Into the Blue: Deep Sea Divers Share Their Most Terrifying Moments
Sunken treasure, beautiful seascapes, and exotic aquatic life. These are just some of the wonders that await deep-sea divers on the ocean floor. But those brave enough to plunge a hundred feet beneath the waves are sure to come up with more than just a few Spanish doubloons. These divers survived the depths to share their most daunting tales from the deep blue.
1. Get Your Head In The Game
I wear contacts, so getting water in my mask when I’m diving is a horrible risk—if it happens, I won’t be able to open my eyes under the water. Shortly after a fellow diver told me a story about colliding with a shark from behind which knocked off his mask, I went for a dive. I was pretty scared about that happening to me, but I’m not sharks in general—they’re part of the landscape down there.
Anyway, I saw a shark heading for me. They are curious creatures. They often shoulder-bump you as they turn at the last second. But this shark wasn’t changing course. I stayed calm and still as long as I could and at the last second, I tried to duck, but instead of ducking under, I just headbutted the shark right in the nose.
All of the divers who were there thought it was the funniest thing ever. I may be the only person alive who headbutted an eleven-foot shark in the nose. I was just afraid that she’d take my goggles off.
2. A Strangle Hold
I was on my boat with my cousins and we went deep-sea diving. I was the first one to go into the water. My cousins and I explored the area, but I went deeper into the unknown than everyone else did. My cousins started to make their way back up so I started to follow them. That’s when I felt something pulling on my leg—and, no, it wasn’t a shark. When I turned around to look, I was horrified at what I saw.
Whatever grabbed me felt like it had human hands. I looked down and saw a humanoid creature with tentacles for legs. It was skinny to the bone but its hands were four times the size of human hands. It had shell plating on its palms and long, razor-sharp claws for fingers. Its head was all the way back and when I resisted, the shell plates came off and the hand was all red with holes in its skin and with bone showing.
It cut my oxygen tank and pulled my mask off. Then, this creature tried to strangle me as it dragged me down further under the water. I later woke up to my cousins on the boat. Somehow, I made it out alive…though, my body had scratch marks all over.
3. Do You Prefer Jam Or Jelly?
I’m not a deep-sea diver and after seeing this, I don’t think that I want to be. I was diving, staying close to the surface when I saw this enormous jellyfish effortlessly swimming along. It looked so peaceful and tranquil. Then, out of nowhere, a huge sea turtle came up from behind and ate the jelly’s body in one big gulp.
The deep-sea is a brutal place.
4. Deep Sea Sleeping
I free dove to about 160 feet in Dean’s Blue hole in the Bahamas. It’s where a lot of the freediving world records are set. It’s a super neat place, but dangerous if you aren’t careful. Anyway, I’d never really been past 100 feet before while freediving. I thought that Dean’s Blue Hole would be the perfect place to push myself as there were no currents there, plus the facility had ropes to keep me straight and allow a slight pull back up.
The scary part began around 60 feet. I became pretty negatively buoyant around there. I was basically doing a rope climb…but upside down and in water with very little air. I became pretty dazed out but still managed to count the lines that mark the depth. At least, I thought I had been counting them.
All of a sudden, a wave of anxiety ran through my body like a shockwave. Something felt very, very wrong. I felt this pressure on my trachea as if it was going to collapse, but then I woke up and realized I’d counted to the line that was around 160 feet or so. It was a very scary moment because I wasn’t sure if my body could take the depth or if I had gone too far.
5. Bent Out Of Shape
I went for a deep-sea dive and it was really great. I felt fine until I got home. My symptoms started with a mild headache. Then, I woke up and I just had this horrible pain in my left arm. It slowly moved to my elbow and then my fingers. Then, it got so bad that I couldn’t even bend any of my joints without bad pain. My headache got so intense that I started to feel dizzy.
I sought my older, more experienced dive buddy for advice and when I told him what I was feeling, his face turned white. He knew exactly what was happening to me. I had the bends. I thought I had been so careful on my dive. I had followed my charts and my computer. I had appropriate depths and surface time. But where it all went wrong was I hadn’t consumed enough water before going down, so I was all out of whack.
I rushed to the hospital and the doctors got me hooked up with fluids. They checked my dive logs to set up a decompression chamber and got me in there with a nurse. I spent eight hours in a tube about the length of a car and as wide as a double bed. They had me on oxygen and hooked up to an IV—it was so loud, with all the air rushing in. As soon as I got to “depth,” the pain vanished. It was crazy.
