A practical method of data assimilation for use with large, nonlinear, ocean general circulation models is explored. A Kaiman filter based on approximations of the state error covariance matrix is presented, employing a reduction of the effective model dimension, the error's asymptotic steady state limit, and a time-invariant linearization of the dynamic model for the error integration. The approximations lead to dramatic computational savings in applying estimation theory to large complex systems. We examine the utility of the approximate filter in assimilating different measurement types using a twin experiment of an idealized Gulf Stream. A nonlinear primitive equation model of an unstable east-west jet is studied with a state dimension exceeding 170,000 elements. Assimilation of various pseudomeasurements are examined, including velocity, density, and volume transport at localized arrays and realistic distributions of satellite altimetry and acoustic tomography observations. Results are compared in terms of their effects on the accuracies of the estimation. The approximate filter is shown to outperform an empirical nudging scheme used in a previous study. The examples demonstrate that useful approximate estimation errors can be computed in a practical manner for general circulation models.