The magnitude and distribution of net primary production (NPP) in the coastal ocean remains poorly constrained, particularly for shallow marine vegetation. Here, using a compilation of in situ annual NPP measurements across >400 sites in 72 geographic ecoregions, we provide global predictions of the productivity of seaweed habitats, which form the largest vegetated coastal biome on the planet. We find that seaweed NPP is strongly coupled to climatic variables, peaks at temperate latitudes, and is dominated by forests of large brown seaweeds. Seaweed forests exhibit exceptionally high per-area production rates (a global average of 656 and 1711 gC m−2 year−1 in the subtidal and intertidal, respectively), being up to 10 times higher than coastal phytoplankton in temperate and polar seas. Our results show that seaweed NPP is a strong driver of production in the coastal ocean and call for its integration in the oceanic carbon cycle, where it has traditionally been overlooked.