In the field of ocean engineering, pile foundations are extensively used in supporting several structures. In many cases, piles are subjected to significant lateral loads. The environment prevalent in the ocean necessitates the piles to be designed for cyclic wave loading. In this investigation, the behaviour of rigid piles under cyclic lateral loading has been studied through an experimental programme carried out on model piles embedded in a soft marine clay. Static tests were also conducted on piles embedded in a clay bed prepared at different consistencies suitable to field situations. Cyclic load was applied by using a specially designed pneumatic controlled loading system. Tests were conducted on model piles made of mild steel (MS), aluminium and PVC with wide variation in pile soil relative stiffness. For cyclic load levels less than 50% of static lateral capacity, the deflections are observed to increase with number of cycles and cyclic load level and stabilise after a certain number of cycles. For cyclic load levels greater than 50% of static lateral capacity, the deflections are observed to increase enormously with number of cycles. The results of post-cyclic load tests indicate that the behaviour under static load can improve for cyclic load levels less than 40% of the static lateral capacity. The variations in the load capacity due to cyclic loading are explained in terms of the changes in strength behaviour of soil. © 1993.