In 1948, the organisation was created under the title, the Fédération des sociétés de pêche à la nage et d’études sous-marines (FSPNES) (Federation of Fishing and swimming underwater surveys). In 1952, FSPNES became the Fédération des groupements régionaux de sports sous-marins (FGRSSM) (Federation regional groupings of underwater sports). In 1953, FGRSSM became the Fédération française des activités sous-marines (FFASM) (French Federation of Underwater Activities). In 1954, FFASM changed its name to the Fédération nationale française d’études et de sports sous-marins (FNFESSM) (National Federation of French studies and underwater sports) in order to avoid confusion with FASM, a rival organisation with a similar name. In 1955, FNFESSM and FASM merged to become FFESSM.
A level I diver can dive to a maximum depth of 20 m when under the direct supervision of at least a level IV diver, or autonomously to a maximum of 10 m, depending on weather conditions and approval from the diving officer (Directeur de plongée).
A level II diver can dive to a maximum depth of 20 m in relative autonomy with other divers of at least level II and to 40 m under the direct supervision of a diver of at least level IV.
A level III diver can dive in total autonomy with other level III divers to a maximum depth of 60 m, and can also dive to 20 m with level II divers.
A level IV diver can dive in total autonomy to a maximum depth of 60 m and lead level I and II divers as already described.
A level V diver is a level IV diver and also a diving officer (only for exploration dives). This level is only valid within the club that issued it.
The level E1 Initiateur is a level II or III diver who also has a diplôme d'initiateur and the Rescue specialty (RIFAP), and can teach to a maximum depth of 6 m.
The level E2 is a level IV diver who also has a diplôme d'initiateur and the Rescue specialty, or an E3 candidate, and can teach to a maximum depth of 20 m.
The level E3 Moniteur fédéral 1er degré (MF1) or Moniteur fédéral 1er degré Associé (MF1A) or Brevet d'État d'éducateur sportif 1er degré (BEES1) can teach to a maximum depth of 40 m with air and 40 m with Trimix and is a diving officer for dives from 0–40 m with air/nitrox and 70 m with Trimix.
The level E4 Moniteur fédéral 2e degré (MF2) or Moniteur fédéral 2e degré Associé (MF2A) or Brevet d'État d'éducateur sportif 2e degré (BEES2) can teach to a maximum depth of 60 m with air and 80 m with Trimix and is also a diving officer for diver deeper than 40m with air/nitrox and 120 m with Trimix.
The level E5 Brevet d'État d'éducateur sportif 3e degré (BEES3) is an honorific level for research and teaching.