It seems paradoxical that most great sea battles have not been fought at sea—at least, if “at sea” is understood to signify far offshore. The paradox is easily explained. The ultimate objective of war at sea is to influence events on land, especially with regard to military undertakings dependent on naval support. Traditionally this has tended to focus naval operations in more or less coastal waters, where collisions occurred when one force sought to frustrate another’s designs, as at the battles of the Chesapeake, Lissa, and Leyte Gulf.
There have also been a number of even more unequivocally coastal engagements, the beginning if not the end of which found one of the opposing fleets at anchor. In most cases, the anchored fleet had not anticipated being attacked, as at Navarino, Taranto, and Pearl Harbor, but in others it knowingly accepted action because of the perceived advantage of the position it occupied or simply for lack of a more promising alternative, as at Salamis, Lake Champlain, and Manila Bay.