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Moving with the tides

Learn the basics of nautical navigation and design active games to put your knowledge to the test.

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You’ll need

  • Tables
  • Chairs
  • Scrap paper
  • Pens or pencils
  • Big sheets of paper/whiteboard (optional)
  • Tide tables
  • Information about the UK buoyage system
  • Tidal stream atlases
  • Marine logs (or photos of one)
  • Nautical charts
  • The tide times around the UK vary. They depend on various things, including the position of the moon and sun.
  • Using tide tables for specific areas allows you to see the times and heights estimated for the high and low tides that occur twice a day.
  • Find tide times online or find printed tidal tables at local newsagents, tackle shops, and tourist centres.
  • A tidal stream atlas is used to predict the direction and speed of tidal currents.
  • They display the mean (average) tidal rates for spring tides and neap tides.
  • Spring tides are the two tides each month when there’s the largest difference between high and low tide.
  • Neap tides are the two tides each month when there’s the smallest difference between high and low tide.
  • All nautical instruments that measure the speed of the vessel are known as logs.
  • The name dates back to when sailors used to throw a log attached to a rope overboard and count the knots that passed through their hands to determine the speed they were travelling.
  • Sailors still use the term knots, but modern marine logs are more advanced. They often have digital displays that show precise speed data and distance travelled.
  • The best place to see a marine log is on a boat. If you’re running this session in the meeting place, you can still show pictures of marine logs.
  • Buoys are the floating devices that tell us where boats need to go.
  • The Royal Yachting Association’s Oh Buoy! video contains a good explanation of the UK buoyage system.

Before you begin 

  • Source enough tide tables and tidal stream atlases so that small groups can share them. To borrow them, try contacting a local port, sailing club, Sea Scout group (speak to the Admiral Lord Nelson Active Support Unit about where to look) or the RNLI. Tide tables expire all the time so you may find some that are no longer needed. Free online tables can be found at tide times.
  • Familiarise yourself with how the tide can impact your adventures on the water. The Royal Yachting Association offers some great simple videos on YouTube: watch Oh Buoy! and Tides to get you started.
  • This video from Leith Nautical Sailing Academy is particularly useful for understanding tidal atlases.
  • You can practice with these buoyage flashcards.
  • You may decide you need the help of an expert guest to deliver this session.
  • Research local people who are knowledgeable about nautical navigation. Ask group members, people from your local port, sailing club, Sea Scouts or RNLI.
  • Invite someone along to your usual meeting place as a guest.
  • Ask the guest about the area of nautical navigation they specialise in, and let them know your plans for the session.
  • Give the guest plenty of notice before the session. Check if they need information about access or transport.
  • Check in a couple of days before the session that they’re still going to join you. See if they are bringing anything with them, or whether you should provide anything – either flipchart paper and pens or a whiteboard and projector could help in the teaching part of the activity.
  • During the session, introduce the visitor to the group and perhaps ask a few young people to prepare some questions to ask the visitor.


Understand the materials

  1. The person leading the activity should explain that the tide can impact adventures on the water. They should show everyone how to understand a tidal stream atlas and explain what the UK buoyage system is.
  2. Everyone should split into small groups and sit down with scrap paper and pencils, tide times, a marine log, nautical charts, information on the UK buoyage system, and a tidal stream atlas.
  3. Each group should look through their materials and talk about the following:
    • How would you get hold of these materials if you needed them?
    • How long are these materials useful for? When do or did they expire?
    • When would these materials be of use to you, and what can they tell you?

Design a game

  1. Each group should make up a short (less than 10 minute) active game to help cement some of the knowledge they’ve just learned. For example:
    • Each player represents a boat that has to work its way around a course without being grounded.
    • Objects could be used to represent the different types of buoy.
    • Use signals to communicate high and low tides. How could spring tides and neap tides be represented?
    • Incorporate timekeeping so the tide changes at different intervals of the game.
  2. The person leading the activity should support each small group to risk assess their game, check they’re including the key learning points, and make sure their game is accessible for everyone.
  3. Each group should take it in turns to run their games.


This activity was about trying new things and being active. It needed group members to work together to test their knowledge in a fun and active way. Ask everyone to think of other examples of where navigating terms or techniques can be made into fun games. For example, are there any games to learn basic navigation skills, such as map or compass reading?


All activities must be safely managed. You must complete a thorough risk assessment and take appropriate steps to reduce risk. Use the safety checklist to help you plan and risk assess your activity. Always get approval for the activity, and have suitable supervision and an InTouch process.

Active games

The game area should be free of hazards. Explain the rules of the game clearly and have a clear way to communicate that the game must stop when needed. Take a look at our guidance on running active games safely.

Encourage the groups to adapt the difficulty of their games to be suitable for anyone who finding the learning tough. This might include someone playing the role of a facilitator who shouts out handy hints and tips, or writing out a cheat sheet to display on the wall.

  • Inclusion should be at heart of everyone’s games. Talk about how everyone should be involved with the game and any adaptions they might need to make so that it’s fun for everyone. This applies not only to playing the game, but explaining the rules clearly and communicating them in a way that everyone can understand.
  • If the detail in the tide tables or atlases is very small, try using magnifying glasses. Using online tables makes it easier to zoom in on finer details.

All Scout activities should be inclusive and accessible.

Consider running this activity alongside a coastal water activity, such as sea kayaking, dinghy sailing, stand-up paddleboarding or yachting. Take a look at our adventures for a comprehensive list and information about permits.

Young people should have the chance to find fun ways to test their knowledge by creating games for each other.