Naturally isolated populations have conflicting selection pressures for successful reproduction and inbreeding avoidance. These species with limited seasonal reproductive opportunities may use selfing as a means of reproductive assurance. We quantified the frequency of selfing and the fitness consequences for inbred versus outcrossed progeny of an annual kelp, the sea palm (Postelsia palmaeformis). Using experimentally established populations and microsatellite markers to assess the extent of selfing in progeny from six founding parents, we found the frequency of selfing was higher than expected in every population, and few fitness costs were detected in selfed offspring. Despite a decline in heterozygosity of 30 per cent in the first generation of selfing, self-fertilization did not affect individual size or reproduction, and correlated only with a marginally significant decline in survival. Our results suggest both that purging of deleterious recessive alleles may have already occurred and that selfing may be key to reproductive assurance in this species with limited dispersal. Postelsia has an alteration of a free-living diploid and haploid stage, where the haploid stage may provide increased efficiency for purging the genetic load. This life history is shared by many seaweeds and may thus be an important component of mating system evolution in the sea.