British Columbia Tides - Links and Warnings
British Columbia Tides and currents can be very strong and dangerous and must be considered whenever you plan water activities such as scuba diving, surfing, boating, fishing, or ocean kayaking in British Columbia.
There are many complex factors that determine the timing and the strength of the tides and currents, including:
- the gravitational pull of the moon
- the tilt of the earth
- positioning of the sun and the moon, and
- layout of the physical features both above and below the surface
British Columbia has over 1500 miles of coastline, and our tidal fluctuations can range from 2 meters (6 feet) in the south and up to 7 meters (21 feet) in the north, where some of our best scuba dive sites are.
And with large bodies of water at the top and bottom, and a narrow channel between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, currents can range from 1 knot to over 20 knots, depending on location, the season and moon cycle.
These currents can be extremely dangerous to scuba divers, and it is important to know and understand the tide patterns in the area you are planning to dive.
I always recommend diving with a local British Columbia scuba diving store or British Columbia dive charter operator.
Even though there are many variables that will determine the exact tide situation, the patterns are very predictable and can be extrapolated months and years in advance.
In fact, there are a number of very good, easy to read tide charts available both on-line and in books & tables:
On-line Tide Tables
The Canadian Fisheries & Oceans interactive site is a free tool that allows you to choose the area and the dates you will be diving.
Just follow the link and click on the area you plan on diving.
This independent daily BC tide predicter also works very well...
The Environment Canada Weather Office also gives you real-time British Columbia marine weather forecasts and warnings which can also be invaluable.
This Government of Canada site is also a great tool for British Columbia weather forecasts.
Paper Tide Charts & Tide Tables
There are two main providers of British Columbia tides & currents charts and tables.
Since you don't always have access to a computer or a local dive expert, I recommend you always have one of these printed copies available.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada (Canadian Hydrographic Service) has a British Columbia tides copy that you can either contact them in Ottawa and purchase, or visit one of their British Columbia Tides dealers.
Another local British Columbia current atlas tide table called Ports and Passes, is printed annually and is available from most marine related stores in British Columbia.
Follow the link and obtain your up-to-date copy each year.
Diving and Currents
As mentioned above, there are many narrow passes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland that are strongly affected by the British Columbia tides.
The huge volumes of water rushing through these narrow passes force an incredible amount of nutrient rich waters through the channels, which in turn produces an incredible amount and variety of British Columbia marine life.
But it also produces incredible currents which makes for potentially dangerous diving.
While there are many great dives for all levels of divers here, the British Columbia tides cause some of the best dives in the world to be accessible to expert divers only, and even then only at exact slack tides.
John deBoeck an expert divemaster and owner of Browning Pass HideAway, provided the following brief summary which I would like to include here:
The SMALLEST currents, on regular tides, at the following dive areas are minimal current of 1 to 2 knots and diving is possible at most times.
- Hornby Island, Northern Gulf Islands, well away from the passes (Nanaimo Ladysmith, Chemainus & Duncan access) Barkley Sound, away from constrictions and passes, Sidney, away from constrictions & passes.
Small Currents of 1 to 3 knots - Diving not limited to exact "slack" at most sites, some sites are Port Hardy & Queen Charlotte Strait (except Nakwakto Rapids), Agammemnon Channel, Kyuquot & Nootka Sounds, Nanaimo wrecks, Barkley Sound, near constrictions and channels.
Strong Currents of 3 to 6 knots - Most diving is limited to the exact slack, Intermediate to Advanced diving only:
Campbell River (except Seymour Narrows, Race Rocks, Barkley Sound, in constrictions and passes, Sidney area, in constrictions and passes.
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Very Strong Currents of 4 to 9 knots - Diving is limited to the exact slack and time-limited.
Advanced divers only!
On largest tides, some sites not easily diveable. Advanced divers only should go here:
Northern Gulf Islands passes (Nanaimo Ladysmith & Duncan access), & Southern Gulf Islands/Sidney passes (access thru Sidney, Chemainus, Victoria), North side of Quadra Island, Stuart Island, Yuculta Rapids, Dent Rapids (all in the Campbell River area)
Extreme Currents of 6 to 16 knots - Diving is limited to less than 1/4 of all days, on smallest tides only.
Expert Guiding REQUIRED. Very advanced to Expert Divers ONLY:
Nakwakto Rapids (Queen Charlotte Strait), Seymour Narrows (Campbell River), & Skookumchuk (Pender Harbour/ Sechelt/ Powell River/Sunshine Coast area)
It is essential that you realize the strength of these British Columbia tides and currents, and ensure you only dive with a local expert captain and/or divemaster.
Do not pretend to be more experienced at diving than you really are!
The dives may be some of the best in the world but are not worth risking your life or the lives of others.
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