A method is proposed to design a new global controller that forces an underactuated ship to follow a reference path under disturbances induced by wave, wind and ocean-current. The controller is designed such that the ship moves on the path with an adjustable forward speed and its total velocity is tangential to the path. The ship under consideration is not actuated in the sway axis, and the mass and damping matrices are not assumed to be diagonal. Nonlinear damping terms are also included to cover both low- and high-speed applications. The new result is facilitated by choosing an appropriate origin of the body-fixed frame, designing a suitable filter of sway velocity, several nonlinear coordinate changes, the backstepping technique, and utilizing the ship dynamic structure. Experimental results on a model ship illustrate the effectiveness of the proposed method. (C) 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.