Most underwater vehicles are nowadays equipped with vision sensors. However, it is very likely that underwater images captured using optic cameras have poor visual quality due to lighting conditions in real-life applications. In such cases it is useful to apply image enhancement methods to increase visual quality of the images as well as enhance interpretability and visibility. In this paper, an Empirical Mode Decomposition (EMD) based underwater image enhancement algorithm is presented for this purpose. In the proposed approach, initially each spectral component of an underwater image is decomposed into Intrinsic Mode Functions (IMFs) using EMD. Then the enhanced image is constructed by combining the IMFs of spectral channels with different weights in order to obtain an enhanced image with increased visual quality. The weight estimation process is carried out automatically using a genetic algorithm that computes the weights of IMFs so as to optimize the sum of the entropy and average gradient of the reconstructed image. It is shown that the proposed approach provides superior results compared to conventional methods such as contrast stretching and histogram equalizing. (C) 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.