An expression for the bit error rate of a multiple subcarrier intensity-modulated atmospheric optical communication system employing spatial diversity is derived. Spatial diversity is used to mitigate scintillation caused by atmospheric turbulence, which is assumed to obey lognormal distribution. Optimal but complex maximum ratio, equal gain combining (EGC) and relatively simple selection combining spatial diversity techniques in a clear atmosphere are considered. Each subcarrier is modulated using binary phase shift keying. Laser irradiance is subsequently modulated by a subcarrier signal, and a direct detection PIN receiver is employed (i.e. intensity modulation/direction detection). At a subcarrier level, coherent demodulation is used to extract the transmitted data/information. The performance of on–off-keying is also presented and compared with the subcarrier intensity modulation under the same atmospheric conditions.