Two extreme models of late Wisconsinan ice cover in Atlantic Canada and the northeastern U.S.A. are shown to produce postglacial relative sea level curves that bracket existing field observations at six sites throughout the region. This suggests that the true late Wisconsinan ice distribution is probably intermediate to the two contrasting reconstructions proposed. Both ice models predict the existence of four relative sea level zones: an innermost zone closest to the centre of glaciation in which relative sea level falls continuously throughout postglacial time; an outermost zone in which it rises continuously; and two transitional zones in which it first falls and then rises in varying proportions according to the distance from the ice margin. The distinctive forms of the relative sea level curves are probably representative of each of the zones and are unlikely to be significantly perturbed even by large local ice readvances. They, therefore, establish patterns with which future field data are expected to conform. The form that the geological record of relative sea level change is likely to take within each zone is discussed and promising settings for the collection of new data are proposed. The common practice of separating relative sea level into an isostatic and a eustatic component is analysed and shown to be incorrect as usually applied. The practice is also shown to be unnecessary because the models discussed in this paper predict changes in relative sea level that can be compared directly with the observations.