We present a new 300-year sea-level reconstruction from a salt marsh on the Isle of Wight (central English Channel, UK) that we compare to other salt-marsh and long tide-gauge records to examine spatial and temporal variability in sea-level change in the North Atlantic. Our new reconstruction identifies an overall rise in relative sea level (RSL) of c. 0.30 m since the start of the eighteenth century at a rate of 0.9 ± 0.3 mmyr -1. Error-in-variables changepoint analysis indicates that there is no statistically significant deviation from a constant rate within the dataset. The reconstruction is broadly comparable to other tide-gauge and salt-marsh records from the European Atlantic, demonstrating coherence in sea level in this region over the last 150-300 years. In contrast, we identify significant differences in the rate and timing of RSL with records from the east coast of North America. The absence of a strong late 19th/early 20th century RSL acceleration contrasts with that recorded in salt marsh sediments along the eastern USA coastline, in particular in a well-dated and precise sea-level reconstruction from North Carolina. This suggests that this part of the North Carolina sea level record represents a regionally specific sea level acceleration. This is significant because the North Carolina record has been used as if it were globally representative within semi-empirical parameterisations of past and future sea-level change. We conclude that regional-scale differences of sea-level change highlight the value of using several, regionally representative RSL records when calibrating and testing semi-empirical models of sea level against palaeo-records. This is because by using records that potentially over-estimate sea-level rise in the past such models risk over-estimating sea-level rise in the future. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.