What does a coastal engineer do?

Would you make a good coastal engineer? Take our career test and find your match with over 800 careers.

Take the free career test Learn more about the career test

What is a Coastal Engineer?

Coastal engineers specialize in the planning, design, and management of projects related to coastal areas, addressing the challenges and dynamics associated with the interface between land and water. These professionals work to protect and enhance coastal zones by developing solutions for erosion control, shoreline protection, and sustainable coastal development.

Coastal engineers collaborate with multidisciplinary teams, integrating knowledge of hydrodynamics, sediment transport, and environmental impact assessments to create resilient and environmentally conscious solutions that balance the needs of communities and the preservation of coastal ecosystems.

What does a Coastal Engineer do?

An aerial shot of a long seashore with many breakwalls designed by coastal engineers.

Duties and Responsibilities
Coastal engineers have various duties and responsibilities that focus on the planning, design, and management of coastal areas. Some of their key duties and responsibilities include:

  • Coastal Protection and Erosion Control: Coastal engineers assess erosion patterns and develop strategies to protect coastlines from erosion. They design and implement erosion control measures such as beach nourishment (replenishing sand on beaches), constructing seawalls, groins, breakwaters, and dune systems to stabilize shorelines and mitigate erosion risks. They also analyze sediment transport and develop sustainable approaches to manage coastal sediment dynamics.
  • Coastal Hazard Assessment and Management: Coastal engineers play a vital role in assessing and managing coastal hazards such as storm surge, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise. They analyze wave dynamics, tidal cycles, and storm characteristics to assess the vulnerability of coastal areas. Based on their findings, they develop flood protection systems, including levees, flood walls, and floodplain management strategies. They also contribute to the development of coastal zoning plans and policies to guide land use and development in areas at risk.
  • Coastal Infrastructure Design and Engineering: Coastal engineers are involved in the design, construction, and maintenance of coastal infrastructure. This can include harbors, ports, jetties, breakwaters, and other structures that provide protection, enhance navigation, and support coastal development. They consider factors such as wave loads, sediment transport, and climate change impacts to ensure the durability, safety, and sustainability of coastal infrastructure.
  • Environmental Impact Assessment and Restoration: Coastal engineers work in collaboration with environmental scientists and ecologists to assess the environmental impacts of coastal development projects. They evaluate the effects on coastal ecosystems, wetlands, estuaries, and marine habitats. They may be involved in designing and implementing restoration projects to enhance or restore coastal ecosystems, balancing the needs of human activities with the preservation of ecological balance.
  • Coastal Modeling and Simulation: Coastal engineers utilize computer modeling and simulation tools to evaluate the performance and effectiveness of coastal designs and interventions. They analyze data on wave heights, tidal movements, sediment transport, and other coastal parameters to simulate and predict the behavior of coastal systems. These models aid in decision-making and support the development of robust coastal engineering solutions.
  • Collaboration and Stakeholder Engagement: Coastal engineers often work closely with other professionals, including geologists, oceanographers, government agencies, and local communities. They collaborate in interdisciplinary teams to develop comprehensive coastal management strategies. Effective communication and engagement with stakeholders, including government authorities, community members, and environmental organizations, are crucial aspects of their responsibilities.

Types of Coastal Engineers
Coastal engineering is a specialized field that encompasses various aspects of coastal management and development. Within this field, different types of coastal engineers may focus on specific areas or disciplines. Here are some common types of coastal engineers:

  • Coastal Protection Engineer: These engineers specialize in designing and implementing coastal protection measures to mitigate erosion and storm damage. They work on projects involving seawalls, revetments, groins, breakwaters, and other structures that help stabilize coastlines and protect adjacent infrastructure.
  • Beach Engineer: Beach engineers focus on beach nourishment and sediment management. They assess sediment transport processes, design beach replenishment projects, and develop strategies to maintain or restore beaches and dune systems. Their work aims to enhance recreational value, protect coastal properties, and support ecological functions.
  • Harbor and Port Engineer: Harbor and port engineers specialize in the planning, design, and maintenance of harbors, ports, and navigational channels. They work on projects related to harbor infrastructure, including breakwaters, jetties, navigation channels, and berth facilities. Their expertise ensures safe and efficient maritime operations and navigation.
  • Coastal Modeling Engineer: These engineers utilize computer modeling and simulation tools to analyze and predict coastal processes. They develop numerical models that simulate wave dynamics, sediment transport, storm surge, and coastal flooding. Coastal modeling engineers provide valuable insights for decision-making and design optimization in coastal projects.
  • Coastal Planning and Policy Engineer: Engineers in this role focus on the planning and policy aspects of coastal management. They work on coastal zone management plans, policy development, and regulatory compliance. Coastal planning and policy engineers assess the environmental and socio-economic impacts of coastal development projects and help shape sustainable coastal management practices.
  • Coastal Environmental Engineer: Coastal environmental engineers specialize in assessing and managing the environmental impact of coastal projects. They evaluate the ecological effects of coastal development, habitat restoration initiatives, and shoreline stabilization efforts. These engineers work to minimize negative impacts on coastal ecosystems and promote sustainable coastal development practices.

