Suction buckets are a promising foundation solution for offshore wind energy systems. The bearing behavior of monopod buckets under drained monotonic loading in very dense and medium dense sand is investigated in this study by means of numerical simulation with the finite element method. Special focus is given to the ultimate capacity and the initial stiffness of the bucket-soil foundation system. The numerical model is validated by comparison with field test results. The bearing behavior of the structure is explained through an evaluation of a reference system. It is shown that the bucket experiences a heave during horizontal loading. which leads to the formation of a gap between the bucket lid and the soil with increasing load. At large loads and rotations close to failure of the system there is no contact between lid and soil, and the whole load is transferred to the soil via the bucket skirt. A parametric study shows how the ultimate capacity and initial stiffness of the system depend on the bucket dimensions and loading conditions, i.e. load eccentricity. Normalized equations for ultimate capacity and initial stiffness are derived from the numerical simulation results, which can be used in the scope of a preliminary design for buckets in sand. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.