The actuator disc is a useful method for parameterising a tidal stream turbine in a solution of the Reynolds-averaged Navier–Stokes equations. An actuator disc is a region where similar forces are applied to a flow as would be imposed by a turbine. It is useful where large-scale flow characteristics are of interest, such as the far wake, free surface effects, or installation of multi-turbine arrays. This study compares the characteristics of the wake of an actuator disc, modelled using a steady solution to the Reynolds-averaged Navier–Stokes (RANS) simulated equations, with the k–ω shear stress transport (SST) turbulence model, to experimental data measured behind discs of various porosities. The results show that the wake of the experimental and modelled discs has similar characteristics; in both model and experiment, velocity in the near wake decreased as thrust coefficient increased. However, the near wake region in the experiment was shorter than simulated in the model because of near wake turbulence. This, combined with lower ambient turbulence levels in the model, meant that the far wake recovered further downstream, while showing similar overall trends in velocity and turbulence intensity.