This paper deals with path dependence in seaport governance. A central notion in this respect is lock-in. Economic geographers have recently started to reconsider the deterministic perspective on lock-in and developed the concept of institutional plasticity. Such plasticity is the result of actions of actors to purposefully 'recombine and convert or reinterpret institutions for their new objectives or transfer institutions to different contexts' (Strambach, 2010). This concept is applied to seaports, where so far, path dependence and lock-in have not been studied in detail. Our main conclusion is that a process of institutional stretching takes place when port authorities see a need to develop new capabilities and activities. In this process new layers are added to existing arrangements, gradually leading to a formalised governance reform but without breaking out of the existing path of development. (c) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.