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Bulkheads are normally smaller than seawalls, as often their primary function is to retain fill at locations with only limited wave action, and not to resist coastal erosion. A bulkhead must, of course, be designed to resist erosion caused by the mild to moderate wave climate at a specific site.


Fig. 1. Typical design of a bulkhead structure. The indicated measures are in feet (') and inches (").

Bulkheads are normally constructed in the form of a vertical wall built in concrete, stone, steel or timber. The concrete, steel or timber walls can be piled and anchored walls, whereas the concrete and stone walls can also be constructed as gravity walls. A typical design of a bulkhead seawall is shown in Fig. 1. Special mesh boxes containing stones, e.g. the Gabion type, are also used, see Fig. 2.

Fig. 2. Example of bulkhead structure constructed by Gabion mesh boxes.

Functional characteristic

A bulkhead cannot really be characterised as a coast protection structure; it is rather a structure that is used to retain fills along the water perimeter of reclaimed areas and in port basins. The function of a bulkhead is, in protected environments, to retain or prevent the sliding of land at the transition between the land, filled or natural, and the sea.


Bulkheads function well as a separation between land and sea in marina basins, and along protected shorelines. They are used along natural shorelines and along filled areas, where a well-defined separation between land and sea is required.

Further reading

Mangor, K., Drønen, N. K., Kaergaard, K.H. and Kristensen, N.E. 2017. Shoreline management guidelines. DHI https://www.dhigroup.com/marine-water/ebook-shoreline-management-guidelines.

The main author of this article is Mangor, Karsten
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Mangor, Karsten (2020): Bulkheads. Available from http://www.coastalwiki.org/wiki/Bulkheads [accessed on 20-05-2024]