A Eulerian-Lagrangian method (ELM) is employed for the simulation of wave propagation in the present research. The wave action conservation equation, instead of the wave energy balance equation, is used. The wave action is conservative and the action flux remains constant along the wave rays. The ELM correctly accounts for this physical characteristic of wave propagation and integrates the wave action spectrum along the wave rays. Thus, the total derivative for wave action spectrum may be introduced into the numerical scheme and the complicated partial differential wave action balance equation is simplified into an ordinary differential equation. A number of test cases on wave propagation are carried out and show that the present method is stable, accurate and efficient. The results are compared with analytical solutions and/or other computed results. It is shown that the ELM is superior to the first-order upwind method in accuracy, stability and efficiency and may better reflect the complicated dynamics due to the complicated bathymetry features in shallow water areas. (C) 1998 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.