Illustration of a drainage basin. The dashed line is the main water divide of the hydrographic basin.
A drainage basin is any area of land where
precipitation collects and drains off into a common outlet, such as into a
bay, or other
body of water. The drainage basin includes all the
surface water from
snowmelt, and nearby streams that run downslope towards the shared outlet, as well as the
groundwater underneath the earth's surface.
 Drainage basins connect into other drainage basins at lower elevations in a
hierarchical pattern, with smaller sub-drainage basins, which in turn drain into another common outlet.
Other terms used interchangeably with drainage basin are catchment area, catchment basin, drainage area, river basin, and water basin.
North America, the term watershed is commonly used to mean a drainage basin, though in other English-speaking countries, it is used only in its original sense, that of a
In a closed drainage basin, or
endorheic basin, the water converges to a single point inside the basin, known as a
sink, which may be a permanent lake, a
dry lake, or a point where surface water is
The drainage basin acts as a
funnel by collecting all the water within the area covered by the basin and channelling it to a single point. Each drainage basin is separated topographically from adjacent basins by a perimeter, the
drainage divide, making up a succession of higher geographical features (such as a
mountains) forming a barrier.
Drainage basins are similar but not identical to
hydrologic units, which are drainage areas delineated so as to nest into a multi-level hierarchical
drainage system. Hydrologic units are defined to allow multiple inlets, outlets, or sinks. In a strict sense, all drainage basins are hydrologic units but not all hydrologic units are drainage basins.