Representation of the drop size distribution (DSD) of rainfall is a key element of characterizing precipitation in models and observations, with a functional form necessary to calculate the precipitation flux and the drops’ interaction with radiation. With newly available oceanic disdrometer measurements, this study investigates the validity of commonly used DSDs, potentially useful a priori constraints for retrievals, and the impacts of DSD variability on radiative transfer. These data are also compared with leading satellite-based estimates over ocean, with the disdrometers observing a larger number of small drops and significantly more variability in number concentrations. This indicates that previous appraisals of raindrop variability over ocean may have been underestimates. Forward model errors due to DSD variability are shown to be significant for both active and passive sensors. The modified gamma distribution is found to be generally adequate to describe rain DSDs but may cause systematic errors for high-latitude or stratocumulus rain retrievals. Depending on the application, an exponential or generalized gamma function may be preferable for representing oceanic DSDs. An unsupervised classification algorithm finds a variety of DSD shapes that differ from commonly used DSDs but does not find a singular set that best describes the global variability.