Coastal engineers have distinct personalities. Think you might match up? Take the free career test to find out if coastal engineer is one of your top career matches. Take the free test now Learn more about the career test

What is the workplace of a Coastal Engineer like?

The workplace of a coastal engineer can vary depending on their specific role and the nature of their projects. Coastal engineers may work in a combination of office settings, fieldwork environments, and construction sites. Their work involves a blend of technical analysis, design, project management, and collaboration with various stakeholders.

In the office, coastal engineers spend time conducting research, analyzing data, and developing design plans and models using specialized software and computer-aided design (CAD) tools. They use these tools to simulate coastal processes, analyze wave dynamics, predict sediment transport, and evaluate the effectiveness of proposed engineering interventions. Coastal engineers also prepare reports, technical documents, and project proposals that outline their findings and recommendations.

Fieldwork is an essential aspect of a coastal engineer's job. They often visit project sites to assess coastal conditions, gather field data, and conduct surveys. This includes measuring wave heights, studying sediment characteristics, monitoring shoreline erosion, and assessing the performance of existing coastal structures. Fieldwork also involves collaborating with environmental scientists and ecologists to assess the impact of engineering interventions on coastal ecosystems.

Coastal engineers may also spend time at construction sites during the implementation phase of projects. They oversee the construction and installation of coastal structures, ensuring that designs are implemented correctly and that they meet engineering specifications and standards. This may involve collaborating with contractors, conducting inspections, and managing quality control processes.

Additionally, coastal engineers frequently engage in collaboration and coordination with various stakeholders. They work closely with government agencies, environmental organizations, local communities, and other professionals involved in coastal management. This collaboration includes attending meetings, presenting findings, and addressing concerns raised by stakeholders. Effective communication and engagement are essential to ensure that coastal engineering projects align with the needs and expectations of the community while considering environmental and socio-economic factors.

Frequently Asked Questions

Engineering Specializations and Degrees



Continue reading

See Also
Engineer Aerospace Engineer Agricultural Engineer Biochemical Engineer Biofuel Engineer Biomedical Engineer Chemical Engineer Civil Engineer Electrical Engineer Environmental Engineer Flight Engineer Geotechnical Engineer Geothermal Engineer Computer Hardware Engineer Industrial Engineer Marine Engineer Mechanical Engineer Mechatronics Engineer Mining and Geological Engineer Nanosystems Engineer Nanotechnology Engineer Nuclear Engineer Petroleum Engineer Photonics Engineer Power Engineer Product Safety Engineer Robotics Engineer Sales Engineer Security Engineer Ship Engineer Software Engineer Software Quality Assurance Engineer Systems Engineer Water Engineer Wind Energy Engineer Structural Engineer Locomotive Engineer Control Engineer Laser Engineer Optical Engineer Live Sound Engineer Digital Remastering Engineer Recording Engineer Industrial Engineering Technician Automotive Engineer Architectural Engineer Data Engineer Construction Engineer Manufacturing Engineer Machine Learning Engineer Civil Engineering Technician Mechanical Engineering Technician Automotive Engineering Technician Paper Science Engineer Solar Engineer Fuel Cell Engineer Pulp and Paper Engineer Mixing Engineer Mastering Engineer Game Audio Engineer Computer Engineer Electronics Engineer Stationary Engineer Water Resources Engineer Transportation Engineer Urban Planning Engineer Artificial Intelligence Engineer Audio Engineer Broadcast Engineer Fuel Cell Technician Naval Engineer Ocean Engineer Cloud Engineer Automation Engineer Natural Language Processing Engineer Computer Vision Engineer Big Data Engineer