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Increasing The Life Of Your Seawall.


A seawall is a structure made of concrete, rock, metal, or plastic panels, which separates water from adjoining land guarding waterfront property from erosion. Long ago, seawalls were built from coral rock.

These walls, made from once-living organisms, were made to breath. Once sealed however, the coral rock seawall is much less porous and requires weep holes to be installed to allow water flow in and out, which reduces hydro-static pressure.

Coral rock seawalls, while naturally beautiful, require quite a bit of maintenance. These seawalls are made from coral rocks stacked in a pyramid that move naturally due to vibration and other natural forces.

Cracks that form must be mudded and maintained to conserve soil. Today’s seawalls are composed of distinct portions: a series of interlocked panels, vertically from the land elevation to below the water floor, a “concrete cap” which ties the panels together and tie rods which anchor the vertical structure to an upright position and prevent it from falling into the water.

The seawall is provided with weep holes to allow water collecting behind the panels to drain and relieve pressure on the structure. The ends of the tie rods are secured to concrete blocks or aluminum panels called dead-men.


Seawall construction methods have improved throughout the years. The original seawalls were made from rock piled in a pyramid shape. Afterwards, concrete panels were used and constructed with unprotected metal rebar. Today, seawall panels are constructed within protected rebar and high strength concrete to extend life span. The failure of seawalls is generally classified into any of the following four categories:


Joint Separation;

Tie-Back or Seawall Cap Failure; Toe and Berm Failure; and Breakage at the Water Line.


Reason: Corrosion in the cap reinforcing or tieback rods. This condition is often aggravated by movement of the structure, resulting in cracking or crumbling of the concrete cap and its ability to keep the panels or slabs aligned; often manifested by slab tilting toward the water. Indications: A deteriorating cap and wavy or sagging panels. Often these indications occur together. 


Replacement of the seawall cap with a new concrete cap. Panels or slabs may have to be replaced. If failure is due to corroded tieback rods, excavation further into the property is necessary for replacement of the tie-backs.


Reason: Deficiency of berm at the bottom of the slabs or panels in the water. The panels tilt out, and sometimes crack or Reason the cap to rotate or fracture. Loss of berm is usually associated with canal dredging, wave action, or fast currents. Indications: Cap rotation, movement or cracking, a gap opening between seawall and dock (if present) and support pilings (if present) tight against the seawall meaning pressure on the structure from the failure.

A good way to determine berm loss is to measure the height of the wall from the cap to the berm. Originally, panels or slabs may have less than two or three feet of berm holding them in place and may be the reason for existing toe-out or future toe-out. Solutions: Placement of additional rip-rap to stabilize the bottom of the structure if the toe- out is not too severe. In bad cases, the panels may be pulled and replaced. Repairs to the cap will depend on the amount of damage.



Aging concrete, corrosion of reinforcing rods, and uneven hydrostatic pressure. Slabs or panels develop horizontal cracks usually along the waterline and the panels eventually break along these lines. 


The principal symptom is the cracks along the top of edge of the water line. Solutions: The remedy for an advanced failure will usually mean new panels, cap tie-back rods and deadmen; or a complete new seawall. Seawalls with minor cracks should be monitored for progression. Attention will need to be given to any existing voids or holes landward of wall panels to reduce uneven hydrostatic pressure from water behind these walls.