Foxe Basin is bordered on its eastern and northern sides by the coast of Baffin Island and in the west by the Melville Peninsula. Named for 17th-century arctic explorer Luke Fox [Foxe], it is a smaller version of Hudson Bay, being an enclosed depression in the Canadian Shield, with an ancient land surface preserved under limestone sediments beneath its shallow waters. Foxe Basin is the location of the last large landmasses discovered in North America. Prince Charles, Foley and Air Force islands were discovered and mapped from aerial surveys in 1948.
Maximum depths in Foxe Basin reach only 90 m, but much of the basin is shallower, with long, gently shelving shorelines, making navigation hazardous. The constricted passages between southwestern Foxe Basin and Hudson Bay retain areas of sea ice over most years. Grounding of sea ice on the bottom disturbs silt, which is incorporated into the ice, turning it a distinctive brown colour. The basin's tidal ranges vary from 9 m in its southeastern corner to 3.5 m at Fury and Hecla Straits. Because of its shallowness, ice and tidal ranges, Foxe Basin has been bypassed as a route to the Arctic.