Jetty vs. Wharf

What's the Difference?

Jetty and Wharf are both structures built along the shoreline to facilitate the docking and loading/unloading of boats and ships. However, there are some key differences between the two. A jetty is typically a long, narrow structure that extends into the water and is used to protect the shoreline from erosion and currents. It is often made of rocks or concrete and provides a stable platform for boats to dock. On the other hand, a wharf is a larger and more versatile structure that is used for commercial purposes. It is usually built parallel to the shoreline and can accommodate multiple vessels at once. Wharves are commonly made of wood or steel and often have warehouses or storage facilities attached to them. Overall, while both jetty and wharf serve important functions in maritime activities, their designs and purposes differ significantly.


Photo by Christian Holzinger on Unsplash
DefinitionA structure built on the shore or in shallow water that extends into the sea or a river to allow boats to dock or unload cargo.A structure built on the shore or in shallow water that provides a place for ships to load or unload cargo.
LocationUsually found in coastal areas or along rivers.Usually found in coastal areas or along rivers.
SizeCan vary in size, ranging from small jetties for personal use to large commercial jetties.Can vary in size, ranging from small wharves for personal use to large commercial wharves.
FunctionPrimarily used for docking boats and ships.Primarily used for loading and unloading cargo from ships.
ConstructionCan be made of various materials such as wood, concrete, or metal.Can be made of various materials such as wood, concrete, or metal.
AccessibilityAccessible to boats and ships for docking purposes.Accessible to ships for cargo loading and unloading.
UsageUsed for recreational purposes, fishing, and small boat docking.Used for commercial purposes, cargo handling, and ship docking.
Photo by Svetlana Gumerova on Unsplash

Further Detail


When it comes to waterfront structures, two commonly used terms are "jetty" and "wharf." While both serve similar purposes, they have distinct attributes that set them apart. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of jetty and wharf, highlighting their differences and similarities.


A jetty is a type of structure built perpendicular to the shoreline, extending into the water. It is primarily constructed to protect the coastline from erosion and to create a sheltered area for boats. Jetty structures are typically made of rocks, concrete, or wooden pilings. One of the key attributes of a jetty is its ability to break waves and reduce the impact of currents, thus providing a safer environment for vessels to dock or anchor.

Jetty structures are often found at river mouths or in coastal areas where there is a need to maintain navigable channels. They are designed to alter the flow of water, preventing sediment deposition and maintaining a stable waterway. Additionally, jetties can serve as recreational areas, allowing people to fish, walk, or simply enjoy the scenic views of the water. Due to their robust construction, jetties are known for their durability and longevity.

Another important attribute of a jetty is its impact on the surrounding environment. While it provides protection to the coastline, it can also cause changes in sediment transport, affecting nearby beaches and ecosystems. The alteration of natural sediment flow can lead to erosion in some areas and accretion in others. Therefore, careful consideration and environmental impact assessments are necessary before constructing a jetty.


A wharf, on the other hand, is a structure built parallel to the shoreline, extending into the water. Unlike jetties, wharves are primarily constructed for commercial purposes, serving as a docking area for ships and boats to load and unload cargo. Wharves are typically made of concrete, steel, or timber, and they often feature berths, cranes, and storage facilities to facilitate efficient cargo handling.

Wharves are commonly found in ports, harbors, and industrial areas where maritime trade and transportation are significant. They play a crucial role in facilitating the movement of goods between ships and land-based transportation systems, such as trucks and trains. Due to their commercial nature, wharves are designed to accommodate large vessels and heavy loads, making them capable of handling substantial cargo volumes.

Unlike jetties, wharves are not primarily focused on protecting the coastline or altering water flow. Their main purpose is to provide a functional space for loading and unloading operations. However, they can still have an impact on the surrounding environment, especially in terms of land use and urban development. Wharves often attract related industries and infrastructure, contributing to economic growth in the surrounding areas.


While jetty and wharf have distinct attributes, there are also some similarities between the two structures. Both serve as extensions into the water, providing access to vessels and supporting maritime activities. They are man-made structures that require careful engineering and construction to withstand the forces of nature and the demands of their respective purposes.

However, the key differences lie in their primary functions and the impact they have on the surrounding environment. Jetty structures are primarily built for coastal protection and altering water flow, while wharves are designed for commercial purposes and facilitating cargo handling. Jetties focus on creating a safe harbor for boats and preventing erosion, while wharves prioritize efficient loading and unloading operations for maritime trade.

Additionally, jetties are often more exposed to the forces of nature, such as waves and currents, due to their perpendicular orientation to the shoreline. Wharves, on the other hand, are parallel to the shoreline and are typically built in more sheltered areas, reducing their exposure to harsh environmental conditions.


In conclusion, jetty and wharf are two distinct types of waterfront structures with different attributes and purposes. Jetties are primarily built for coastal protection, altering water flow, and providing a safe harbor for boats. Wharves, on the other hand, are designed for commercial purposes, facilitating efficient cargo handling and supporting maritime trade. While both structures have their own impacts on the environment, they play crucial roles in coastal management, transportation, and economic development. Understanding the differences between jetty and wharf is essential for proper planning and decision-making when it comes to waterfront infrastructure.

Comparisons may contain inaccurate information about people, places, or facts. Please report any issues.