Acoustic systems may provide suitable underwater communications because sound propagates well in water. However, the maximum data transmission rates of these systems in shallow littoral waters are ∼10 kilobits per second (kbps) which may be achieved only at ranges of less than 100 m. Although underwater (u/w) wireless optical communications systems can have even shorter ranges due to greater attenuation of light propagating through water, they may provide higher bandwidth (up to several hundred kbps) communications as well as covertness. To exploit these potential advantages, we consider the basic design issues for u/w optical communications systems in this paper. In addition to the basic physics of u/w optical communications with environmental noise, we consider system performance with some state-of-the-art commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components which have promise for placing u/w optical communications systems in a small package with low power consumption and weight. We discuss light sources which show promise for u/w optical transmitters such as laser diodes (LDs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs). Laser diodes with their output frequency shifted into the 500- to 650-nm range can emit more energy per pulse than LEDs but are more expensive. Currently, LEDs emit substantial amounts of light and are typically very inexpensive. Also, COTS photodiodes can be used as detectors which can respond to pulses several nanoseconds wide. Transmitter broadcast angles and detector fields of view (FOVs) with pointing considerations are discussed. If the transmitter broadcast angle and the detector FOV are both narrow, the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of the received pulse is higher but the pointing accuracy of transmitter and receiver is critical. If, however, the transmitter broadcast angle and/or the detector FOV is wide, pointing is less critical but SNR is lower and some covertness may be lost. The propagation of the transmitted light in various clear oceanic and turbid coastal water types is considered with range estimates for some COTS light sources and detectors. We also consider the effects of environmental noise such as background solar radiation, which typically limits performance of these systems.