Some people's job is exploring the open sea—which can mean experiencing awesome waves, terrifying creatures, and strange encounters that defy logic.
Sailors from Reddit dished on their creepiest memory while out on the ocean. Some of their stories are chilling, others are incredible; all will give you full-body chills.
All content was edited for clarity.
“The Adults Gasped At The Barrel”
“When I was 11, I went on a night fishing trip with my friends’ parents. As we got about a half mile past the skyway bridge out of St. Pete, they noticed one of those big blue plastic 55 gallon barrels bobbing in the water by a channel marker. So we pull up to it and the adults lugged it into the boat to open. I remember all of the adults gasping and giggling when they opened it, immediately followed by my friend’s mom ushering us to the bow of the boat to sit down and only face forward no matter what. Well, of course the little 11 year old curious kid eventually turned around to try to catch a glimpse of whatever cool adult stuff was in that barrel. Well, I turned around to see what looked like a bunch of plastic vacuum sealed bags of some sort of green herb. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what I had witnessed.”
A Menacing Figure In Black
“It was a foggy night off the shore of Long Island and I was on a 75 foot schooner. The fog was so thick that you couldn’t see more than 10 feet in front of you. The captain tells me there is no point to continue my watch at the bow of the ship and him and I start talking at the stern. About that time there is thunk on the side of the ship.
We both turn to see a figure dressed in black flowing robes walking towards us on the outside of the ship. The robes were scratching down the outside of the ship. It keeps coming closer and is high enough in the air that the top was about even with our heads. It turns out that it was just a black flag to mark a lobster pot, but for those first few seconds it was terrifying.”
Not Just A Shirt
“My father back in his commercial fishing days noticed that there was a t shirt in the middle of his net after one tow. After a little investigation he found that it was not a shirt, but a human torso wearing a shirt. He said he was terrified that he would open the net and a head would roll out onto his feet, but it didn’t happen. His captain radioed ahead and they brought the torso back to the docks, where they were met by the police and a coroner. They were eventually able to identify the body (based on the clothing) as a victim of a plane crash that had occurred fairly recently. My dad said he offered a free lobster to the coroner, who graciously accepted it until he found out that it had been found in the net with the body. After that he got angry and told him to throw it back.”
“I’ve Never Cried As Much As I Did That Night.”
“When I was off the coast of Japan in 2007, I watched a whale die. I couldn’t tell the gender, but I remember hearing those faint whale cries that you can sometimes hear at night beneath the surface. The moon was full and I could see it on top of the water and I saw other whales passing around it. Do whales have funerals? Because it felt like a vigil or saying goodbye. You could hear the faint puffs of the blowhole spraying out water in a labored way. I don’t know if it was hurt or just old. These other whales made a few passes and then they left, and the whale wasn’t spouting air anymore. This was all in a 15 minute period as we cruised passed. I guess the whales may have been there longer, but I feel that they know that they don’t want to stay around dead bodies for long. It was haunting and beautiful and I don’t think I had ever cried as much as I had that night.”
“Then I Realized What Was So Strange About The Babies”
“I worked on a cruise ship for 7 months as a youth staff taking care of kids while the parents party it up. At certain parts of the day we close the playroom to the older kids and just let parents with their children that are under 2 come in. This woman comes to the gate with a double stroller with two of the ugliest looking babies I have ever seen in my life. She asks if she can come in with her babies. Of course, I oblige but something seems a little off. She takes the babies out of the stroller and puts them on the blanket that we have toys placed upon in the middle of the room. It is then that I realize what was so strange about these babies: They were dolls. This woman was taking pictures of them with the toys and pretending they were alive, names and all. I just looked over at my co-worker and she’s giving me the same look of shock and horror that I had on my face. We had no clue what to do or say. News spread quickly to other crew member on the ship about her. Apparently she bought gold bracelets for them at the jewelry shop on board. That woman is by far the most amazing and strangest thing I have ever witnessed at sea.”
