We compared the governance of flood risk in England and the Netherlands, focusing on the general policies, instruments used and underlying principles. Both physical and political environments are important in explaining how countries evolved towards very different rationales of resilience. Answering questions as ‘who decides’, ‘who should act’ and ‘who is responsible and liable for flood damage’ systematically, results in a quite fundamental difference in what resilience means, and how this affects the governance regime. In the Netherlands, there is nationwide collective regime with a technocracy based on the merit of water expertise, legitimated by a social contract of government being responsible and the general public accepting and supporting this. In England there also is a technocracy, but this is part of a general-political and economic-rational decision-making process, with responsibilities spread over state, insurance companies, individuals and communities. The rationales are connected to specific conceptions of the public interest, leading to specific governance principles. In both countries, flood risk strategies are discussed in the light of climate change effects, but resilience strategies show more persistence, although combined with gradual adaptation of practices on lower scales, than great transformations.