Scuba diving in France: things to know before you go

Like for many things, French like to do it differently. Scuba diving is, unfortunately, one of those things that don’t work in the same way the rest of the world does. This article is not meant to judge whether it is a good thing or not. It is a practical guide if you intend to visit France with scuba diving in mind, or if you live in France but you trained abroad, and you would like to explore the best dive sites in France, from French Riviera to overseas territories of the Pacific Ocean.

 

Understand PA & PE equivalences

Wreck diving in Le Lavandou France

What does PA mean? “Plongeur Autonome” = Autonomous Diver

What does PE mean? “Plongeur Encadré” = Supervised Diver (with a Divemaster or an Instructor)

What does the number 12, 20, 40 mean? It is maximum depth in meters the diver is allowed to in the PA or PE case

In France, you do not necessarily do fun dives with a Divemaster, hence the different cases. If you request to have a guided dive, it usually comes at an additional cost.

However, according to the classification below, you may dive deeper depending on your scuba diving certification level:

 

PA case, without a dive leader

  • PA12: Autonomous Diver who can go down to 12 m maximum without a dive leader or an instructor. You can be granted PA12 in France if you are a certified PADI (or equivalent) Scuba Diver.
  • PA20: Autonomous Diver who can go down to 20 m maximum without a dive leader or an instructor. You can be granted PA20 in France if you are at least a certified PADI (or equivalent) Open Water Diver.
  • PA40: Autonomous Diver who can go down to 40 m maximum without a dive leader or an instructor. You can be granted PA40 in France if you are at least a certified PADI (or equivalent) Advanced Open Water Diver + Deep Specialty.

PE case, with a dive leader

  • PE20: Supervised Diver who can go down to 20 m maximum with a dive leader or an instructor. You can be granted PE20 in France if you are a certified PADI (or equivalent) Scuba Diver.
  • PE40: Supervised Diver who can go down to 40 m maximum with a dive leader or an instructor. You can be granted PE40 in France if you are at least a certified PADI (or equivalent) Open Water Diver.

Sources: [only available in French] Art. A322-77 French Sports Law

 

In my case as a PADI Divemaster with a Deep Specialty, I am considered as a PA40, but any new Dive Director I meet needs to confirm it. I recommend having your scuba diving logbook up-to-date and a positive attitude. For information, PADI (or equivalent) Divemasters cannot lead dives in France, and PADI (or equivalent) Instructors cannot teach in France.

When I say France, it means its main territory in Europe with Corsica, its overseas territories in the Caribbean & South America (Martinique, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Guyana) and the Indian Ocean (Reunion Island, Mayotte). New Caledonia and French Polynesia Sports Laws are based on the French Sports Law but have more flexible arrangements. In New Caledonia, I can be allowed to lead a dive as a PADI Divemaster for instance.

Sources: [only available in French] Deliberation 307 New Caledonia Sports LawDecree 199 French Polynesia Sports Law

 

Understand liability release does not exist in France

Scuba diving in Cavalaire France

Scuba diving is ruled by the Sports Law in France. It gives the person in charge of the dive, called the Dive Director, all the responsibility for what will happen during the whole time of the dive. So you will never sign any liability release in France, the scuba diving centre is entirely responsible for you.

Based on this principle, it is essential to understand that this Dive Director will not take any unnecessary risk if he does not know the level of a scuba diver he never met before. So don’t be shocked if you are not immediately granted the equivalence explained below or ask to go first on an easier dive for observation.

Please try to be understanding. At any time, coast guards can come and stop the boat, ask everyone’s dive computer to check the maximum depth of each diver and compare it with the roll. If anyone went below his authorised depth, the Dive Director is held responsible and can be fined.

Sources: [only available in French] Art. A322-72 French Sports Law

 

Don’t forget to bring a medical statement from your doctor

Florine Scuba diving in Toulon France

One important point that nobody will ever tell you : most of the time you will be asked for a medical statement from your GP / Doctor saying you are fit for scuba diving. You will need to show this document before going on your first dive. This is not a legal requirement, but since the Dive Director, as explained above, is fully responsible for you, he/she usually wants to take this risk away by asking this mediacal statement.

If you have no idea what it should look like, you can use this medical form made by PADI.

Surprisingly, I have never been asked to show my scuba diving insurance. I heard many people stating if we have a diving accident in France, we will be covered by Social Security, which is true to some extent when you have a good health complementary insurance (people living and working in France have this included in their salary package). Make your life easier: always have a valid scuba diving insurance!

