The impact of extreme sea ice initial conditions on modelled climate is analysed for a fully coupled atmosphere ocean sea ice general circulation model, the Hadley Centre climate model HadCM3. A control run is chosen as reference experiment with greenhouse gas concentration fixed at pre-industrial conditions. Sensitivity experiments show an almost complete recovery from total removal or strong increase of sea ice after four years. Thus, uncertainties in initial sea ice conditions seem to be unimportant for climate modelling on decadal or longer time scales. When the initial conditions of the ocean mixed layer were adjusted to ice-free conditions, a few substantial differences remained for more than 15 model years. But these differences are clearly smaller than the uncertainty of the HadCM3 run and all the other 19 IPCC fourth assessment report climate model pre-industrial runs. It is an important task to improve climate models in simulating the past sea ice variability to enable them to make reliable projections for the 21st century.