Coastal ocean observing capabilities are evolving rapidly, both in terms of sensors and in terms of the volume of information available. We discuss the aspects of the coastal ocean that make it a unique environment, both in terms of physical processes and measurement techniques. Although many global-level systems are relevant to the coastal ocean, we concentrate on treating systems that are unique to the continental shelf environment. Further, we briefly discuss examples of measurement systems that would be useful for developing and driving ocean prediction systems.