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Wharf vs. Jetty: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on December 21, 2023
A wharf is a structure parallel to the shoreline for loading and unloading ships, while a jetty is a structure projecting into water to influence currents or protect harbors.

Key Differences

A wharf is a man-made structure on the shore of a harbor or on the bank of a river where ships may dock to load and unload cargo or passengers. Jetties, on the other hand, are structures extending into a body of water to influence the current or to protect a harbor or shoreline from storms or erosion.
Wharves are typically designed for the efficiency of maritime commerce, offering a stable platform where goods and people can be transferred between vessels and land. Jetties serve a different purpose; they are often constructed to maintain or alter the flow of water, thereby preventing sediment build-up in navigational channels.
A wharf usually has facilities like cranes, warehouses, and sometimes passenger terminals. Jetties, in contrast, are simpler structures, often consisting of piles, stones, or wood, and do not typically have facilities for cargo or passengers.
In urban areas, wharves can be extensive, with multiple berths and complex infrastructure, while jetties are often found in both urban and rural settings, usually singular in their construction and focused on environmental or navigational goals.
The term 'wharf' often refers to a commercial structure in a port, whereas a 'jetty' can be found in a variety of settings, including river mouths, beaches, and alongside ports, with purposes extending beyond just commerce.

Comparison Chart

Primary Function

Loading/unloading ships, commercial activities
Protecting shorelines, altering currents


Parallel to the shoreline or riverbank
Extends from the shore into the water

Structural Focus

Equipped with facilities for cargo, passengers
Simpler, focused on environmental/navigational goals

Common Usage

Commercial ports, urban areas
Navigational channels, beaches, river mouths

Design Characteristics

Often large, multiple berths, infrastructure
Typically singular, made of piles, stones, or wood

Wharf and Jetty Definitions


A wharf can be a landing place or pier where ships may tie up and load or unload.
The wharf was crowded with tourists waiting to board the ferry.


It's a landing stage or small pier where boats can dock or be moored.
They strolled along the jetty, enjoying the ocean breeze.


It's a platform providing access to ships for loading and unloading.
The fishermen returned to the wharf with their day's catch.


It often serves as a walkway for fishing or enjoying the view.
Families gathered on the jetty to watch the sunset over the water.


It's often a quay or reinforced bank where vessels are loaded.
Heavy machinery moved containers around the busy wharf.


Jetties are built to prevent beach erosion and to protect anchorages from the effect of weather and longshore drift.
The newly constructed jetty has significantly reduced beach erosion.


A wharf is a structure built on the shore of a harbor for ships to dock at.
The cargo ship unloaded its goods at the bustling wharf.


A jetty is a structure extending into a sea, lake, or river to influence the current or tide or to protect a harbor.
The jetty provided a calm area for the boats to anchor.


Wharves are typically part of a port or harbor complex.
The city's oldest wharf has been converted into a recreational area.


A jetty can also be a breakwater structure to protect a shoreline.
The old jetty has been vital in safeguarding the coastline from storms.


A pier where ships or boats are tied up and loaded or unloaded.


A structure, such as a pier, that projects into a body of water to influence the current or tide or to protect a harbor or shoreline from storms or erosion.


(Obsolete) A shore or riverbank.


A wharf.


Resembling jet, as in texture.


Of the color jet; black
Jetty tresses.


A structure of wood or stone extended into the sea to influence the current or tide, or to protect a harbor or beach.


A wharf or dock extending from the shore.


(architecture) A part of a building that jets or projects beyond the rest, and overhangs the wall below.


To jut out; to project.


(archaic) Made of jet, or like jet in color.


Made of jet, or like jet in color.
The people . . . are of a jetty.


A part of a building that jets or projects beyond the rest, and overhangs the wall below.


A wharf or pier extending from the shore.


A structure of wood or stone extended into the sea to influence the current or tide, or to protect a harbor; a mole; as, the Eads system of jetties at the mouth of the Mississippi River.


To jut out; to project.


A protective structure of stone or concrete; extends from shore into the water to prevent a beach from washing away


What materials are commonly used to build a wharf?

Wharves are commonly built using wood, steel, and concrete.

Do wharves contribute to a city's economy?

Yes, wharves are often key components of a city's maritime commerce and trade.

What is the main function of a jetty?

The main function of a jetty is to protect coastlines and harbors from the effects of waves and currents.

Are jetties always made of concrete?

No, jetties can be made of various materials including rocks, wood, and metal.

Is a jetty the same as a breakwater?

While similar, a jetty is primarily for navigational purposes, whereas a breakwater is mainly to protect against waves.

Can wharves be used for recreational purposes?

Yes, some wharves are also used for recreational activities like fishing and sightseeing.

Can wharves be found in inland water bodies?

Yes, wharves can also be found along rivers and lakes.

Can jetties affect local ecosystems?

Yes, jetties can impact local marine and coastal ecosystems, altering water flow and sediment patterns.

What is the primary purpose of a wharf?

The primary purpose of a wharf is to facilitate the loading and unloading of cargo and passengers from ships.

Do jetties help in navigation?

Yes, jetties can help in navigation by maintaining deeper water channels.

How do jetties protect against erosion?

Jetties protect against erosion by interrupting water flow and sediment movement.

Are jetties effective in all types of water bodies?

The effectiveness of jetties can vary based on factors like local geography and hydrology.

Can jetties be used for fishing?

Yes, many jetties provide ideal spots for fishing.

Do wharves affect local wildlife?

Wharves can affect local wildlife, particularly aquatic species, depending on their design and location.

What are the environmental considerations for building a wharf?

Environmental considerations include impact on local habitats, water quality, and shoreline stability.

Are jetties permanent structures?

Most jetties are intended as permanent, but their lifespan can vary based on materials and environmental conditions.

Can the public access jetties for leisure activities?

Many jetties are accessible to the public for activities like walking, fishing, and sightseeing.

How does a wharf differ from a pier?

A wharf is typically a flat structure directly on the shore, while a pier extends out into the water.

Are wharves safe for public access?

Safety depends on the specific wharf's design and maintenance, but many are safe for public access.

How are jetties constructed?

Jetties are constructed by placing durable materials like rocks, concrete, or wood in strategic positions in the water.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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