An empirical model is constructed for the development and equilibrium dimensions of small scale, unidirectional bedforms in sand with a median grain size of 0·095 mm, based on a series of steady flow experiments in a flume. Current ripples always attain a linguoid plan morphology with constant average height (13·1 mm) and wavelength (115·7 mm), provided that sufficient time is allowed for their formation. The development pattern of these ripples on a flat bed is independent of flow velocity, and involves four stages: (1) incipient ripples; (2) straight and sinuous ripples; (3) non-equilibrium linguoid ripples, and (4) equilibrium linguoid ripples. Straight and sinuous ripples are non-equilibrium bedforms at all flow velocities. The time needed to reach equilibrium dimensions is related to the inverse power of flow velocity and ranges from several minutes to more than hundreds of hours. At flow velocities where washed ripples are stable, the equilibrium wavelength is similar to that of equilibrium linguoid ripples, but the equilibrium height rapidly decreases from 13·1 mm to zero towards upper stage plane bed conditions.

The results of the flume experiments correspond reasonably well with those of previous studies, provided that various complicating factors, such as different experimental methods, different sediment characteristics, shallow flow depths and non-equilibrium runs, are accounted for.