What is a Bight?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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.

Man holding a globe
Man holding a globe

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.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

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Discussion Comments


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.


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.

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