  • If you are an EU citizen, make sure to ask your European health insurance card.
  • If you are not an EU citizen, make sure to have a scuba diving insurance.

 

The best places to go scuba diving in France

Scuba diving in Sète France

Based on the regulation explained above, you should be able to dive anywhere. However, there is a difference between theory and practice. To be honest, popular areas with foreign tourists will be your best bet to make your life easier. My recommendations are :

  • French Riviera, the Mediterranean coast from Hyères to Menton in the south of France
  • Martinique, Guadeloupe in the Caribbean
  • New Caledonia, French Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean

For areas such as Northern France and Normandy unfortunately, all scuba diving centres are associative clubs affiliated with the French Scuba diving Federation (FFESSM, equivalent to BSAC in the UK), and it will be hard, almost impossible to go diving there if you do not know someone.

For further details, have a look at my blog posts about travelling and scuba diving in France:

 

Can you scuba dive in France if you don’t speak French?

Diamond Diving Golfe Juan French Riviera France

I know I know… the reputation of France for its English speaking skills is not at its best… but believe me, things have slowly started to change. For instance, did you realise you are reading a scuba diving blog in English written by a French girl?

Once again, touristic areas will be your best bet to find scuba diving centres who can offer service in English. On France’s mainland, the French Riviera will be the place to go.

Are you hesitating to contact a dive centre to know if they speak English? Come and ask us in Scuba diving in France group. French scuba divers who speak English will help you to find out!

 

 

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Posted by Florine

  1. Very interesting. I know a couple of French divers, so I’ll bring this up in conversation.

    Reply

  2. Very good summary Florine. 😉
    If I’m correct a commercial dive shop must insure a diver buying a dive in this shop.. However what kind of insurance?

    Reply

    1. You are correct. However what kind of insurance I don’t know since it is professional insurance we are talking about and I’m looking at the issue only from the scuba diver perspective not the professional scuba diving centre.

      Reply

  3. Wow, this is really an amazing blog. In France, such a very good awareness about scuba diving and the way they treat and handle this sport is unbelievable because there are so many countries where government or relevant authority not aware enough about this sport and don’t do anything special for the same but in France, this kind of arrangement is appreciable. Very nice.

    Reply

  4. Florine, this is amazing information. Thank you! I will be coming to Normandy for the 75th Anniversary of D-Day in a couple weeks. I would love to be able to dive the wrecks and pay my respects (I am a US Soldier), but am not very optimistic based on your, and other, posts.

    Reply

  5. Florine, thank you, this is a great article and very useful and informative. I’m touring France at the end of June 2019 and was hoping to be able to dive and see some of the wonderful sites around the coast.
    I have to confess to being a little saddened on learning that the prospects of diving are quite low, however, I will not be deterred and pack all my dive gear in hope!!

    Thank you again.

    Reply

    1. Hi Richard, don’t give up, sorry if the article gave you the impression it was difficult. Come to the south of France and it will be the easiest! Don’t hesitate to join the Facebook group “Scuba diving in France” if you have any question related to a specific area.

      Reply

  6. Thank you for the inputs!

    Here is my experience,

    Diving in France is very very simple.
    I just did it few days ago with a BSAC (British) certificate with a CMAS equivalent. No one asked for a medical check, nor for my insurance, but you should better have them.

    The French founded the CMAS system that is (or was) more strict than the PADI system. So if you come with a PADI certificate with ~30 dives you will most likely be seen as a very very beginner. The same PADI level with 100-200 dives will be no problem at all.
    The French (like the British, the German or the Swiss from my experience) take scuba diving very seriously and want the people to be ‘super safe’ diver. They recognize the PADI system but they often think that the PADI diver qualification do not meet the equivalent CMAS standard. In other words they trust it less.

    By the way, they invented scuba diving (Mr. Cousteau) so it is more that the others do it differently ;).

    Reply

    1. Thanks for your feedback, somehow I think BSAC is closer from a philosophy point of view to the French federation of scuba diving. Regarding the medical assessment, it is highly variable according to recent feedback I received on other platforms, but it is still a frequent expectation from scuba diving centres owner who can decide it is a requirement to state a diver is fit to dive as they are fully liable as explained in my article.

      Reply

  7. If I have a pe20 licence, do I have to pay every year to keep it valid for use?

    Reply

    1. Hi David, could you please let me know more about how and where you got your PE20 licence?

      Reply

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