The Marine Bulkhead Guide
The complete guide to marine bulkheads and seawals designed to protect waterfront real estate from errosion.



Marine Bulkhead     Bulkhead Repair  Floating Docks  Boat Lifts  Swim Floats

A Marine Bulkhead is defined as a vertical shoreline stabilization structure that primarily retains soil. Bulkheads can be constructed from a variety of materials including concrete, wood, vinyl, and steel. Each material has its pros and cons. Wood for example may be the least expensive but may also not last as long due to marine organisms and decay.

Before Buying any waterfront home or property, get the Bulkhead, Seawall and Dock professionally inspected! The deteriorated condition of a bulkhead may be an indication that the bulkhead is either in need of maintenance, or that it has fulfilled its service life. In some cases, the bulkhead may be damaged due to loads in excess of what it was originally designed to withstand. For example, the homeowners may have installed a swimming pool after the bulkheading. This adds a tremendous amount of extra weight which was never designed into the required strength of the bulkhead. Undermining, caused by natural erosion and hydrostatic pressures can also cause sea-wall and bulkhead failure. In addition marine organisms, corrosion and soil pH can damage materials in ways that may not be obvious to the average home inspector.

Wood bulkhead is show on the left and vinyl bulkhead is on the right.

Some bulkhead and seawall materials include:
Concrete provides a service life of approximately 30+ years if the correct mix and proper marine structural design are utilized. Steel sheet piling is also commonly used for bulkheads. This material provides excellent strength characteristics and has an interlocking seal The down side of steel is that in time it will rust. Especially in a salt water environment. Steel must be properly coated and maintained. If acres for steel bulkheads should last for over 25 years. Aluminum is another material often used in bulkheads. Aluminum sheet piling provide good corrosion resistance, but because the material is not as strong the sections will only allow for minimal exposed wall height. Wood is perhaps historically the most popular choice of material in residential marine bulkhead construction. A wood pile/wale/sheet system is a common seawall bulkhead configuration. With proper treatment the service life for a wood bulkhead is approximately 20 years. CCA is Pressure Treated lumber or Pilings that have been pressure-impregnated with a preservative which makes the wood resistant to attack by marine borers that cause wood to decay. Vinyl sheet bulkheading is a relatively new product with service life of over 50years. Vinyl bulkheading is available in a variety of different colors. and best of all the material will not rust, decay or corrode in the marine environment. Although a bit more expensive in the long run it may be the best choice. When vinyl is used many time wood pilings and whalers are still utilized. This is due to the stiffness of the wood compared to the relative flexibility of vinyl and plastic materials. Some installers offer to use pilings and whalers which are coated in fiberglass. This system waterproofs the poles and beams used to support the vinyl bulkhead in place. Of course this is a little more expensive but you get what you pay for and it is usually well worth it to protect your waterfront property form erosion and property loss. Another consideration when installing marine bulkhead is if an in ground pool is planned. If so take careful note as to the location and depth of the bulkhead supporting tie rods. You will have to find a swimming pool that will not interfere with the bulk head supports. Installing new bulkhead can be not only expensive but also quite messy! The Slide show below show just how marine bulkheading is installed. This job was done by G&T Construction in Baldwin NY. Just click on a photo to enlarge it.


Old piling being removed

After old wood bulk head is removed about 7 feet of backyard falls into the creek.

crane mounted barges used during bulkhead construction

New piles are places and top whaler is added.

new piles and whaler

After piles and 3 whalers are in place new fiberglass sheets are water dredged into place.

Even some of the neighbors yards will fall into the creek. This will all be filled back in.

Backfilling the yard after bulkhead is done.

After bulkhead is in place the backyard need backfilling.

Tie rods run 20' back and down 5'. They are secured to a piling with a wood wall constructed in a plow design. This is the anchor which holds bulkhead

Bulkhead anchors being installed by G&T Construction.

This photo shows the same backyard after bulkhead was replaced, with pool and deck installed. Quite a bit of work but well worth the investment!

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Suggested Reading
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Nautical and Maritime Art for Waterfront Property Owners
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