A bay is a recessed, coastal body of water that directly connects to a larger main body of water, such as an ocean, a lake, or even another bay. A large bay is usually called a gulf, sea, sound, or bight. A cove is a small, circular bay with a narrow entrance. A fjord is a particularly steep bay shaped by glacial activity.
A bay can be the estuary of a river, such as the Chesapeake Bay, an estuary of the Susquehanna River. Bays may also be nested within each other; for example, James Bay is an arm of Hudson Bay in northeastern Canada. Some large bays, such as the Bay of Bengal and Hudson Bay, have varied marine geology.
The land surrounding a bay often reduces the strength of winds and blocks waves. Bays may have as wide a variety of shoreline characteristics as other shorelines. In some cases, bays have beaches, which "are usually characterized by a steep upper foreshore with a broad, flat fronting terrace". Bays were significant in the history of human settlement because they provided safe places for fishing. Later they were important in the development of sea trade as the safe anchorage they provide encouraged their selection as ports.