This paper presents the application of a statistical method for model structure selection of lift-drag and viscous damping components in ship manoeuvring models. The damping model is posed as a family of linear stochastic models, which is postulated based on previous work in the literature. Then a nested test of hypothesis problem is considered. The testing reduces to a recursive comparison of two competing models, for which optimal tests in the Neyman sense exist. The method yields a preferred model structure and its initial parameter estimates. Alternatively, the method can give a reduced set of likely models. Using simulated data we study how the selection method performs when there is both uncorrelated and correlated noise in the measurements. The first case is related to instrumentation noise, whereas the second case is related to spurious wave-induced motion often present during sea trials. We then consider the model structure selection of a modern high-speed trimaran ferry from full scale trial data.