“I was working on a car carrier 4 years ago in the Middle East. Our typical route went through pirate waters at times, and so we always picked up 4 ex marines as security in Aqaba, Jordan before we went. One night while we were going through pirate waters off of Yemen we started to have problems with the main engine. So we stopped and had to drift for a bit to figure out what the problem was. During this time I was working on the stern(back end) of the vessel. I couldn’t really see anything out in the ocean, everything was dimly lit on the ship. I don’t know why, but I got bored and turned on the spot light and there he was, this guy with a weapon in a rusted little boat staring at me about 15 feet from the ship.
I just stared back at him, kind of stunned. I was afraid if I reached for the radio to call one of the marines he’d shoot me (the marines had weapons). So he looked at me and I looked at him and he sort of gave me a nod as if he was telling me ‘well played’ and I gave him one back. Then he slowly rowed his boat back off into the deep pitch black night. I didn’t know how many others there were. But I did call it in on the radio as soon as I lost sight of him. I still remember his face today, that deep stern concentrated look.”
“Your Body Just Gives Up.”
“I was on Lake Superior with my family going for a paddle in a canoe to check out some pictographs (old native American paintings on rocks). We got to the location and got out on the rocks, we pulled the canoe up and tied it to some rocks (all that was available) while we were on shore checking out the art a wave caught the Canoe and it started to float back into the lake. We saw it happen, but it was far enough away that quick action was required. So me being a teenager ran back to where the boat was, stripped down and dove in.
If you’ve never been to lake Superior it is cold. Even at the end of summer, if you are not on a shallow sand bar or somewhere the water can heat up a bit, it is like swimming in an ice bath.
So after diving in my first instinct is to immediately get out of the water it is so cold. My skin feels like it’s on fire. I swim over to the canoe grab the rope and swim back to the rocks we were on. When I get to the rock it is covered in algae, and is just sort a large ramp going down into the water. I make a couple of attempts but it’s just too slippery.
I’m starting to panic now, I’ve only been in the water for maybe 30 seconds but I feel really fatigued. Im a pretty strong swimmer and in great shape but it just feels like my body is shutting down.
At this point my dad can see I’m struggling and has started running down to give me a hand, knowing I can’t get up far enough to grab his hand I grab a paddle out of the boat and stretch it up as far as I can. It is now taking all my effort just to keep my head above water. My dad grabs the paddle and pulls me on shore along with the Canoe.
My dad can see that I’m pretty shaken and asks if I’m ok. I explain that if I had have been alone or if he had just waited up with the rest of my family for me to come back I would probably be dead.
Cold water is no joke, your body just gives up on you.”
Just Vanished Into Thin Air
“I was in port. I was a sailor on the USS Carr. Stationed in Norfolk. There was a shipmate who had gotten himself in trouble and was being kicked out of the Navy. He was not allowed to leave the ship. I saw him on Friday carrying weights out of the ships gym, odd but I didn’t pay much mind.
I had to come in for duty the next day and he had vanished over night. We searched the entire ship from top to bottom three times over. No sign of him. We found out later he tied the weight from the gym to his feet and jumped overboard the night before. He washed up three weeks later when his corpse detached from the weight and floated to the surface.”
“All Of A Sudden I Heard A Breath”
“Sailing just a couple miles off the Norwegian coast, in an old 14’ dinghy all by my lonesome. Well, sailing is the wrong word; I was drifting in near zero wind, barely making a knot of headway. That’s why I was still out there; I had planned to spend the night on a small island but getting there took forever and it got pitch dark.
No matter, I was safe enough and it was kind of nice to have the nighttime ocean all to myself, not a ship in sight anywhere. I had oars and could have rowed to my destination in an hour or so but didn’t feel like there was any need to hurry (had left the outboard motor ashore because of hunting laws against shooting from a motorized vessel, and I was going after migrating geese). At my position it was calm and quiet, but all around the horizon I saw flashes of lightning so far off that I heard no thunder.
