Coastal and marine cultural heritage (CMCH) is at risk due to its location and its often indefinable value. As these risks are likely to intensify in the future, there is an urgent need to build CMCH resilience. We argue that the current CMCH risk management paradigm narrowly focuses on the present and preservation. This tends to exclude debates about the contested nature of resilience and how it may be achieved beyond a strict preservationist approach. There is a need, therefore, to progress a broader and more dynamic framing of CMCH management that recognises the shift away from strict preservationist approaches and incorporates the complexity of heritage’s socio-political contexts. Drawing on critical cultural heritage literature, we reconceptualise CMCH management by rethinking the temporality of cultural heritage. We argue that cultural heritage may exist in four socio-temporal manifestations (extant, lost, dormant, and potential) and that CMCH management consists of three broad socio-political steering processes (continuity, discontinuity, and transformation). Our reconceptualisation of CMCH management is a first step in countering the presentness trap in CMCH management. It provides a useful conceptual framing through which to understand processes beyond the preservationist approach and raises questions about the contingent and contested nature of CMCH, ethical questions around loss and transformation, and the democratisation of cultural heritage management.