The soil beneath vertical breakwaters is subjected to a combination of forces induced by the waves. The forces acting on the soil can be characterized as 1) static load due to submerged weight of the structure, 2) quasi-static forces induced by cyclic wave loading, and 3) wave impact from breaking waves. The stress conditions in the soil below a foundation exposed to these types of loading are very complex. The key to explain and quantify the soil response beneath a vertical breakwater is to understand the role of the volume changes and to be able to model these correctly. It is shown that the volume changes in soil subjected to static and dynamic loading are controlled by the characteristic line. Experiments have been performed to study the factors that influence the location of the characteristic line in drained and undrained tests for various types of sand and various types of loading. These factors include the relative density, the minor principal stress, the intermediate principal stress, the stress path, and the effects of nonhomogeneous and localized strains. The relation of the characteristic line to other features of static, cyclic and dynamic (rate dependent) soil behaviour are explained and illustrated with experimental data.