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The Return of the King Tides

The year’s highest tides, known as ‘king tides’, will hit California shorelines on the weekend of December 22-23, and again on January 20-21 — coinciding with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. (Get it? A King tide on King Day?)

Ramp going up to the dock
Boats and docks float, but tidal extremes screw with the design of marinas, as seen here at Stockton Sailing Club during a king tide in January 2017.
© 2018 Jim Cahill

The term ‘king tide’ is a colloquialism for a perigean spring tide. The next perigee (when the moon is closest to the Earth) will be on Christmas Eve. Extreme high tides will have their reciprocals, of course — extreme minus tides. At the Golden Gate, the tide cycles will peak at:

  • Dec. 22, 2018
    high time / height: 10:20 AM / 6.87 ft.
    low time / height: 5:09 PM / -1.33 ft.
  • Dec. 23, 2018
    high time / height: 11:05 AM / 6.91 ft.
    low time / height: 5:54 PM / -1.49 ft.
  • Jan. 20, 2019
    high time / height: 10:03 AM / 7.02 ft.
    low time / height: 4:55 PM / -1.51 ft.
  • Jan. 21, 2019
    high time / height: 10:53 AM / 7.05 ft.
    low time / height: 5:41 PM / -1.59 ft.

Sailors and the general public can participate in the California King Tides Project, a citizen-science initiative, to help California communities prepare for flooding and sea-level rise. The project asks Californians to observe the ultra-high tides and share their photographs, to show how homes, harbors, beaches, wetlands, seawalls and public access to the water are affected by sea-level rise. The images are used by state and local officials, as well as climate-change researchers, to validate sea-level rise models and better assess local flood vulnerabilities. Understanding the impacts of sea-level rise is essential to finding a way forward that balances all interests.

In a pre-drought year, waves crash over the breakwater at Corinthian Yacht Club. A king tide corresponding with a massive storm can mess with the best-laid schemes of mice and men.
© 2018 Latitude 38 Media LLC / John

Californians are also invited to participate on social media:

The website includes a calendar of local events (including one at Marin County’s China Camp tomorrow), a map of tide times throughout the season, and information on submitting your king-tide photos. And we invite you to send us your best shots of extreme tides affecting sailboats and the waterfront.

1 Comment

  1. Paul Kamen 5 years ago

    Another way to celebrate king tides: Saturday December 22, 5:00 PM, at the Cal Sailing Club’s 40th Ashby Shoal Potluck. This is the muddy sand bar between Emeryville and Berkeley marinas that only shows at extreme low tides. Photos from a previous event are here:
    (Launch from one of the marinas, or hitch a ride with a dragon boat. The Cal Sailing Club docks will be mud-locked.)

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