bridge extending across a body of water
Sean Cate
Sean Cate
September 29, 2023 ·  4 min read

How Are Bridges Built Over Seas and Rivers?

Bridges are iconic symbols of human engineering prowess, combining functionality and aesthetic beauty. Among the most awe-inspiring feats of bridge construction are those built across seas and rivers, where the challenges of deep water make the process even more remarkable. In this article, we will explore the methods and engineering behind bridge construction over water.1

Conquering the Water: Challenges and Solutions

When the water being built over is shallow, constructing a bridge is relatively straightforward. Engineers create a temporary foundation on which piers are built to support the upper structure.2 However, when faced with deep water, the engineering becomes considerably more complex. Deepwater bridge construction calls for advanced techniques that seem nothing short of magical.

The Three Main Methods

There are three primary methods for bridge construction over deep water: battered piles, cofferdams, and caissons. Each method has its own set of advantages and complications, and the choice depends on site conditions and available technology.

1. Battered Piles

Battered Piles. Image source: Oluwaseun Quadri | Linkdin

Battered piles involve driving inclined piles into the waterbed at an angle. This method provides stability and support for the bridge. It is particularly useful when the water depth is moderate, and the soil conditions are suitable for pile installation.

2. Cofferdams

Overhead view of coffer dam holding back river water on bridge construction site
Overhead view of coffer dam holding back river water on bridge construction site. Image credit: Shuttertstock

A remarkable technique for bridge construction over deep water is the use of cofferdams. Cofferdams are created when a number of large piles are driven into the water, forming an enclosed space. Then, the water within this space is pumped out, leaving a dry and safe environment for construction work.

This method, although seemingly simple, requires meticulous engineering to prevent flooding or structural collapse, which could endanger workers’ lives. The key challenge is that water can seep up from the ground when the water on one side is pumped out, potentially destabilizing the structure. Therefore, the piles must be driven to a specific depth, determined by the type of soil at the bottom and observations of the water table.

Sometimes, in addition to pumping out the initial water, ongoing pumping is needed to continuously remove any seeping water. The decision to use this method depends on factors like cost and the feasibility of driving the piles to the correct depth.

3. Caissons: An Underappreciated Technique

Caissons in the sea water.
Caissons in the sea water. Image Credit: Shutterstock

The third method for building bridges over deep water is using caissons. Caissons are large watertight structures that are floated into position and then sunk to the desired depth. Once in place, the caisson is filled with concrete to form the foundation of the bridge pier. This method is particularly effective when the water is deep, and the soil conditions are challenging.

Bridge construction with caissons is a complex process that requires precise engineering and careful coordination. It allows for the creation of stable foundations even in the most challenging underwater environments. While we have focused on battered piles and cofferdams in this article, caissons are another remarkable solution that engineers use to conquer deep water challenges when building bridges.

Read: Forgotten Technology: Man Lifts 20 Ton Block By Hand

Safety Measures and Historical Insights

While the construction of cofferdams might sound perilous, strict safety measures are typically in place, particularly concerning weather conditions. If the weather conditions are unfavorable, construction workers are not allowed to enter the cofferdam area. Additionally, protocols exist to evacuate workers promptly in the event of adverse conditions or emergencies.

Interestingly, cofferdams are not a recent innovation. There is historical evidence suggesting that they could have been used as far back as the Persian Empire. In those times, they were likely constructed from earth. Even the Romans employed wooden cofferdams in the construction of their bridges, demonstrating the enduring ingenuity of this method.


When it comes to bridge construction over seas and rivers, especially in deep water, it truly shows how remarkable human engineering innovation can be. Engineers employ a range of methods, including battered piles, cofferdams, and caissons, to tackle the unique challenges presented by deep water construction.

While each method has its own complexities and advantages, cofferdams, in particular, stand out as a fascinating and historical engineering solution. As we continue to develop new technologies and innovations, it’s worth acknowledging the ancient wisdom that laid the foundation for many of our modern engineering marvels.

In the end, bridge construction over water not only connects places but also literally bridges the gap between human creativity and the forces of nature, reminding us of the incredible possibilities that engineering and innovation can achieve.

Keep Reading: Circular Bridge Built to Slow Traffic


  1. Mind-Blowing Video Shows How Bridges Over Water Are Built.” Lad Bible. Tom Wood. May 31, 2021.
  2. This Is How Bridges Are Built over Water.” Interesting Engineering. Loukia Papadopoulos. March 25, 2020.