As I relaxed and enjoyed the quiet spectacle of distant lightning, all of a sudden I heard someone or something draw a labored breath right next to me. It was unmistakably the sound of breathing, like from a half- strangled person taking a deep breath of much-needed air. Not gonna lie, I briefly panicked before I realized it had to be some marine mammal surfacing for air close to my boat. Guessing it was a harbour porpoise as they are common here, but I never saw it in the darkness. Heard it again a few times, sounded like it moved further away and there may have been more than one based on the frequency. Of course sound carries far at night, but it really did sound like that initial breath was right behind me, close enough to touch.
Shortly after the breathing sounds disappeared, the wind picked up out of nowhere and I had to scramble to adjust rigging. Made it to the correct island and made landfall about 20 minutes later, having gone from idly drifting on the current to skipping over the waves in a few heartbeats. I guess that distant storm dropped by to say hello.”
“Hello. These Are For You!”
“I was on the Eagle (big 300′ Nazi pirate ship the US captured after WWII) crossing the Atlantic. Was supposed to go on helm/lookout watch at 1130 pm, slept through my alarm, woke up at 1 and realized I was late. I hopped out of my rack, went topside and tried to head for the lookout group in hopes of hopping on with them and pretending I was there all along. As I’m walking towards the bow (imagine something out of Pirates of the Caribbean), instead of a group of cadets shooting the bull looking through binoculars, there’s just a single person who I didn’t remember being part of the crew (just 50 people). He’s standing with his back to me staring straight ahead at the full moon, which is right off the bow with a reflection lighting up the water. I walk towards him, when without warning he turns around (I’m sure at this point that I’ve never seen him before), flashes a creepy smile, holds up a pair of binoculars and says ‘Hello. These are for you!’
It turned out the group that was supposed to be up there was back swapping out and the guy was just a temp who had come for the cruise at the last minute and was up enjoying the moon. But for a few moments it seemed like I’d wandered into the middle of a horror story in the middle of the ocean and I briefly debated jumping overboard. Luckily I did not.”
“Suddenly I Heard Him Scream Through His Regulator”
“While scuba diving off Morehead City NC, we visited the wreck of a US naval vessel off the coast (it was near the wreck of U352). According to the dive master, official records showed that only one sailor perished, and I believe their remains had been recovered. I wish I could remember what the wreck was, but this was 20 years ago and I’d have to check my log book from way back then.
While diving, my buddy was poking around and saw something odd in the rocks/sediment that had made their way onto the vessel over time. He brushed them away, and suddenly I could hear him scream through his regulator and a few feet of water as he pushed himself back away from the pile.
It was a human skull, covered with all kinds of sea-life. It was old. We got back on the dive boat ASAP. We informed the dive master, but to my knowledge we never heard anything about it beyond that. I was just a kid at the time so they didn’t tell me much.
But either way, either the official record about the number of sailors who went down on the ship was wrong, or someone dumped a body, or somehow that skull migrated there.”
An Unwelcome Sight At 3 AM
“So, I’m from a small island in the North Atlantic (off of Nova Scotia). My whole family is fishermen, so as you can imagine I was practically raised on the ocean. We had a crew of 5 including myself and the captain (Who happened to be my dad). I was 15 or 16 at the time but always worked aboard the boat during my summer vacation to try to earn some extra cash. It wasn’t crew share or anything but it was good money for someone still in high school.
Anyways, be being the youngest/newest/captains son, I always seemed to get the newbie jobs and one of them was what many would call the ‘graveyard’ shift. Basically, on the way in after a long day of fishing, we would clean up the deck, the cook would make supper, we would eat and then take turns being on ‘watch’ on the way in.
It’s not super complicated. You have auto pilot, GPS navigation and radar. So at the heart of it, I had to use the autopilot to follow the ‘line’ on the GPS and keep an eye on the radar to make sure we weren’t going to hit anything. Now, imagine this – it’s night, you have a full belly, everyone but you is in their bunk getting some sleep, you’ve just finished a hard day of manual labor, you’re sitting in a nice comfy captains chair, the ocean is rocking the boat nice and gently AND have a bus heater keeping you warm.
