An optical model is developed for the remote sensing of coloured dissolved organic matter (CDOM) in a wide range of waters within coastal and open ocean environments. The absorption of CDOM (denoted as ag) is generally considered as an exponential form model, which has two important parameters - the slope S and absorption of CDOM at a reference wavelength ag(λ0). The empirical relationships for deriving these two parameters are established using in-situ bio-optical datasets. These relationships use the spectral remote sensing reflectance (Rrs) ratio at two wavelengths Rrs(670)/Rrs(490), which avoids the known atmospheric correction problems and is sensitive to CDOM absorption and chlorophyll in coastal/ocean waters. This ratio has tight relationships with ag(412) and ag(443) yielding correlation coefficients between 0.77 and 0.78. The new model, with the above parameterization applied to independent datasets (NOMAD SeaWiFS match-ups and Carder datasets), shows good retrievals of the ag(λ) with regression slopes close to unity, little bias and low mean relative and root mean square errors. These statistical estimates improve significantly over other inversion models (e.g., Linear Matrix-LM and Garver-Siegel-Maritorena-GSM semi-analytical models) when applied to the same datasets. These results demonstrate a good performance of the proposed model in both coastal and open ocean waters, which has the potential to improve our knowledge of the biogeochemical cycles and processes in these domains. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.