My friend Sam takes a zero-planning approach to an Isle of Wight holiday.
He drives to the end of the road and then says "OK then, shall we go left or right today?"
Sometimes he ends up swimming in Colwell, sometimes he ends up at the cinema in Ryde watching an Adam Sandler comedy.
This attitude is understandable when you are young and child-free but Sam has three young children.
I've mentioned this story before but I've never really got over it.
I much prefer to check these four things before heading to the beach on the Isle of Wight.
To help you remember it, I've summarised it as Tides, Turds, Surf and Sunshine. You wouldn't get that sort of thing from Visit England...
Tides are not just for sailors. They can make or break a family trip to the beach.
Colwell and Totland are terrific sandy beaches at low tide. At low tide, you'll be sat up on the sea wall with a tearful toddler holding a bucket and spade.
Priory Bay is a beautiful beach but at high tide you have to climb through woodland to get to it. At low tide, you can walk between the rocks on the beach.
Appley in Ryde is pleasant at low tide or high tide. However, at high tide the sea is only a few paces from the esplanade. At low tide, it has an enormous beach which is great for running around and flying a kite. If you want a swim, you'll need to allow 10 minutes to walk to the water's edge.
At low tide, Freshwater Bay and Bembridge are good for rockpooling. If it's high tide, you can leave your fishing net at home.
I prefer swimming at Compton Bay at low tide, as the lower water reveals where all the rocks are. It's also much prettier on a low tide in the evening.
At high tide, Shanklin and Sandown's beaches can get unpleasantly crowded on a busy sunny day. At low tide, there's plenty of space.
Tide times vary a bit across different Isle of Wight beaches on the same day so you might want to see our tide times guide. Personally, I like to turn up at a beach about an hour or two before low tide so we get the longest possible time with a lot of beach.
2. Turds (i.e. The safer seas Website)
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for sewage to be pumped out into the sea around the Isle of Wight.
This isn't just an Isle of Wight issue, it happens all over.
According to the BBC, "During periods of heavy rain, water companies are permitted to divert untreated waste water away from treatment plants, discharging sewage straight into the environment to prevent sewers backing up."
Apologies if you are eating your lunch at the moment. If this outrages you then you might like to support Surfers Against Sewage.
Thankfully, there is a map created by the charity Surfers Against Sewage which shows you if there have been any recent, er, discharges around the UK.
On a typical day you might find that Shanklin's water is cleaner than Sandown's or vice versa. Personally, I like to be the only floater in the water so I check this before diving into the water.
3. Surf forecast
Whether you are a surfer with long blond hair or a dad with no hair, it is useful to check the surf forecast.
This is only available for a Bart-Simpson-handful of places on the Isle of Wight including Sandown, Compton Bay, Ventnor and Freshwater Bay.
I use the surf forecast to decide what to take to a beach.
If it's quite choppy, I take bodyboards. You don't need a huge amount of surf for children but if it's completely flat you've got no chance.
If it's flat as a pancake, you might like to try paddleboarding or kayaking. You can hire boards from various locations on the Isle of Wight including (as of 2021) Colwell Bay, St Helens, Sandown and Shanklin. See the watersports section of our guide to days out for children for advice on where to hire boards.
A flat sea is less daunting for small children and is better if you actually want to swim some lengths. However, I love it when there's a bit of surf as you can leap around and behave like a teenager. It also feels warmer as you are constantly moving. A flat sea is more like a cold bath.
4. Sunshine (i.e. the Weather forecast)
This is an obvious one, but we spend a lot of time chasing the sunshine.
The Isle of Wight is big enough that one side can be wet and the other side can be blazing hot.
You can compare weather in different locations on our weather page.
For short term planning, I tend to use this radar from Accuweather which shows you how rain clouds are moving.
When you check the forecast it is also worth checking the wind direction. If you're sitting on the beach beneath a cliff or a sea wall, it is much better to have the wind behind you rather than walloping you sideways.
One other thing worth saying is that some Isle of Wight beaches are much better for heat waves than others.
We've found pleasant shady spots at Appley, Priory Bay and Woodside Bay. Appley is the easiest to access of those three, particularly if you park in Puckpool Park and walk through to the Dell Cafe.
Other beaches are much more exposed and offer very little shade, such as Compton Bay.
Sandown Bay and Shanklin Beach are certainly exposed but there are places which will hire you a parasol.
Isle of Wight Guru's Blog