Yea I lasted about 3 min before I fell asleep. I don’t know if all radars have this, but the one we had had an alarm on it that if anything within X miles appeared it would ‘Beep.’ I seem to recall it was set to 4 miles but funny enough, that’s not what woke me. It had to be around 3 am and all of a sudden I hear “Whhhoooooooppppp”… I open my eyes and all I see are lights. But not normal lights. Lots of little lights down low close to the water, and some larger brighter ones up top, and not every where just in front of me. I look at the radar and I notice that this something is very close. Within my 2 mile ring it showed up up all the way around the boat! I’m freaking out! I finally get my eyes adjusted and realize that it’s a cruse ship that has just blown it’s horn at 3am.
So 15 year old me decides to play it cool like I meant to get this close to a cruse ship. I reach up, gently crank the auto pilot toward the stern of the cruse ship thinking to myself ‘Yea.. I got away with this! No harm, no foul.’ Famous last words because that’s when all heck broke loose. 4 grown men woken from being practically thrown out of their bunks as we cross the wake of the cruse ship! Yea good times. My dad stumbles up from his bunk, looks at me, looks at the ship, looks at me again and tells me to go get some sleep. Even in the dark I could tell that he was giving me that look that all parents give their kids when they’ve done something stupid.
Years later when I reflect, I do feel bad for those passengers who might have been woken up by the sound of their cruse ship’s horn going off at 3 in the morning. But I do have an interesting story to tell and for most they would agree that it’s pretty amazing that things didn’t turn out worse.”
“I was stationed on the oldest carrier in commission in the US Navy. The line for having a ciggy was rather long, and, being in deck department, we had numerous other semi hidden places to do that. One of those places was what’s called a half deck. This is an elevated outdoor deck that’s above another and accessible by ladder, used for storage. This particular one was used for storing inflatable lifeboats, so there was a pulley/chain system for moving the boxes up there.
One day, I was enjoying myself with a cig on this half deck alone, staring at the ground, thinking about I don’t remember what. I looked up for a brief moment, and saw a chief standing in front of me. “Oh no. I’m in for it now,” I thought as I stomped out my puffer, and when I looked back up, he was gone. “Weird,” I thought, as I headed to the ladder to climb down. As I passed the pulley, the chain started swinging erratically, as if someone was shaking it. The seas were calm, so I had no clue what was doing it. Suddenly, the chain flew at me as if it was thrown. I jumped down from the half deck and hightailed it outta there.
After some research, I learned that a Chief had killed himself by jumping off that deck during a tiger cruise (a noncombat cruise in which your family can join you on the ship) after hanging his wife from the pulley chain. I never had a cig there alone again.”
“I’ll Never Forget Those Sounds”
“I’ve been in the US Navy for almost a decade and I am currently on my third deployment to the western pacific. I work on communications equipment and spend a fair amount of time just scanning different frequencies to see what I come across.
A couple years back we were 30-40 NM off the coast of the Phillippines, it was just over the horizon, and the ship lost power. Lights, engines, everything just went silent; I don’t want to say this is regular, but it’s happened enough throughout my career that it doesn’t bother me half as much as it should. So, power is out, emergency lights are on, and the UPS are keeping comms up until the engineers can get the power back up.
I am doing my usual, scanning HF freqs for anything coming out of the PI when my receiver starts picking up….the most awful, interesting, horrific sounds I have ever heard in my life. I’ve heard all types of interference, it wasn’t that. I’ve heard people trying to go over a encrypted circuit without crypto, and it wasn’t that. It raised the hair on my neck and arms, and made me feel very, very small. It felt like I was sitting there for hours while these sounds crawled under my skin, like I was traveling through the warp without a Gellar field.
After about 5 minutes it’s suddenly stopped and the power came back on. I will never forget the sounds I heard.
