The remote marine aerosol and the cloud droplet number concentration (CDNC) are examined with an aerosol microphysics box model in an attempt to better understand the processes involved in the formation and transformation of the marine aerosol. Emission of submicrometre sea-salt and dimethylsulfide (DMS) have been included together with aerosol dynamics, gas and liquid phase chemistry and cloud processing representative for the marine boundary layer atmosphere. Our simulations are able to reproduce a bimodal submicrometre size distribution with realistic number concentrations even when new particle formation by nucleation is neglected. This indicates that ultrafine primary sea-salt flux is an important source of Aitken mode particles and CDNC. However, sulphate still constitutes 20–80% of the Aitken and accumulation mode masses. The temperature dependence of the sea-salt source function leads to a 23% decrease in total number concentration when the temperature increases from 12 to 20 °C. The influence of DMS emission on the aerosol and CDNC is minimal but the size distribution and mass concentration of sulphate is changed, mostly due to in-cloud processes. The wind speed is the dominant factor determining the CDNC, although entrainment of aerosols from free troposphere can have a substantial effect.