Low-tide elevations and artificial islands have received less attention than islands ‘proper’. The article examines the evolution of the law of the sea applicable to such features, providing a contextual background for controversial contemporary state practice relating to their treatment. It includes a detailed case study of how the policies of one major maritime power, the United Kingdom, were formulated, adapted and refined in the face of fast-changing international legal norms and pressing regional concerns. In particular Britain’s consideration of the entitlement of artificial islands in the Persian Gulf during the early 1950s and the question of whether low-tide elevations could be occupied a few years later in the Caribbean region are examined. Subsequent clarifications of relevant positions in international law concerning sovereignty claims to and maritime claims from low-tide elevations and artificial islands are discussed.