A general approach for quantitative classification of littoral sites has been developed. The approach uses dimensionless parameters to describe the processes in a specific area of physics (e.g., ocean physics, meteorology, acoustics, etc.) and in a particular coastal geographic configuration (e.g., shelves, straits, enclosed seas, rivers, etc.). As a first application, a littoral classification system has been developed to describe the physical oceanographic processes on coastal continental shelves. This system incorporates four dimensionless parameters to describe the large-scale ocean features that characterize specific coastal regions: eddies, upwelling, currents, and stratification. Seven diverse worldwide sites have been compared using these classification parameters, illustrating their differences and similarities. This classification system is then used to address a specific coastal issue: the dispersion of a point discharge in the surface layer.