This article plots waves of maritime-associated artwork in Russia from the present to the mid-nineteenth century. Through analysis of distinguishing sudno [vessel] qualities, it is suggested that they collectively convey an expressive form of undulating surge–retreat cycles that correlates with the action of the sea. The forces at play in this are aesthetic, existential and political as well as historical. Each wave is an overturn of its (more-or-less) chronological predecessor, the turn being marked by significant shifts in moment, medium and meanings. Hence passage is piloted from the installations and happenings of the Emplacements event in and around a navy ship test tank in 2000 (wave 9), through Tsereteli’s vast metal Russian fleet monument (wave 8), Konenkov’s concrete and wooden celebration of the Cossack freebooter Stenka Razin (wave 7), Soviet walrus ivory carving (wave 6), Tatlin’s maritime theatre sets (wave 5), Miturich’s ‘waver’ construction designs (wave 4), a late-Tsarist memorial to tragic shipwreck (Izenberg’s Steregushchiy) (wave 3), and the marine decoration of Kronstadt Naval Cathedral (wave 2), to Pimenov’s ship figureheads of c.1860 (wave 1).