A fully-submerged bottom-standing 1.5 MW wave energy converter (WEC) equipped with a membrane-pump system is under development for installation at a test site off the coast of Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK. The system comprises several flexible-membrane air cells that are compressed and sucked by the action of the waves, rectifying valves, low-pressure and high-pressure ducts, and a unidirectional air turbine that drives an electrical generator. This two-part paper reports the design and testing of an effective control law to be implemented into the programmable logic controller of the membrane-pump turbine-generator set, allowing efficient and safe operation for the wave climate at the Pembrokeshire test site. Part 1 of this paper concerns developing the design strategy of the control laws, the numerical model, and the performance evaluation of the WEC power take-off system. A genetic algorithm is used to design control laws to maximise each sea state's WEC time-average efficiency. An adaptive control algorithm is devised by cross-correlating the control laws parameters and the rotational speed. The final result is a control law that uses input the rotational speed signal and airflow density. It adapts to the sea state conditions while maximising the time-average total efficiency of the membrane-pump WEC for deployment off the Pembrokeshire coast.