The future of sequence stratigraphy depends on stratigraphers making observations with a common method so that physical frameworks can be clearly separated from interpretations of driving mechanisms. Depositional sequence boundary selection is a well-known controversy that could be resolved with objective recognition criteria. Accommodation succession sequence stratigraphy refines traditional methods, using sedimentary facies, facies associations, vertical stacking, stratal geometries and stratal terminations as the objective record of competing rates of accommodation change and sediment fill through time. Observations are placed in context of lateral (transgression and regression) and vertical (aggradation and degradation) movement of shoreline through time, across multiple timescales in hierarchal stacks. The repeating motif consists of a subaerial unconformity and its correlative subaqueous surface overlain in coastal settings by a basinward shift in coastal onlap and strata with progradational to aggradation stacking, then retrogradation and aggradation–progradation–degradation stacking. These stacking patterns are bounded by key surfaces, recognized by stratal terminations and characteristic vertical successions of facies. This pattern is independent of time duration or position on a sea-level curve, but incorporates data resolution, regional extent and hierarchal stacking. Examples from multiple datasets show the utility and objectivity of the method and provide insights into sequence boundary formation.