Glossary of Common Beach Terms

wide shot of a beach with green waters, a pier, a road, and palm trees
Photo Courtesy of Conde Nast Traveler

Soft white sands, frothy seafoam, and sparkling teal waters—nothing compares to tranquil coastal views. Our beaches contain breathtaking ecosystems that have inspired writers, travelers, and scientists for centuries. So, if you’re interested in the beach lifestyle, brush up on your coastal trivia with this glossary of common beach terms.

In the Ocean

oceans with clouds
Photo Courtesy of ThoughtCo

The ocean is a majestic natural wonder, full of breathtaking marine life and treasures. However, it can also be a mysterious place. For years, humans have studied our oceans to understand them better, developing concepts to comprehend these marine patterns. Check out a handful of these must-know terms:


We all know that the ocean water rushes onto the shore before being pulled back into itself. This process describes the tide—the rising and falling of the water due to the gravitational attraction of the sun, moon, and other astronomical bodies.

man with a fishing pole; beach with two people walking
High Tide vs. Low Tide | Photo Courtesy of TwistedSifter
  • High Tide: When the tide is high, the water reaches further up on the beach and will be deeper.
  • Low Tide: During a low tide, the moon draws the water back off the beach. Hence, seashells, sandbars, and other treasures will be more visible.
  • Ebb Tide: This is the happy medium between high and low tides—you can walk along the shore by the waves without worrying about them rushing upon you.


When you look at the ocean, you see white lines over the waves. This is not the sun playing tricks on your eyes. These are whitecaps—small waves with a foamy crest.

Photo by Jaeyoon Jeong on Unsplash


These large, colorful objects assist boaters and ship captains by marking potentially dangerous areas, such as low water levels or intense currents.

seamark in the ocean
Photo courtesy of Alibaba


Ocean meets river—estuaries are where freshwater streams flow into the ocean.

Photo by Joshua Gaunt on Unsplash

Rip Current (Undertow)

A current is when water moves in a singular direction. A rip current, more specifically, is water moving forcibly away from the shore. Swimmers should be cautious of these currents; they can become overly fatigued if they try to swim against them.

rip current on a beach
Photo courtesy of National Weather Service

On the Coast

people playing in the water at a beach
Photo Courtesy of Flashpacking America

When most of us think about the beach, the ocean and the shore come to mind. However, the coast contains vast landscapes, and understanding the various types of terrain helps us value these shores even more. Check out these most popular coastal terms:


Over time, currents can create large ridges of sand in the middle of a body of water. During low tides, these large ridges—known as sandbars—become visible.

Photo by Ryan Geller on Unsplash


This construction of rocks, concrete, or wood redirects currents to prevent shoreline erosion.

a jetty with waves crashing against it
Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash


Similar to a jetty, a breakwater is made of rocks, concrete, or wood. However, instead of protecting the shore, a breakwater rests in the sea and shelters marinas, harbors, and vessels.


Land along the edge of a body of water or the part of the shore between the high-water mark and low-water mark.

people at the beach, foreshore
Photo by Alex Perez on Unsplash


The backshore is the zone between the foreshore and sand dunes. Waves only reach this point during severe storms or high tides.

example of a salt marsh
Image courtesy of The GEOPHILE Pages

Salt Marsh

A marsh is an area of soft, wet land filled with grasses and low growth. Compared to a regular marsh, a salt marsh is frequently flooded by salt water.

Salt marsh with flamingos
Image courtesy of


These are useful structures built parallel to the beach or dune line to protect adjacent land or developments from high tides.

Photo courtesy of National Park Service


Usually smaller than gulfs, bays are inlets of the sea where the land curves inward.

a bay
Photo courtesy of Tripadvisor


A lagoon is shallow pool water close to or adjacent to the sea. Large ridges of sand, rocks, or coral reefs separate lagoons from the ocean, creating small, tranquil bodies of saltwater.

Photo courtesy of The World Travel Guy


If you enjoy sifting through the sand for shells, you’re a beachcomber—someone who loves searching for hidden coastal treasures.

person picking up shells
Photo by Janosch Lino on Unsplash

Now that you have this glossary of common beach terms, you’ll sound like a pro on your next vacation. And if you want to learn more about coastal life, check out the informative articles on Beach Homes Lifestyles!

An estuary is an environment where rivers meet the sea.

Seamarkers warn of potentially dangerous circumstances.

Sandbars exist during high tide and are exposed during low tide.

Seawalls are like jetties and breakwaters which prevent erosion and damage caused by waves, tides, and extreme events.

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