Marine spatial planning and conservation need underpinning with sufficiently detailed and accurate seabed substrate and habitat maps. Although multibeam echosounders enable us to map the seabed with high resolution and spatial accuracy, there is still a lack of fit-for-purpose seabed maps. This is due to the high costs involved in carrying out systematic seabed mapping programmes and the fact that the development of validated, repeatable, quantitative and objective methods of swath acoustic data interpretation is still in its infancy. We compared a wide spectrum of approaches including manual interpretation, geostatistics, object-based image analysis and machine-learning to gain further insights into the accuracy and comparability of acoustic data interpretation approaches based on multibeam echosounder data (bathymetry, backscatter and derivatives) and seabed samples with the aim to derive seabed substrate maps. Sample data were split into a training and validation data set to allow us to carry out an accuracy assessment. Overall thematic classification accuracy ranged from 67% to 76% and Cohen's kappa varied between 0.34 and 0.52. However, these differences were not statistically significant at the 5% level. Misclassifications were mainly associated with uncommon classes, which were rarely sampled. Map outputs were between 68% and 87% identical. To improve classification accuracy in seabed mapping, we suggest that more studies on the effects of factors affecting the classification performance as well as comparative studies testing the performance of different approaches need to be carried out with a view to developing guidelines for selecting an appropriate method for a given dataset. In the meantime, classification accuracy might be improved by combining different techniques to hybrid approaches and multi-method ensembles. © 2014.
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