How Far Away Can You Hear Ocean Waves? Find Out!
The calming sound of the waves crashing against the shore creates one of the most relaxing atmospheres and offers the serenity we crave. The natural white noise drowns out everyday sounds and provides a meditative sound to soothe the soul.
If you are planning a vacation to the beach or moving there, you may want to know how far away you can hear the waves. This will depend on numerous factors, including how quiet the area is and how sensitive your hearing is. Generally, most people can hear the waves when they’re at least 5,000 feet away, but depending on the environmental conditions, they can hear the sound at 20,000 feet away.
What Causes the Sound of Waves Breaking?
Waves are formed when water moves in a circular motion caused by the energy that passes through it. Waves on the ocean surface can be caused by passing boats and wind, but most of the sound we are most familiar with is caused by bubbles trapped under the water at the waves leading edge.
The ambient noise that soothes us is caused by the spray and bubbles associated with the waves breaking, which increases as the wind speed increases. To get technical, the frequency range of ambient noise is 200–50,000 Hz.
What Affects How Far Away We Can Hear the Waves?
The sound of the waves crashing will depend on how strong the tide is and how far out it is. The sea floor’s slope also significantly impacts how quickly the sea floor affects the waves as they get closer to shore and, therefore, how the waves break. If you frequent the ocean, you will notice its energy and waves change. Low tide is usually calm, and the waves break less frequently and at a reduced force.
There is more ambient noise at this time, and most of the sound is from the waves gently lapping. During high tide, the waves cause a more thunderous sound that is easier to hear. If you are on the shore, you can easily distinguish all the different sounds generated by the ocean waves.
Another factor that will affect how far away you can hear the ocean waves is your location. Some coastal towns have high-rise buildings on their shoreline, which is another factor in how far away you can hear the sounds of the waves. Permanent structures like apartment buildings, shopping malls, and other homes can mute the sounds of the ocean waves by creating a barrier.
The sounds of the environment will also play a part. If the beach is more private and there are not many people, you are more likely to hear the sound of the waves. In a busy beach town, with the sounds of cars, people, music, dogs, and other noise, the calming sounds of the ocean waves will be drowned out very easily, especially the further you get. Natural elements such as wind, rain, and thunder will also affect how close you can hear a sound.
How Far Away Can You Hear Ocean Waves?
It seems obvious that the distance from which you can hear the ocean waves depends on where you are, the elements around you, and the conditions of the ocean, so we took it a step further to help with perspective.
According to measurements of airborne sounds generated by breaking waves taken from the Baltic Sea and the study of the shore’s varying slopes and sediment, the sound pressure level increased from 60 dB at a wave height of 0.4 meters to 78 dB at a wave height of 2 meters. Higher waves should produce higher dB readings to a maximum range within human hearing.
So, if it is safe to say that the measurement of wave sound is between 60 dB–80 dB, we can better understand how far away we can hear the ocean’s waves. However, many variables must be considered, such as wave size, wind speed, air temperature, and density.
The general sound of chatter between two people can be measured at 60 dB, while 80 dB is relatively loud and equivalent to a busy street’s sound. As we mentioned before, how loud we perceive a sound can depend on many factors, and the intensity of the sound will depend on its source, distance from it, and how long you are exposed to it.
As a rule of thumb, the intensity of a source of sound will decrease each time the distance doubles by 6 dB.
Why Is the Ocean Louder at Night?
If you live or have vacationed at the beach, you may have noticed that the ocean is louder at night. Considering the factors we mentioned earlier that influence how far away you can hear a sound, it will make sense that the sea is louder at night. At night, the sounds of the ocean waves that would have gone over your head during the day can now reach your ears. This is because the refractive index of air increases at night, and the sounds of the waves are now bent toward the land.
There are also fewer dogs barking and cars driving, and the overall sounds of everyday life have decreased, making it easier to hear the ocean.
The question of how far away you can hear ocean waves is not a straightforward answer since it can depend on many factors, including the conditions of the sea, the environmental sounds, obstacles, and the sensitivity of one’s hearing. In calm conditions, the ocean does not make much noise, and most of the time, you need to be on or very close to the shore to hear the waves. You can probably hear the ocean waves from no more than 20,000 feet away, but the average is around 5,000 feet away.
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