This paper presents a numerical fairing procedure to be used at the preliminary design stage to create high-quality ship hull form geometry. The procedure is based on a variational optimization approach in which a fairness measure related to the surface curvature is the objective function to be minimized subject to a set of geometric constraints to ensure that the final form has the required geometric characteristics. The optimization variables are selected as the control points of a B-spline surface representing the initial hull form. A nonlinear direct search technique is employed to solve the problem. The methodology is applied for typical ship forms to indicate that, provided that the designer can specify appropriate design objectives and geometric constraints, the methodology can produce alternative hull forms with significantly improved fairing characteristics. The choice of the fairness objective function is shown to have a crucial effect on the quality of the hull surface. Highly nonlinear exact fairness functionals yield surfaces of high quality at the expense of high-computerized effort. (C) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.