Surface tides are the heartbeat of the ocean. Because they are controlled by Earth's motion relative to other astronomical objects in our solar system, surface tides act like clockwork and generate highly deterministic ebb and flow familiar to all mariners. In contrast, baroclinic motions at tidal frequencies are much more stochastic, owing to complexities in how these internal motions are generated and propagate. Here, we present analysis of current records from continental margins worldwide to illustrate that coastal internal tides are largely unpredictable. This conclusion has numerous implications for coastal processes, as across-shelf exchange and vertical mixing are, in many cases, strongly influenced by the internal wave field.