This paper concerns the statistical distribution of both wave crest elevations and wave heights in deep water. A new set of laboratory observations undertaken in a directional wave basin located in the Hydrodynamics laboratory in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Imperial College London is presented. The resulting data were analysed and compared to a number of commonly applied statistical distributions. In respect of the wave crest elevations the measured data is compared to both linear and second-order order distributions, whilst the wave heights were compared to the Rayleigh distribution, the Forristall (1978) [1] empirical distribution and the modified Glukhovskiy distribution ([2] and [3]). Taken as a whole, the data confirms that the directionality of the sea state is critically important in determining the statistical distributions. For example, in terms of the wave crest statistics effects beyond second-order are most pronounced in uni-directional seas. However, if the sea state is sufficiently steep, nonlinear effects arising at third order and above can also be significant in directionally spread seas. Important departures from Forristall’s empirical distribution for the wave heights are also identified. In particular, the data highlights the limiting effect of wave breaking in the most severe seas suggesting that many of the commonly applied design solutions may be conservative in terms of crest height and wave height predictions corresponding to a small (10−4) probability of exceedance.

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