The sounds were primal. Not human. Like something very large was expressing itself, but I couldn’t comprehend it. I wasn’t really afraid of it, I suppose in the same way a single celled organism wouldn’t really be afraid of a human. I can’t really explain it because I have never heard anything that came close to sounding like it. Maybe someone was transmitting weird sounds to mess with anyone that might have been listening, and maybe it was just made creepier by the timing of losing/gaining power.”
The Coast Guard Gave Them A Reason To Freak Out
“We had just bought the boat earlier that morning. We were motoring the 32 foot challenger back to homeport and we were fighting a kings tide (very very strong current). We couldn’t raise our sails because we had some 25 knot winds and we weren’t ready to handle that. So we were very slowly motoring along and our homeport was in view, when poot, the engine sputters and dies. We had run out of gas.
Now we were in a bit of a situation as the kings tide started to pull us the other direction. This in itself wasn’t that scary, but we were going about 4 knots backwards and soon we couldn’t see homeport anymore. It got dark very fast. My dad radioed the coastguard and informed them of our predicament and location. The coastguard was reluctant to help because we could just raise our sails and sail home, but at the time my dad was the only one with any serious experience and the boat was brand new to us. Because we had only just gotten it that morning, we hadn’t replaced the broken mast light yet. Anyway, it was dark now and even though we could have sailed now the wind has died, we didn’t have a mast light so my dad didn’t feel comfortable sailing at night. We had been out for around 8 hours by then and it was freaking me out.
It was all dead silent, when the radio crackling to life gave me a very real reason to freak out. It was the Coast Guard advising us to look outside. I won’t ever forget how I looked out, and a square of the sky had been cut out and replaced with solid black. We hadn’t heard anything at all, and this terrifyingly monstrous tanker was passing 20 meters next to us. We had drifted into the shipping routes, and our mast light wasn’t working. It was so creepy silent, if we had been just a little more to the left, it would’ve been bad. The Coast Guard came and got us pretty quick after that.”
He Cried When He Heard What The Navy Was Doing
“This old Vietnamese guy had immigrated to the US after the Vietnam War. Worked his way up, had a family, eventually owned a chain of furniture stores. Lost his family, got hit by a car and was in the hospital for a very long time, no insurance, lost his entire fortune.
All he had left was a small sailing boat (26 foot or so), that he then moved onto. One day several years later he goes out for a day trip towards Catalina Island. No gas for the engine, no radio, no GPS, no flares, no nothing. He had a hibachi grill and that was about it.
A squall develops and the strong winds snap his mast before he had gotten the sail down. Now he’s adrift and has no way to signal.
3 months later a Navy plane is flying near the equator in the Pacific Ocean looking for boats running Big C out of Ecuador/Colombia, and spots a sail boat with what looks like a dead body laying on the deck, with birds pecking at it. The Navy ship I was on was only 20 miles away or so, we head straight for it, get a boarding team ready (joint coast Guard/Navy folks) and prepare for the worst. We get there and see a guy moving around on deck looking at us. we don’t know if he killed the other person or what.
Send the boarding team with a couple of Spanish speakers onboard (local language and all!) dude is crazy, flipping out, excited, screaming, etc. The guys talk to him in Spanish, no luck, he says ‘English?’ and they say ‘Yes!’ He relays his story. The ‘body’ was the mast.
He survived by catching rainwater in a barrel he had onboard. He had a fishing pole and a baseball bat (his ‘protection’ when the boat was moored at the dock in LA). He would catch fish, then use pieces of the fish to lure in a bird, whack it with the bat, eat it, use a piece of the bird meat as bait for sea turtles, whack them in the head and drag them onboard, repeat cycle.
