In this introduction to a special section of the September 2019 issue of International Affairs, we revisit the main themes and arguments of our article ‘Beyond seablindness: a new agenda for maritime security studies’, published in this journal in November 2017. We reiterate our call for more scholarly attention to be paid to the maritime environment in international relations and security studies. We argue that the contemporary maritime security agenda should be understood as an interlinked set of challenges of growing global, regional and national significance, and comprising issues of national, environmental, economic and human security. We suggest that maritime security is characterized by four main characteristics, including its interconnected nature, its transnationality, its liminality—in the sense of implicating both land and sea—and its national and institutional cross-jurisdictionality. Each of the five articles in the special section explores aspects of the contemporary maritime security agenda, including themes of geopolitics, international law, interconnectivity, maritime security governance and the changing spatial order at sea.