A novel sampling device suitable for continuous, unattended field monitoring of rapid isotopic changes in environmental waters is described. The device utilises diffusion through porous PTFE tubing to deliver water vapour continuously from a liquid water source for analysis of δ18O and δD values by Cavity Ring-Down Spectrometry (CRDS). Separation of the analysed water vapour from non-volatile dissolved and particulate contaminants in the liquid sample minimises spectral interferences associated with CRDS analyses of many aqueous samples. Comparison of isotopic data for a range of water samples analysed by Diffusion Sampling-CRDS (DS-CRDS) and Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry (IRMS) shows significant linear correlations between the two methods allowing for accurate standardisation of DS-CRDS data. The internal precision for an integration period of 3 min (standard deviation (SD) = 0.1 ‰ and 0.3 ‰ for δ18O and δD values, respectively) is similar to analysis of water by CRDS using an autosampler to inject and evaporate discrete water samples. The isotopic effects of variable air temperature, water vapour concentration, water pumping rate and dissolved organic content were found to be either negligible or correctable by analysis of water standards. The DS-CRDS system was used to analyse the O and H isotope composition in short-lived rain events. Other applications where finely time resolved water isotope data may be of benefit include recharge/discharge in groundwater/river systems and infiltration-related changes in cave drip water. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.