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By using the optical grid method the diffraction of water waves from circular and elliptic cylinders were measured and compared with theory. The scattered wave intensity S and the total energy scattered per sec per unit intensity Q were measured and the results bear out the well‐known fact that for angles less than 30 deg or in the vicinity of 180 deg, one cannot separate out the scattered wave and the incident plane wave. The optical grid method is described in detail and the advantage of its being able to measure the instantaneous field emphasized.