The first aim of the research presented here is to examine the effect of turbine control by comparing a passive open-loop control strategy with a constant rotational speed proportional–integral–derivative (PID) feedback loop control applied to the same experimental turbine. The second aim is to evaluate the effect of unsteady inflow on turbine performance by comparing results from a towing-tank, in the absence of turbulence, with results from the identical machine in a tidal test site. The results will also inform the reader of: (i) the challenges of testing tidal turbines in unsteady tidal flow conditions in comparison to the controlled laboratory environment; (ii) calibration of acoustic Doppler flow measurement instruments; (iii) characterising the inflow to a turbine and identifying the uncertainties from unsteady inflow conditions by adaptation of the International Electrotechnical Commission technical specification (IEC TS): 62600-200. The research shows that maintaining a constant rotational speed with a control strategy yields a 13.7% higher peak power performance curve in the unsteady flow environment, in comparison to an open-loop control strategy. The research also shows an 8.0% higher peak power performance in the lab compared to the field, demonstrating the effect of unsteady flow conditions on power performance. The research highlights the importance of a tidal turbines control strategy when designing experiments.