Bulkheads: Marine Construction Uses, Benefits, & Types

A photo of a beachfront with wooden bulkheads running along the shore.Image rights belong to Hornbaker Chelsi, USFWS.

The Basics of Bulkheads :

Construction Uses, Benefits, & Types

In the marine construction industry, bulkheads are one of the most widely used and essential structures employed in the execution of projects. In this guide from Yelton Construction, we’ll give you the information you need to understand the fundamentals of bulkheads, from their various applications in construction, to the benefits they afford to residents and commercial contractors alike. 

For more information about our marine contractors and what we offer in St. Augustine in the way of building and facilitating the use of bulkheads, please visit us online to learn more, or to get in touch and to request a free project estimate.

What Is A Bulkhead?

Most people are already familiar with the concept of a retaining wall — a structure designed to hold back the spilling or unwanted relocation of soil mass and other ground materials, such as rocks, sediments, and more. A bulkhead can be understood in a similar way, but it possesses several critically different elements that set it apart from the general design, structure, and application potential of a retaining wall. 

Bulkheads are unique in that they function to retain not just earth sediments and soils, but to hold back the flow and diffusion of water. On one side of a bulkhead, sand, dirt, or stones may be kept in check, while on the other, it controls the holding of water. Most often, bulkheads are seen in construction developments that have been established near oceans, lakes, and rivers. However, they may also be utilized for the same purposes on a smaller scale and/or with manmade bodies of water, such as landscaping ponds and reservoirs.

What Are The Benefits Of Using Bulkheads?

Why use a bulkhead rather than another staple marine construction structure? The benefits of employing one of these dual-sided builds can be understood as they relate to the needs of the project, as well as the location of the build site, its surrounding structures, and the natural features of the vicinity. In general, however, almost all waterfront properties can benefit from the inclusion of one or multiple bulkheads. These considerable advantages may be understood to include, but certainly are not limited to, the following:

  • Prevents erosion, flooding, and damage to nearby buildings
  • Protects surrounding natural environment and local residents
  • Saves money by avoiding the need for repairs and renovations
  • Often considered more aesthetically appealing than alternatives (e.g. seawalls)
  • Facilitates construction of docks, whether built simultaneously or in the future
  • Defines property borders and delineates as a designated space (homes, businesses, etc.)

Are There Different Types Of Bulkhead Materials?

Bulkheads may be limited in that they’re generally best suited for marine construction and other water-land retention purposes, but that certainly doesn’t mean they’re limited in appearance or material design. Indeed, there are half a dozen or so different types of bulkhead material that are widely used in marine construction projects. There are others still, although these are generally characterized by some combination of the materials we will discuss, and therefore not as relevant to the purposes of this particular article.

On that note, if you’re interested in using bulkheads for your construction project or waterfront property development, you may wish to explore the following details about the most popular and highly recommended bulkhead materials.

Wood Pilings & Sheeting

  • Available In Natural Or Treated Varieties
  • Treated Wood Resists Water Damage; Natural Does Not
  • Often Reinforced Or End-capped With Steel Or Metal Plating
  • Relatively Low In Performance Value Compared To Other Options

Steel Sheet Piling

  • Ridged Design Methods Increased Tensile Strength
  • Often Made To Be Installed As Interlocking Panels
  • Can Be Used Alone Or With Other Materials, Such As Wood-based And Aluminum Bulkheads

Aluminum Sheet Piling

  • Light In Weight; Easy To Transport And Install
  • Less Rigid But Often Used In Conjunction With Steel
  • Lower In Cost But Shorter In Lifespan Than Other Metals

Vinyl Sheet Piling

  • Relatively Short Lifespan And Not Recommended For Marine Construction Purposes
  • Anti-corrosive And Long-lasting
  • Moderate To High Roi; Often Most Cost-effective

Composite Pilings & Sheets

  • May Be Comprised Of Various Ratios Of Above Bulkhead Materials
  • Usually Resistant To Water Damage, Fungal Growth, And Natural Environmental Wear
  • Commonly Reinforced With Fiberglass Or High-resistance Polymers

You’ve Bulked Up On Knowledge — Now Let Us Do The Heavy Lifting!

If you are currently seeking a contractor to install or upgrade bulkheads in St. Augustine, please contact Yelton Construction to request a free estimate from our state-certified marine contractors!

Thank you for reading, and if you’d like to learn more about alternative marine construction materials and structures, you may like this other article from Yelton Construction: Bulkheads vs. Seawalls: What’s The Difference?