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Low Tide Key West

Big Tides at the Key West Sandbar: Why They Happen and When 

Everyone knows that the best times at the sandbar are at low tide. It’s when the beach is the biggest, the water the shallowest, and the exploring the bestest. Finding low tide is easy—plenty of websites and apps tell you the tides around Key West. 


But did you know that not every low tide is created equal? The amount of the tide, defined as the vertical change in water level, changes with every cycle. Over the month and year, there are periods where the tidal change isn’t very much and other times when it is crazy. 


Here’s a look at planning your day at the Key West sandbar and figuring out the best time to go.

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When Is Low Tide in Key West?

Tides are tracked historically in some locations, and future predictions can be made from those past observations. For locations like Key West, where the tides have been tracked for many years, the future predictions are pretty accurate. 

The Keys, and most of the North Atlantic, for that matter, experience what is called semi-diurnal tides. This means that over a 24-hour day, there are two high tides and two low tides. Each cycle has a name.

Low tide is when the water level stops falling.

Flood tide is when the water level is rising.

High tide is when the water level stops rising.

Ebb tide is when the water level is falling.

It’s easy to find when each tide cycle will be. The NOAA tide station at Key West has been in operation since 1913. 

Tides vary all over the world. One of the biggest factors is the underwater landscape and the shape of the coastline. In a bay-shaped area (imagine the Georgia coast or the Gulf of Maine), the water rushing in on the flood tide will be trapped by the coastline like water in a bowl. Here, tides pile up and are larger than in other places. The average tidal range in Georgia is 8 to 9 feet, while in Key West, it’s only about 2 feet. The Bay of Fundy in the Canadian Maritimes has the largest tides in the world, with averages over 20 feet.

Low Tide at The Sandbar

Changes in the Amount of Tide

Tides are created by the Moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth.


On a daily basis, high tide should occur when the Moon is directly overhead, while low tide would be when the Moon is just rising. This is how it works in some locations, but most places experience a little offset from such a tidy relationship. Mother Nature does not like to play by such predictable and tidy rules. 


Every month, the amount of the tide changes a little every day as the Moon revolves around the Earth. The Moon isn’t the only thing whose gravity affects the Earth’s oceans—the Sun plays a part, too. When the Sun and Moon are aligned, the tides are at their highest and lowest. When the Sun acts opposite the Moon, the forces cancel each other out, and the difference between high and low tide is the least. When the tidal change is at its most, it’s called a spring tide. When it’s at its lowest, it’s called a neap tide.


And there’s still another factor—the orbit of the Moon is elliptical, not circular. So, at times, it is closer to Earth, and at other times, farther away. When it’s closer, the amount of tide goes up. The closest proximity of the Moon to the Earth (perigee) causes a perigean spring tide three or four times every year, causing ultra-high and ultra-low tides when this coincides with the normally schedules spring tide. 


If the Earth is also at its closest point in its orbit around the Sun, it will result in the year’s highest and lowest tides. You might have heard of the king tide. The media have picked up this term to describe the highest spring tide of the year. 

sandbar boat tour

How Tides Affect the Sandbar in Key West

Generally, the lower the water at the sandbar, the better. This, of course, assumes you can get your boat there on days of super low water. If you’re heading out on a day with an astronomically low tide, pay extra attention to the water depth along your route. Some spots you make it over regularly might get you in trouble this time!


So, now you know what to look for, how do you know when it will be? Spring tides are pretty predictable thanks to a large indicator in the sky—the Moon! If the Moon is nearly new or full, you can expect tides to be at or near spring tide levels. Low tide on those days will be the lowest you can get. All systems, go for the sandbar!


If you’re looking for mile after mile of dry sand with no water in sight—that’s how unimaginably low of a low tide you seek—then head out to Death Valley. That’s not the ocean you’re looking for; it’s the desert!

Get to the Sandbar the Easy Way and Book a Private Sandbar Charter in Key West

key west day trip snorkeling

Of course, all this thinking, planning, and researching is a real bummer. The best thing to do is leave it to someone else. Captain Zak on the Casual Monday knows where to go for the best sandbar hangout no matter the perigee, astronomical, astrological, or Scientological situation. Book your private Key West boat charter today, and let’s go to the sandbar!

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