Abstract Prediction of coastal processes, including waves, currents, and sediment transport, can be obtained from a variety of detailed geophysical-process models with many simulations showing significant skill. This capability supports a wide range of research and applied efforts that can benefit from accurate numerical predictions. However, the predictions are only as accurate as the data used to drive the models and, given the large temporal and spatial variability of the surf zone, inaccuracies in data are unavoidable such that useful predictions require corresponding estimates of uncertainty. We demonstrate how a Bayesian-network model can be used to provide accurate predictions of wave-height evolution in the surf zone given very sparse and/or inaccurate boundary-condition data. The approach is based on a formal treatment of a data-assimilation problem that takes advantage of significant reduction of the dimensionality of the model system. We demonstrate that predictions of a detailed geophysical model of the wave evolution are reproduced accurately using a Bayesian approach. In this surf-zone application, forward prediction skill was 83%, and uncertainties in the model inputs were accurately transferred to uncertainty in output variables. We also demonstrate that if modeling uncertainties were not conveyed to the Bayesian network (i.e., perfect data or model were assumed), then overly optimistic prediction uncertainties were computed. More consistent predictions and uncertainties were obtained by including model-parameter errors as a source of input uncertainty. Improved predictions (skill of 90%) were achieved because the Bayesian network simultaneously estimated optimal parameters while predicting wave heights.