Floating breakwaters

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The basis of this article is especially written for the Coastal Wiki by the main author referred to at the bottom of this page.

This article provides some basic insights in the application of floating breakwaters. Floating breakwaters aim to protect against coastal erosion. This article distinguishes between four main types of breakwaters.

Positive points of floating breakwaters

Figure 1 Example of floating breakwater (Fezzano,SP-Italy; courtesy of INGEMAR srl)

Floating breakwaters represent an alternative solution to protect an area from wave attack, compared to conventional fixed breakwaters. It can be effective in coastal areas with mild wave environment conditions. Therefore, they have been increasingly used aiming at protecting small craft harbours or marinas or, less frequently, the shoreline, aiming at erosion control. Some of the conditions that favour floating breakwaters are:

  1. Poor foundation: Floating breakwaters might be a proper solution where poor foundations possibilities prohibit the application of bottom supported breakwaters.
  2. Deep water: In water depths in excess of 6 m, bottom connected breakwaters are often more expensive than floating breakwaters.
  3. Water quality: Floating breakwaters present a minimum interference with water circulation and fish migration.
  4. Ice problems: Floating breakwaters can be removed and towed to protected areas if ice formation is a problem. They may be suitable for areas where summer anchorage or moorage is required.
  5. Visual impact: Floating breakwaters have a low profile and present a minimum intrusion on the horizon, particularly for areas with high tide ranges.
  6. Breakwater layout: Floating breakwaters can usually be rearranged into a new layout with minimum effort.

Types of floating breakwaters

Floating breakwaters are commonly divided into four general categories:

  1. Box
  2. Pontoon
  3. Mat
  4. Tethered float.

For each category, some types of floating breakwaters are shown in Figures 1 - 5. The first three types have been much widely investigated by means of physical models and prototype experience, than the last one. Next subsections describes the use of the different types of breakwaters in practice.

Connections are either flexible, allowing preferably only the roll along the breakwater axis, or pre or post tensioned, to make them act as a single unit. In the latter case the efficiency is higher, but the forces between modules are also higher. The modular system as applied and the mooring system are primary points of concern for this kind of structures.

Large breakwaters are frequently built with used barges, ballasted to the desired draft with sand or rock.Floating breakwaters are very effective when their width is of order of half the wavelength and/or when their natural period of oscillation is much longer compared to the wave period.


Box breakwaters

Box type breakwaters are used most frequently (see also Figure 2). Reinforced concrete modules are either empty inside or, more frequently, have a core of light material (e.g. polystyrene). In the former case the risk of sinking of the structure is not negligible. Usually dimensions are limited to a width of a few meters.

Figure 2 Box breakwaters[1]

The first requirement is seldom verified, and in this case the performance is uncertain. The performance of a floating breakwater depends on the strongly non-linear interaction of the incident wave (that may partially overtop the module and is in general short-crested and oblique) with the structure dynamics. The interaction becomes complicated by the forces induced by the mooring system and the connections between the modules. Accurate design is necessarily based on the combination of numerical and physical models[2].

Pontoon breakwaters

Pontoon types are effective since the overall width can be of the order of half the wavelength. In this case the expected attenuation of the wave height is significant. See also Figure 3.

Figure 3 Pontoon breakwaters[1]

Mat breakwaters

Within the mat category, the most used are made with tires. Although less effective, they have a low cost, they can be removed more easily, they can be constructed with unskilled labour and minimal equipment, they are subjected to lower anchor loads, they reflect less and they dissipate relatively more wave energy.

Figure 4 Mat breakwaters[1]

Tethered float breakwaters

Tethered float types are seldom used. A schematization is provided in figure 5.

Figure 5 Tethered float breakwaters[1]

See also

Articles about breakwaters in general:

Articles about detached breakwaters:

Articles about shore or coastal protection:

Further reading

  • Allyn N., E. Watchorn, W. Jamieson and Y. Gang, 2001. Port of Brownsville Floating Breakwater, Proc. Ports Conference.
  • Briggs M, Y. Ye, Z. Demirbilek and J. Zhang, Field and numerical comparisons of the RIBS floating breakwater, J. of Hydraulic Research, 40(3), 289-301.
  • Gesrah M.R. 2006. Analysis of 5 shaped floating breakwater in oblique waves: I. Impervious rigid wave boards. Applied Ocean Research, 28(5) 327–338.
  • Isaacson M and O.U. Nwogu, 1987. Wave loads and motions of long structures in directional seas, J Offshore Mech Arct Eng 109, 126–132.
  • Isaacson M. (1993): Wave effects of floating breakwaters, Proc. of the 1993 Canadian Coastal Conference, May 4-7, Vancouver, British Columbia, 53-66.
  • Isaacson M. and S. Sinha, 1986. Directional wave effects on large offshore structures, J. of Waterway, Port, Coastal and Ocean Engineering, 112(4), 482-497.
  • Koutandos E., P. Prinos and X. Gironella, 2005. Floating breakwaters under regular and irregular wave forcing: reflection and transmission characteristics. J. of Hydraulic Research, 43(2), 174-188.
  • Martinelli L. and P. Ruol, 2006. 2D Model of Floating Breakwater Dynamics under Linear and Nonlinear Waves, 2nd Comsol User Conference, 14 Nov., Milano.
  • Martinelli L., Zanuttigh B., Ruol P., 2007. Effect of layout on floating breakwater performance: results of wave basin experiments . Proc. Coastal Structures '07, Venice.
  • McCartney B., Floating breakwater design, J. of Waterway, Port, Coastal and Ocean Engineering, 111(2), 304-318.
  • Pianc. Floating breakwaters - a practical guide for design and construction PTC2 report of WG 13 – 1994
  • Richey E.P. (1982): Floating Breakwater Field experience, West Coast. Report MR 82-5, U.S. Army, Corps of Engineers, Coastal Engineering Research Center; Springfield, Va, 64 pp.
  • Ruol P. and Martinelli L., 2007. Wave flume investigation on different mooring systems for floating breakwaters. Proc. Coastal Structure '07, Venice.
  • Sannasiraj S.A., V. Sundar and R. Sundaravadivelu, 1998. Mooring forces and motion responses of pontoon-type floating breakwaters, Ocean Eng., 25 (1), 27-48.
  • Silander, J. 1999 Floating Breakwater and Environment.
  • Tsinker G., 1994. Marine structure engineering: specialized application, Chapman & Hall, International Thomson Publishing Inc.
  • Van der Meer J.W., R. Briganti, B. Zanuttigh and B. Wang, 2005. Wave transmission and reflection at low-crested structures: Design formulae, oblique wave attack and spectral change, Coastal Eng., 52(10-11), 915-929.
  • Yamamoto T., 1981. Moored floating breakwater response to regular and irregular waves. Applied Ocean Research 3, 27–36.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 McCartney, B., Floating breakwater design, J. of Waterway, Port, Coastal and Ocean Engineering, 111(2), 304-318 https://doi.org/10.1061/(ASCE)0733-950X(1985)111:2(304)
  2. Luca Martinelli and Piero Ruol. 2D Model of Floating Breakwater Dynamics under Linear and Nonlinear Waves.
The main author of this article is Piero Ruol
Please note that others may also have edited the contents of this article.

Citation: Piero Ruol (2019): Floating breakwaters. Available from http://www.coastalwiki.org/wiki/Floating_breakwaters [accessed on 21-03-2023]