The last decade has seen an increase in the awareness of the infrared signature of naval ships. New ship designs show that infrared signature reduction measures are being incorporated, such as exhaust gas cooling systems, relocation of the exhausts and surface cooling systems. Hull and superstructure are cooled with dedicated spray systems, in addition to special paint systems that are being developed for optimum stealth. This paper presents a method to develop requirements for the emissivity of a ship's coating that reduces the contrast of the ship against its background in the wavelength band or bands of threat sensors. As this contrast strongly depends on the atmospheric environment, these requirements must follow from a detailed analysis of the infrared signature of the ship in its expected areas of operation. Weather statistics for a large number of areas have been collected to produce a series of 'standard environments'. These environments have been used to demonstrate the method of specifying coating emissivity requirements. Results are presented to show that the optimised coatings reduce the temperature contrast. The use of the standard environments yields a complete, yet concise, description of the signature of the ship over its areas of operation. The signature results illustrate the strong dependence of the infrared signature on the atmospheric environment and can be used to identify those conditions where signature reduction is most effective in reducing the ship's susceptibility to detection by IR sensors.