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What is a Bight?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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The term “bight” is used to refer both to a bend in the shoreline, and to the wide bay which is formed by such a bend. There are several notable bights around the world, ranging from the Great Australian Bight to the New York Bight, and many bights support large settlements who take advantage of the shelter of the bight to moor boats and establish thriving trading communities. The term “bight” is often used interchangeably with words like “bay,” to the frustration of some geologists, who argue that a bight is a distinct geological feature.

Old English is the source for the word “bight,” which comes from byht, meaning a bend or angle. From above, a bight looks like a missing chunk from a coastline, almost as though someone had shaved part of the land off. The curve of a bight is often very wide and quite gentle, and sometimes people may not be aware of the fact that they are standing in a bight from the ground, because the curve is so wide. The chunk of missing coastline also, of course, creates a very wide recess of water.

Bights are generally more shallow than bays, and they provide less shelter because they are more open. However, they can still be quite suitable for building harbors, although larger ships may not be able to enter the harbor. The shallow waters of a bight are also sometimes quite pleasant and safe to swim in, depending on the location of the bight, which influences temperature and prevailing currents.

You may also hear people referring to a bight as a sound, which is technically incorrect. Like bights, sounds tend to be extremely large, but they are also deep. The term “sound” is also used to describe a strait between two land features, adding to the general confusion. The mixup over terms like bight, sound, bay, and strait can probably be attributed to a lack of consistent application when the words were coined, with people in different regions using different terms as they pleased.

For navigators, bights will usually be clearly marked, and the depth of the bight will be indicated as well. It is a good idea to watch out for hazards like sandbars and rocks in bights which could pose a threat to navigation, and you may want to pay attention to the height of the tide as well. The same goes for swimmers; swimming in a bight when the tide is going out, for example, can be dangerous.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a bight in geographical terms?

A bight is a broad, open bay, often at a bend or curve in a coastline. It's less enclosed than a bay and lacks the sharp inward angles of a gulf or cove. Bights can be large and sometimes indistinct, making them less defined than other coastal features. They are significant for marine navigation and often host diverse ecosystems.

How does a bight differ from a bay or a gulf?

Bights, bays, and gulfs are all indentations along a coastline, but they differ in scale and shape. A bay is typically smaller than a bight and more enclosed, while a gulf is larger and more pronounced with a narrower entrance. Bights are generally shallower and wider than gulfs and do not have the pronounced penetration into the land that characterizes a bay.

Can bights be found in any ocean or sea?

Yes, bights can be found in any ocean or sea. They are common coastal features that occur around the world, regardless of the body of water. For example, the Great Australian Bight and the New York Bight are well-known examples located in different oceans but both exhibit the typical characteristics of a bight.

Are bights important for marine life?

Bights are crucial for marine life as they often serve as rich habitats for various species. The wide and shallow nature of bights allows sunlight to penetrate easily, fostering the growth of plankton and supporting a food web that includes fish, birds, and marine mammals. They can also act as nurseries for juvenile marine species.

Do bights have any impact on local climate or weather patterns?

Bights can influence local climate and weather patterns due to their interaction with ocean currents and the coastline. They may affect wind patterns and temperature distribution along the coast. For instance, the presence of a bight can lead to upwelling, which brings nutrient-rich waters to the surface, supporting local fisheries and affecting weather systems.

What role do bights play in human activities?

Bights play a significant role in human activities such as shipping, fishing, and recreation. Their wide and open nature makes them suitable for navigation and anchorage. Coastal communities often depend on the resources and protection provided by bights, and they are popular destinations for tourism due to their scenic beauty and recreational opportunities.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon154350 — On Feb 20, 2011

Glad to see this definition. I never knew what Canaveral Bight was (or where), until reading this. I live just south of the end of the Bight which extends around what I used to call "the armpit" of the Cape at Kennedy Space Center.

By anon60618 — On Jan 14, 2010

My understanding is that a bight is an indentation in a shoreline shallow enough (in angle) that you can sail out of it on one tack, no matter the direction of the wind.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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