Abstract Understanding the fate and effects of marine spills is essential if the scientific and response communities are to develop best practices. The effective deployment of environmental monitoring activity can be complex and requires planning and coordination but the levels of preparedness to deliver the necessary expertise, coordination and funding are often low. This paper identifies and describes the importance of 8 principles of effective post-spill monitoring programmes. These principles are then used in the assessment of monitoring preparedness through the generation of a monitoring preparedness assessment score (MPAS). This approach can be used by local, regional or national authorities to establish the level of preparedness for environmental monitoring and prioritise areas for improvement. It also has value to responders, policy makers, environmental scientists and planners as a tool to assess preparedness and capability for specific scenarios. The approach is demonstrated through the assessment of previous incidents and potential future scenarios.