In this paper, the performance of the incompressible SPH (ISPH) method and an improved weakly compressible SPH (IWCSPH) method for free surface incompressible flows are compared and analyzed. In both methods, the Navier–Stokes equations are solved, and no artificial viscosity is used. The ISPH algorithm in this paper is based on the classical SPH projection method with common treatments on solid boundaries and free surfaces. The IWCSPH model includes some advanced corrective algorithms in density approximation and solid boundary treatment (SBT). In density approximation, the moving least squares (MLS) approach is applied to re-initialize density every several steps to obtain smoother and more stable pressure fields. An improved coupled dynamic SBT algorithm is implemented to obtain stable pressure values near solid wall areas and, thus, to minimize possible numerical oscillations brought in by the solid boundaries. Three representative numerical examples, including a benchmark test for hydrostatic pressure, a dam breaking problem and a liquid sloshing problem, are comparatively analyzed with ISPH and IWCSPH. It is demonstrated that the present IWCSPH is more attractive than ISPH in modeling free surface incompressible flows as it is more accurate and more stable with comparable or even less computational efforts. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.