We present results from a laboratory tank study of ice growing from saline water in a wave field, focusing on the transition from a predominantly frazil/grease-ice cover to a pancake-ice cover. Combining surface temperature observations with direct and indirect determinations of ice salinity and solid fraction, we describe the evolution of frazil- and pancake-ice area fraction, salinity and solid-ice volume fraction over the course of 1 day. In the investigated stage of transition, frazil ice surrounding the pancakes was found to have rather constant properties: a surface temperature 0.4–0.6 K below the freezing point of the underlying sea water, a salinity of 24–26 g kg–1 and a solid volume fraction of 0.25–0.29. the average salinity of young pancake ice, estimated from heat and salt budgets, decreased from 18 to 15 g kg–1, while average solid volume fractions increased from 0.6 to 0.7. the transition from frazil to pancake is estimated to take place when solid fractions reach 0.37–0.40 and surface temperatures are 0.7–0.9 K below the freezing point. We find that, for proper modelling of the grease–pancake system, it is important to distinguish between a surface and volumetric fraction of pancakes and grease ice.