Breakwaters are structures constructed on coasts as part of coastal defense or to protect an anchorage from the effects of both weather and longshore drift.

Purposes of breakwaters

Offshore breakwaters, also called bulkhead, reduce the intensity of wave action in inshore waters and thereby reduce coastal erosion or provide safe harbourage. Breakwaters may also be small structures designed to protect a gently sloping beach and placed one to three hundred feet offshore in relatively shallow water.

An anchorage is only safe if ships anchored there are protected from the force of high winds and powerful waves by some large underwater barrier which they can shelter behind. Natural harbours are formed by such barriers as headlands or reefs. Artificial harbors can be created with the help of breakwaters. Mobile harbours, such as the D-Day Mulberry harbours, were floated into position and acted as breakwaters. Some natural harbours, such as those in Plymouth Sound, Portland Harbour and Cherbourg, have been enhanced or extended by breakwaters made of rock.

Unintended consequences

The dissipation of energy and relative calm water created in the lee of the breakwaters often encourage accretion of sediment (as per the design of the breakwater scheme). However this can lead to excessive salient build up, leading to tombolo formation reducing longshore drift shoreward of the breakwaters (Sea Palling, UK). This trapping of sediment can cause adverse effects down drift of the breakwaters leading to beach sediment starvation and increased erosion. This may then lead to further engineering protection being needed down drift of the breakwater development.

Breakwaters are subject to damage, and overtopping in severe storms events.


Breakwaters can be constructed with one end linked to the shore, in which case they are usually classified as sea walls; otherwise they are positioned offshore from as little as 100m up to 300-600m from the original shoreline. There are two main types of offshore breakwater, single and multiple; single as the name suggests means the breakwater consists of one unbroken barrier, which multiple breakwaters (in numbers anywhere from 2-20) are positioned with gaps in between (50-300m). Length of gap is largely governed by the interacting wavelengths. Breakwaters may be either fixed or floating, and impermeable or permeable to allow sediment transfer shoreward of the structures, the choice depending tidal range and water depth. They usually consist of large pieces of rock (granite) weighting up to 16 tonnes each or rubble-mound. Their design is influenced by the angle of wave approach and other environmental parameters. Breakwater construction can be either parallel or perpendicular to the coast, depending on the shoreline requirements.

Types of breakwater structures

A breakwater structure is designed to absorb the energy of the waves that hit it, either by using mass (e.g., with caissons), or by using a revetment slope (e.g., with rock or concrete armour units).

In Coastal Engineering, a revetment is a land backed structure whilst a breakwater is a sea backed structure (i.e., water on both sides).

Caisson breakwaters typically have vertical sides and are usually erected where it is desirable to berth one or more vessels on the inner face of the breakwater. They use the mass of the caisson and the fill within it to resist the overturning forces applied by waves hitting them. They are relatively expensive to construct in shallow water, but in deeper sites they can offer a significant saving over revetment breakwaters.

Rubble mound breakwaters use structural voids to dissipate the wave energy. Rock or concrete armour units on the outside of the structure absorb most of the energy, while gravels or sands prevent the wave energy's continuing through the breakwater core. The slopes of the revetment are typically between 1:1 and 1:2, depending upon the materials used. In shallow water, revetment breakwaters are usually relatively inexpensive. As water depth increases, the material requirements, and hence costs, increase significantly.

Advanced numerical study

Error creating thumbnail: File seems to be missing:
3D Numerical Simulation - MEDUS 2009

The Maritime Engineering Division of the CFD software.

In the numerical simulations, the filtration motion of the fluid within the interstices, which normally exist in a breakwater, is estimated by integrating the RANS equations, coupled with a RNG turbulence model inside the voids, instead of using classical equations for porous media.

The breakwaters were modelled, in analogy to full size construction or physical laboratory tests, by overlapping three-dimensional elements and having the numerical grid thickened in order to have some computational nodes along the flow paths among the breakwater’s blocks.

Notable locations

See also


  • Ciria-CUR (2007) - Rock Manual - The use of rock in hydraulic engineering.
  • N.W.H. Allsop (2002) - Breakwaters, coastal structures and coastlines.
  • Integrated Armor System - [1].

External links

  • USGS Oblique Aerial Photography — Coastal Erosion from El-Niño Winter Storms October, 1997 & April, 1998
  • Channel Coastal Observatory — Breakwaters
  • Shapes of breakwater armour units and year of their introduction
  • SeaBull Marine, Inc. — Shoreline Erosion Reversal Systems
  • WaveBrake - Wave attenuation specialists
  • IAS Breakwater in Facebook

it:Molo pl:Molo pt:Molhe

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.