A primary purpose of this paper is to quantitatively link variously defined and derived shoreline estimates commonly used for shoreline change analysis. Estimates of shoreline mapping and derivation error, natural shoreline variability, and the relationships between horizontally-derived (proxy-based) shorelines to vertical datums (e.g. MHW) are presented. A series of shoreline repeatability and variability experiments as well as data from a beach monitoring program along the high-energy US Pacific Northwest coast, indicate total uncertainty estimates of the horizontal position of proxy-based shorelines to be approximately ?? 50-150 m for T-sheets and aerial photography and approximately ?? 15 m for datum-based shorelines derived from ground- or air-based topographic surveys. The ability to obtain reliable shoreline change results depends upon both the selected shoreline definition (e.g. horizontal- or feature-based proxy, or datum-based intercept) and the accuracy of the technique used in mapping or interpreting its position. The position of the selected shoreline on the beach profile determines its inherent temporal and spatial variability, an important consideration that has often been overlooked in the scientific literature on shoreline change, Historical shorelines mapped on NOS T-sheets and aerial photos have commonly identified high water line (HWL)-type shorelines, which are shown to be higher on the beach surface than the MHW-datum intercept along coasts subject to wave runup. Analyses of 4.5 years of beach profile data from the southwest Washington coast suggest that both the MHW and HWL-type shorelines have greater natural short-term variability than expected, significantly greater than the variability of shoreline proxies defined farther landward and higher on the beach profile. A model for determining the natural variability of HWL-type shorelines reveals that this short-term variability is the dominant factor in the large total uncertainty values associated with shorelines derived from T-sheets and aerial photographs. The results of these analyses and quantitative comparisons are relevant to determining the significance of historical shoreline changes, as well as to defining the appropriate shoreline proxy or datum and time scale for future shoreline change analysis.