between high tide and low tide varies based on location. Keep in mind that high and low tides have a significant difference in water depth. 

Planning is the first critical navigation tip for low tide

Before leaving the dock, it is critical to research the tides of the day. Planning before departure will allow you to create a course line that keeps you clear of shallow waters to avoid the boat from becoming grounded. 

A tide table is the best resource to know when the days high and low tides will be. Many tackle shops distribute a postcard-sized tide chart at no cost to keep on hand. Knowing the tides ahead of time is best. 

If you’re heading out the same day your checking tides, pull out the phone and search for low tide today, but it’s always best to plan beforehand. Being ill-prepared can alter planned routes because of insufficient water or lead to a less successful fishing outing. 

Make sure that you have a good understanding of high tide low tide. The difference between the two is substantial. When you’re on the water, even the land’s geography will appear much different between the two. 

Channel Markers

The most important way to navigate through a low tide is by following channel markers. Channel markers are in place to guide you through the deepest water section when the surrounding seafloor is much shallower. 

It is essential to navigate between the markers on the vessel’s port and starboard side to help avoid running aground. Remember that low today versus low tide tomorrow can be substantially different. 

Using your eyes

While many boats are equipped with navigation equipment, your eyes are among the most valuable tools for safely navigating low tide. Some areas do not have markers to guide you along for safe passage. 

Always remain focused on the water ahead. Look for sandbars, oyster beds, or anything that may be under the surface of the water. Even in murky areas, the unusual ripple or small brand protruding from the top of the water can indicate danger ahead. Keep speed down and keep your eyes looking forward without distraction for everyone’s safety. 

Weather- Rough seas bottoming out

Many don’t consider the conditions of the seas. A large swell means that a boat can travel upwards and downwards in not only inches but feet. When the water is shallow and just passable in calm conditions, this doesn’t mean the boat can safely clear during a sea swell. A large wave can quickly cause a craft to bottom out during the through. 


Always plan when heading out on the water. A simple search of low tide near me can often provide you with the highs and lows for the day. Many websites will have tide tables for any given area. Checking ahead of time will not only help you avoid unintentional grounding but will also save you time by planning a route that is both safe and within the shortest distance.