Tidal turbine rotor blade fractures and failures have resulted in substantial damage and hence cost of repair and recovery. The present work presents a rotor blade design and optimization method to address the blade structural strength design problem. The generic procedure is applicable to both turbine rotors and propellers. The optimization method seeks an optimum blade thickness distribution across the span with a prescribed constant safety factor for all the blade sections. This optimization procedure serves two purposes: while maintaining the required structural strength and integrity for an ultimate inflow speed, it aims to reduce the material to a minimum and to maintain power generation efficiency or improve the hydrodynamic efficiency. The value of the chosen minimum safety factor depends on the actual working conditions of the turbine in which the sectional peak loading and frequency are used: the harsher the environment, the larger the required safety factor. An engineering software tool with both hydrodynamic and structural capabilities was required to predict the instantaneous loading acting on all the blade sections, as well as the strength of a local blade section with a given blade geometry and chosen material. A time-domain, 3D unsteady panel method was then implemented based on a marine propeller software tool and used to perform the optimization. A 3-blade 20-m tidal turbine that was prototyped in parallel with the current work for the Bay of Fundy was used as an example for optimization. The optimum thickness distribution for a required safety factor at the ultimate possible inflow speed resulted in 37.6% saving in blade material. The blade thickness and distribution as a function of a maximum inflow speed of 6 m/s is also presented. The blade material used in the example was taken as nickel–aluminium–bronze (NAB) but the procedure was developed to be applicable to propeller or turbine blades of basically any material.