Confédération Mondiale des Activités Subaquatiques (aka World Underwater Federation in its rarely-used English form), universally known by its abbreviation CMAS, is an umbrella organization for national diving clubs. The key difference between CMAS and the largest diving association PADI is that CMAS operates on a purely amateur basis, so CMAS members are local clubs, not dive shops.


CMAS was founded on January 9, 1959 by the national diving organizations of the Federal Republic of Germany, Belgium, Brazil, France, Greece, Italy, Monaco, Portugal, Switzerland, the United States of America and Yugoslavia. Over the years, nearly all national diving organizations from all over the world have joined up, but CMAS remains most active and best known in Europe.


Since CMAS is effectively a volunteer organization for hobbyists, its courses tend to more demanding and longer in duration than those offered by commercial diving organizations like PADI, which are geared towards getting the tourist on a one-week vacation to learn the ropes and do simple dives. CMAS courses are heavy on theory as well as practice, and involve gobs of physics, anatomy and technology.

CMAS certifications are based on a star system. The basic rating, CMAS *, allows the diver to dive in a buddy pair and go to a depth of 20 meters. CMAS ** divers can head a buddy pair and dive to 30 meters. CMAS *** divers can lead complex dives (including related skills like seamanship). The highest rating, CMAS ****, is a purely honorary degree that can be awarded at the discretion of the national club.

National qualifications in CMAS member countries are always based on the CMAS star system, but may include additional limits or skills. For example, the Finnish P1 (CMAS *) rating has a limit of only 15 meters (due to the coldness and very limited visibility of Finnish waters), and getting a P2 (CMAS **) rating requires drysuit training.


Relations between CMAS and PADI have been strained at times, but in January 1997 the two buried the hatchet and published an agreement to allow cross-training between the two systems. The table is as follows:


CMAS * → Advanced Open Water
CMAS * w/ 9 dives → Rescue Diver
CMAS ** → Dive Master


Open Water w/ 5 dives → CMAS **
Advanced Open Water → CMAS **
Rescue Diver w/ 25 dives → CMAS ***


So the agreement does not actually spell out equivalence (eg. a CMAS * diver cannot march up to the nearest PADI shop and demand their AOW certificate), it only specifies the level need to train up in the next system. So now a CMAS ** diver can become a Dive Master without being a Rescue Diver, and a AOW diver can get a CMAS ** rating without a CMAS * along the way.

My Two Eurocents

My initial scuba qualification was CMAS *, in the lovely warm and crystal clear waters of the Baltic Sea in May. (Daily routine for our final week-long boot camp: sleep in unheated house, roll out of sleeping bag, put on a still-soaked wetsuit, and jump into the toasty 8°C sea. Repeat.) But after 14 hours of theory, 10 hours of pool practice and 5 real dives in Finland, diving in more optimal conditions was astonishingly easy. Since then, I've dived in Egypt, Malta, and Malaysia, and my CMAS card has always been recognized, if occasionally with surprise -- they seem to be regarded as positive exceptions to the usual "I did my PADI OW course 5 years ago on my honeymoon and I'd like to dive again, now which way around do I put the BCD?" types that seem to populate tropical beaches.

All in all, I would recommend CMAS over PADI for your initial certification if you have the luxury of choice, they do a much more thorough job and it is your ass on the line after all. But pick and choose once you're got your C-card; I, for one, have yet to find a place that could get me to CMAS ** in a reasonable amount of time without involving sub-ice Finnish drysuit fun.

References, the hideous official CMAS site
Personal experience (CMAS *)

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