Aim: Many of the current follow-up schedules in a watch-and-wait approach include very frequent MRI and endoscopy examinations to ensure early detection of local regrowth (LR). The aim of this study was to analyse the occurrence and detection of LR in a watch-and-wait cohort and to suggest a more efficient follow-up schedule. Method: Rectal cancer patients with a clinical complete response after neoadjuvant therapy were prospectively and retrospectively included in a multicentre watch-and-wait registry between 2004 and 2018, with the current follow-up schedule with 3-monthly endoscopy and MRI in the first year and 6 monthly thereafter. A theoretical comparison was constructed for the detection of LR in the current follow-up schedule against four other hypothetical schedules. Results: In all, 50/304 (16%) of patients developed a LR. The majority (98%) were detected at ≤2 years, located in the lumen (94%) and were visible on endoscopy (88%). The theoretical comparison of the different hypothetical schedules suggests that the optimal follow-up schedule should focus on the first 2 years with 3-monthly endoscopy and 3–6 monthly MRI. Longer intervals in the first 2 years will cause delays in diagnosis of LR ranging from 0 to 5 months. After 2 years, increasing the interval from 6 to 12 months did not cause important delays. Conclusion: The optimal follow-up schedule for a watch-and-wait policy in patients with a clinical complete response after chemoradiation for rectal cancer should include frequent endoscopy and to a lesser degree MRI in the first 2 years. Longer intervals, up to 12 months, can be considered after 2 years.