Modal decomposition techniques are used to analyse the wake field past a marine propeller achieved by previous numerical simulations (Muscari et al. Comput. Fluids, vol. 73, 2013, pp. 65–79). In particular, proper orthogonal decomposition (POD) and dynamic mode decomposition (DMD) are used to identify the most energetic modes and those that play a dominant role in the inception of the destabilization mechanisms. Two different operating conditions, representative of light and high loading conditions, are considered. The analysis shows a strong dependence of temporal and spatial scales of the process on the propeller loading and correlates the spatial shape of the modes and the temporal scales with the evolution and destabilization mechanisms of the wake past the propeller. At light loading condition, due to the stable evolution of the wake, both POD and DMD describe the flow field by the non-interacting evolution of the tip and hub vortex. The flow is mainly associated with the ordered convection of the tip vortex and the corresponding dominant modes, identified by both decompositions, are characterized by spatial wavelengths and frequencies related to the blade passing frequency and its multiples, whereas the dynamic of the hub vortex has a negligible contribution. At high loading condition, POD and DMD identify a marked separation of the flow field close to the propeller and in the far field, as a consequence of wake breakdown. The tonal modes are prevalent only near to the propeller, where the flow is stable; on the contrary, in the transition region a number of spatial and temporal scales appear. In particular, the phenomenon of destabilization of the wake, originated by the coupling of consecutive tip vortices, and the mechanisms of hub–tip vortex interaction and wake meandering are identified by both POD and DMD.