Baptised on 18 December 1633 in Leiden, the son of the marine artist Willem van de Velde the elder (1611-93). By 1636 the family had moved to Amsterdam. He was probably a pupil of Simon de Vlieger from c.1648 at Weesp, but had returned to Amsterdam by the time of his first marriage in 1652. His earliest known dated picture is of 1651. He shared a studio with his father in the Nieuwe Waalseiland concentrating apparently on oil paintings, while his father made grisailles or 'pen pictures', and went to sea to sketch ships and naval manoeuvres.
His younger brother, Adriaen van de Velde, was also involved with the studio (The Embarkation of Charles II at Scheveningen). In 1672/3 he moved with his father to London where they worked for Charles II and the Duke of York, their Royal commissions including tapestry designs as well as paintings. They lived first at Greenwich, where they had a studio in the Queen's House, and moved in 1691 to Westminster. He was buried alongside his father on 11 April 1707 in St James's, Piccadilly.