The quantity of chromophoric dissolved organic matter (CDOM) and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in three Finnish estuaries (Karjaanjoki, Kyrönjoki and Kiiminkijoki) was investigated, with respect to predicting DOC concentrations and loadings from spectral CDOM absorption measurements. Altogether 87 samples were collected from three estuarine transects which were studied in three seasons, covering a salinity range between 0 and 6.8, and DOC concentrations from 1572 μmol l−1 in freshwater to 222 μmol l−1 in coastal waters. CDOM absorption coefficient, aCDOM(375) values followed the trend in DOC concentrations across the salinity gradient and ranged from 1.67 to 33.4 m−1. The link between DOC and CDOM was studied using a range of wavelengths and algorithms. Wavelengths between 250 and 270 nm gave the best predictions with single linear regression. Total dissolved iron was found to influence the prediction in wavelengths above 520 nm. Despite significant seasonal and spatial differences in DOC–CDOM models, a universal relationship was tested with an independent data set and found to be robust. DOC and CDOM yields (loading/catchment area) from the catchments ranged from 1.98 to 5.44 g C m−2 yr−1, and 1.67 to 11.5 aCDOM(375) yr−1, respectively.