Tidal and wave energy devices are often discussed as a future contributor to the UK’s energy mix. Indeed, marine energy resources are said to have the potential to supply up to 20 per cent of the nation’s electricity demand. However, these technologies are currently at the development stage and make no meaningful contribution to the national grid. A number of devices have been developed, but no single method has emerged as the leading technology. This paper aims to compare two promising devices, one wave device and one tidal device, and assess the life cycle properties of each. A life cycle assessment of the Oyster wave energy device was conducted as part of this study, and a comparison of this and the SeaGen marine current turbine was undertaken. In both cases a ‘cradle-to-grave’ assessment was carried out, calculating emissions from materials, fabrication, transport, installation, lifetime maintenance, and decommissioning (including recycling). The SeaGen tidal device was calculated to have an energy payback period of 14 months, and a CO2 payback period of 8 months. The equivalent figures for the Oyster device were 12 and 8 months, respectively. The respective energy and carbon intensities for the two devices were 214 kJ/kWh and 15 gCO2/kWh for the SeaGen and 236 kJ/kWh and 25 gCO2/kWh for the Oyster. The calculated intensities and payback periods are close to those of established wind turbine technologies, and low relative to the 400–1000 g CO2/kWh of typical fossil fuel generation. With further developments in construction and deployment efficiency these intensities are expected to fall, so the devices appear to have the potential to offer a viable contribution to the UK’s future energy mix.