The release of heat from sea-ice leads is an important component of the heat budget in the Arctic, but the impact of leads on regional scale climate is difficult to assess without information on their distribution in both space and time. Remote sensing of leads using satellite data, specifically AVHRR thermal and Landsat visible imagery, is examined with respect to one lead parameter: lead width. Atmospheric effects are illustrated through the concept of thermal contrast transmittance, where the brightness temperature contrast between leads of various ice thicknesses and the surrounding multi-year ice is simulated using a radiative transfer model. Calculations are made as a function of aerosol, ice crystal precipitation, and cirrus cloud optical depths. For example, at ice crystal optical depths of more than about 1.5 under mean January conditions in the central Arctic, the brightness temperature differences between 2 m and 5 cm thick ice are similar to the ice temperature variability so that there would be insufficient contrast to distinguish a lead from the surrounding ice. The geometrical aspects of the sensor are also simulated by degrading Landsat data so that the effect of sensor field-of-view on retrieved lead width statistics can be assessed. Large leads tend to “grow” with increased pixel size while small leads disappear. Changes in lead width and orientation distributions can readily be seen.