The development of phosphate sensors suitable for long-term in situ deployments in natural waters, is essential to improve our understanding of the distribution, fluxes, and biogeochemical role of this key nutrient in a changing ocean. Here, we describe the optimization of the molybdenum blue method for in situ work using a lab-on-chip (LOC) analyzer and evaluate its performance in the laboratory and at two contrasting field sites. The in situ performance of the LOC sensor is evaluated using hourly time-series data from a 56-day trial in Southampton Water (UK), as well as a month-long deployment in the subtropical oligotrophic waters of Kaneohe Bay (Hawaii, USA). In Kaneohe Bay, where phosphate concentrations were characteristic of the dry season (0.13 ± 0.03 μM, n = 704), the in situ sensor accuracy was 16 ± 12% and a potential diurnal cycle in phosphate concentrations was observed. In Southampton Water, the sensor data (1.02 ± 0.40 μM, n = 1,267) were accurate to ±0.10 μM relative to discrete reference samples. Hourly in situ monitoring revealed striking tidal and storm derived fluctuations in phosphate concentrations in Southampton Water that would not have been captured via discrete sampling. We show the impact of storms on phosphate concentrations in Southampton Water is modulated by the spring-neap tidal cycle and that the 10-fold decline in phosphate concentrations observed during the later stages of the deployment was consistent with the timing of a spring phytoplankton bloom in the English Channel. Under controlled laboratory conditions in a 250 L tank, the sensor demonstrated an accuracy and precision better than 10% irrespective of the salinity (0–30), turbidity (0–100 NTU), colored dissolved organic matter (CDOM) concentration (0–10 mg/L), and temperature (5–20°C) of the water (0.3–13 μM phosphate) being analyzed. This work demonstrates that the LOC technology is mature enough to quantify the influence of stochastic events on nutrient budgets and to elucidate the role of phosphate in regulating phytoplankton productivity and community composition in estuarine and coastal regimes.