He already lived a life of solitude so he seemed unbothered, although he was obviously glad to be rescued. We couldn’t fix his mast, didn’t have anything like that onboard. we couldn’t tow it because unfortunately we had to be ready to go max speed to chase down illegal substance boats, and when you’re towing another vessel your speed is severely limited. so we made the tough decision to sink his boat, and take him to our next port-call in Panama, I believe. The navy couldn’t sink this boat to save their lives. It took almost 2 hours and thousands of rounds of 25mm, 50 cal, grenades, you name it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hard to sink a fiberglass boat, but put your heart into it, the poor guy could hear them sinking his boat and he started crying.
The crew bought him a ticket home, we all chipped in a few bucks. a few days later he was on shows like Good Morning America or whatever. Someone watching the show donated a new boat to him, because his home had basically been sunk in 7000 feet of water.
Now what you won’t find in the media is this little tidbit: 3 months later he went sailing at night, WITH NO FLARES, RADIO OR OTHER MEANS OF COMMUNICATION. and guess what happened? He got lost and was floating out there. By sheer luck a Coast Guard patrol boat went nearby and stopped to check in on this seemingly out of place sailboat drifting along. He was saved yet again.”
Something In The Reflection Of The Moon
“When I was 19, I had just gone to sea for the first time with the US Navy. A few days after heading to the gulf of mexico for a few weeks, we were dispatched to the straights of florida because Fidel Castro had opened the doors, and people were fleeing Cuba in droves. It was called Operation Able Vigil.
One night after standing watch all day over dozens of people who’d been pulled out of the water, I was standing on the 03 level of the ship with a chief, having a cig (it was the only exterior surface of the ship not coverage with refugees). It was a full bright moon that you could see reflecting on the oceans surface, and we were talking about how crazy this all was, and looking at all of the other Navy and Coast Guard ships on the horizon doing slow circles looking for people like we were.
Suddenly in the reflection of the moon, we both saw something pass through the reflection. He looked at me, and I nodded that yes. I too had seen something. He took off like a shot to the bridge, and ship started to circle back towards the thing we’d seen.
It was a person in a life preserver just floating in the middle of the straights of Florida, hoping someone would see him.
There we were on this 2 billion dollar missile loaded warship doing slow circles, looking for people in the water. All told my ship saved, and/or transported 1800 people back to Gitmo for processing. Keeping in mind, Ships crew was only about 400 people. It left a big impression on 19 year old me.”
Course To Collision Over And Over Again
“I was on a sailing boat heading out of the straights of Gibraltar on the way across the Atlantic. I was on watch, middle of the night and picked up a boat on radar to the north east, doing about 6kts. I watched it coming in, and made a course correction to keep a safe distance and show I intended to pass port side to port side.
Over the next couple of minutes, the other vessel slowly altered course to bring the range down that we would pass at. This is a bit of a rude move, but not uncommon. If it’s my duty to move out of your way, I do so and leave a mile clearance as we pass. Some guys, mainly eastern europeans I find, if they’re off course themselves will push into that mile to get back to course. They’re not supposed to, but it happens.
So I figured there was some rude guy at the helm. But the course continues to correct until he’s on a collision course with me. By this point we’re quite a lot closer, so I have to make another decent correction to avoid a collision, while pointing out the rude move to my buddy on watch with me and try to hail the guy on the radio.
Again, the oncoming boat alters and cuts into that mile. At this point I was concerned. I asked my buddy to wake the captain, we’re not in danger of collision as we’re doing 14kts, they’re doing 6. However we’re not maintaining a safe distance anymore, and being off the coast of North Africa there’s the chance that we’re about to meet some pirates.
So by the time the captain gets there, the course is closed to collision again. I explain the situation, the captain takes command and makes another correction. Still the boat follows us up but doesn’t have the speed to turn this into a collision course.
In the end we pass at a couple of hundred meters, point the search light to the boat, and it’s about a 40ft sailing boat under full sail, with wind vane steering and absolutely no one at the helm. It was just cruising about wherever it feels like.
The wind had come round by chance as we maneuvered, and left this nutcase with a boat headed down the west coast of Africa when I’d guess the destination was supposed to be the Mediterranean. That was quite a creepy watch.”