The size of the bow wave is a function of the speed of the ship, its draft, surface waves, water depth, and the shape of the bow. A ship with a large draft and a blunt bow will produce a large wave, while ships that plane over the surface of the water will create smaller bow waves. Bow wave patterns are studied in the field of computational fluid dynamics.
The bow wave carries energy away from the ship at the expense of its kinetic energy—it slows the ship down. A major goal of naval architecture is therefore to reduce the size of the bow wave and improve the ship's fuel economy. Modern ships are commonly fitted with a bulbous bow to achieve this.