Forces play diverse roles in vascular development, homeostasis and disease. VE-cadherin at endothelial cell-cell junctions links the contractile acto-myosin cytoskeletons of adjacent cells, serving as a tension-transducer. To explore tensile changes across VE-cadherin in live zebrafish, we tailored an optical biosensor approach, originally established in vitro. We validate localization and function of a VE-cadherin tension sensor (TS) in vivo. Changes in tension across VE-cadherin observed using ratio-metric or lifetime FRET measurements reflect acto-myosin contractility within endothelial cells. Furthermore, we apply the TS to reveal biologically relevant changes in VE-cadherin tension that occur as the dorsal aorta matures and upon genetic and chemical perturbations during embryonic development.