Wave energy converter (WEC) devices harness the renewable ocean wave energy and convert it into useful forms of energy, e.g. mechanical or electrical. This paper presents an advanced 3D computational framework to study the interaction between water waves and WEC devices. The computational tool solves the full Navier–Stokes equations and considers all important effects impacting the device performance. To enable large-scale simulations in fast turnaround times, the computational solver was developed in an MPI parallel framework. A fast multigrid preconditioned solver is introduced to solve the computationally expensive pressure Poisson equation. The computational solver was applied to two surface-piercing WEC geometries: bottom-hinged cylinder and flap. Their numerically simulated response was validated against experimental data. Additional simulations were conducted to investigate the applicability of Froude scaling in predicting full-scale WEC response from the model experiments. © 2017 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.