Behind the Breakwater

Breakwater at Setur Marina

Breakwater at Setur Marina, Finike, Turkey

For the best experience with this article, please see the 40-second video ⇒ Here.  Just play along… go on… it won’t kill you.

In this article, we are going to catch you up on some light nautical terms, talk about breakwaters, and discuss what we do behind the breakwater.

What is a breakwater


why is it so important?

A breakwater is a wall that borders a marina, an area of coastline, or anything that requires protection to protect it from the waters that would otherwise affect that area, primarily waves that increase due to fetch.   

If the wall wasn’t there, the waves, sometimes huge waves, would crash all the boats together or damage whatever needed the protection.  

It’s a quintessential man vs. nature scenario. 

A rose

by any



🤓  alert: Doesn’t it seem strange to describe a wall so crudely by its function, to break water. Shouldn’t it be a breakwater wall, not just a breakwater?  Sure there are other names of course. I mean one just can’t be satisfied with a single style of expression. You could also use seawall, embankment, jetty, barrier, or mole.  All acceptable and normal sounding.

But then!  To also require an article! a breakwater, the breakwater… idk, sounds weird.  Is it just me?  A seawall, an embankment, a jetty, etc, all ok, all normal sounding.  Annoying… 🤓

What is fetch?

You might remember a quick mention of fetch in Our Anchor Pregame ⇒ here, super informative.  We also credited fetch as saving our ass in our article about getting caught in 60 knots on anchor in Greece ⇒ here, a fun read if you missed it.

So what is it?

Wave height is determined by how windy it is (wind speed), how long it has been windy (wind duration), and the fetch. Fetch is the distance wind is carried over the sea surface in the same direction to create waves. You could say the wind kind of scoops up the water to grow waves. The longer the fetch (distance wind is carried over the sea) with long periods of high winds, then the bigger the waves.

Breakwater diagram

If we apply what we just learned about fetch to a breakwater, the waves created by a long distance of sea crashes against the breakwater… saving everyone.  Since there is no fetch inside the marina in order to create waves, there are no waves. Problem solved.

Well, except for surging…  

Surging sucks!

During storms, inside the marina is free of waves, yes, but there is surging.  Surging happens when waves ricochet thru the marina entrance pushing the boats inside from side to side & up and back against the dock.  Kind of like a nervous horse tied to a post… it jerks around oddly on its tie.  

It is important to tie up correctly to minimize damage as your boat surges against the dock or into other boats.  It can get really bad.  During storms, you’ll see sailors on deck checking their lines to make sure everything is ok.  Lines can become loose or chafe after wiggling so much or, even worse, break.  It is prudent to keep an eye on things.

After a storm, lines are checked again to tighten back up and to check for signs of fraying from chaffing.  

Our lines

Here are our lines (ropes) for marina stays of more than a couple of days.  Farthest to nearest:  Midship (middle) to one connection point on the dock.  Bow (front) with snubber (chain spring or rubber shock absorber) to a connection point on the dock. 

The black lines making an X are to keep the boat from swinging right to left.  You can also use a snubber (shock absorber) on each line here also.  

Areas where there is rubbing, we wrap in towels to keep the lines from chafing.  Some use different types of hose or firehose.  The towels are easier for us to use and a way to get rid of old engine towels.  Sprinkle some extras fenders where need be and done.  

Fun fact:  Boats closest to the entrance can be worse off because there is no other structure to block the incoming wavelets, which is something to consider if you have a choice of slip.   Might get quite a bit of noise of boats coming in and out of the marina also.  Fishing boat engines are pretty loud. 

X marks the spot

You have probably heard of the trade winds.  These are winds typically in the same direction, right?  We call these predominant or prevailing winds and they are everywhere.  Engineers will factor in the fetch caused by predominant winds for good placement of the breakwater.  

In some areas, you may find more than one.  Marinas along shipping channels are good examples.  If the wake from larger vessels consistently comes into the marina, another breakwater is a good solution.

The bottom line is if the breakwaters aren’t positioned correctly to do their job, boaters will be reluctant to stay there because their boat may get damaged.   And a marina is not much of a marina if there are no boats.   

Breakwaters of the Mediterranean

When breakwaters fail

Life isn’t certain.  Breakwaters can fail.  Usually the failure is due to intense waves.  Either the water comes right over the top and keeps on going or the wall breaks.   If there is a tsunami, well, furgettaboutit.  

If there is a breach, it is of a much smaller scale.  Usually the walls are high enough and made to last.  For boaters, marinas are a time of rest, nothing to worry about.

Above:  Izmir, Turkey, after mini tsunami

Here is a sad but revealing video where a marina was breached in Italy

Storm destroys yachts on Italy’s Ligurian Coast

Take a closer look

Now that you have read this and understand the importance of a breakwater, rewatch the video ⇒ here.  The first time you might have been focused on the overall stormy scene or the dinghy rider.

As you watch again, slowly move your eyes from inside the marina to just out the marina entrance.  Did you see those huge waves?!  That difference is everything.  That’s the good life… safe and sound inside the marina, at least for the most part. 

The alternative is literally out there holding on for dear life with just your engineered shovel to save you… and it does happen.  😬

So needless to say, marina life is a time of rest and security.  We don’t think about breakwater breaches.  

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  1. Veronika says:

    Thank you for sharing this article with us! I am a beginner who cant wait to go for my trip as well with –

    Cant wait to use the knowledge in reality.

    Stay safe,


    1. Emily says:

      All the best winds Veronika! You will love it! Thanks for your comment.

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