I’m fine now obviously, but the doctors prohibited me from diving for a whole month. That totally sucked, but it was better than experiencing the bends again. And, hey, the dive was pretty great.
6. The Reptilian Hitchhiker
I went diving the day before a hurricane on a small island in the South Pacific. Out of nowhere, this black and white sea snake (the venomous kind) wrapped itself around my arm. Apparently, this happens from time to time before major storms—they can sense the storm approaching and look for things that are heading towards the shore so that they don’t have to put in so much effort to get out of the sea.
As soon as I was in the shallows, my venomous arm bracelet uncurled itself and headed up the beach where it hid under a breadfruit tree. I thought it was going to bite me, but it turns out I was just a taxi for a very calm but rather rushed reptile.
7. Don’t Be A Dummy
This is my story from a deep-sea dive—but it could have been the opening scene from a B horror movie. I was diving in a local pond with a group of very advanced divers (most of them were cave divers). I had an advanced certification at the time, but these guys were the real deal. I was leading the dive so as to get accustomed to the pressures and responsibilities of heading the procession.
We were in a Texas puddle with a visibility of 10 feet max. It wasn’t too deep, maybe 25 feet. The notoriously horrible visibility makes it impossible to navigate by compass, so we were following a line put by other divers. These lines went from one sunken item to another; kind of like anchors for the line to keep it in place and guide us we went down.
I knew I was about to come to a small sunken boat. I couldn’t remember which one because there were a few similar boats in a row. When I swam down to it, I saw what looked like someone’s black army boot sticking out from the inner quarters. It was so curious. It looked somewhat new; not like the other sunken stuff that you would find at the bottom with moss and other stuff growing on it.
It was so hard to see—there was too much muck in the water. So, I touched the boot, thinking I could lift it and inspect it. I tried to tug at it but I couldn’t get it free. It was almost like there was something heavier weighing it down. So, I put my hand further in and felt a whole leg. That’s when my blood ran cold. I felt a calf, some pants, and…a second leg. I thought to myself, could I be seeing this right?
I turned around and made the sign for an emergency ascent to the group behind me. Everyone had a sour face because no one wanted to surface, but it is a rule that if one diver says, “Up,” then up we go, no questions asked. They wanted me to explain the reason for the ascent with signs but, admittedly, I didn’t know the sign for “eerie cadaver in murky water.”
I felt like we rushed towards the surface. I was trying to stay calm and take my time but I couldn’t shake what I had seen down there. When we got to the lake’s surface, it all hit me and I had this adrenaline rush. I could barely breathe. I managed to tell the other divers what I had seen—i.e., that there was a fresh human body down there!
Despite seeing how serious and scared I was, the other divers rolled their eyes at me—a fun bunch, right? I described in greater detail what I had seen and managed to convince them. So, we went back down but I wasn’t leading the group anymore—not after what I had seen. We made a search pattern for the line to explore the depths once again.
Once we located the line, we didn’t know if we should go forward or backward. There were a number of boats tethered to the line and I didn’t know which boat had the body in it. Further, we couldn’t be certain how far we had drifted while we were on the surface. We eventually searched all of the boats before finding the original one with the body.
The leader of the search went into the cabin of the boat while the rest of us waited. I have to say that he was rather courageous going right in like that—I wasn’t about to go back in there exploring a sunken boat with a buried body in it. After a while, he emerged from the cloud of muck and signaled for us all to surface.
We managed to glue some information together that we had learned later on. Turns out, law enforcement or some other agency had a body recovery training program in the same lake that day. When they went for lunch, they stuffed their fully-dressed, anatomically correct rubber doll in one of the sunken boats for a few hours for safekeeping.
And there I was thinking we had stumbled onto Dexter’s dumping ground or something.
8. Putting On A Light Show
I went scuba diving in a pitch-black cavern once. It was not at all the kind of dive I was accustomed to experiencing. I was hovering at around 85 feet when I noticed flashlights below me moving about in an erratic pattern. Then I noticed one flashlight wasn’t moving at all. When I swam down, my entire body froze. I had just gotten myself right into the middle of a crazy and very dangerous situation.
When I descended, I saw another diver with no regulator in their mouth, eyes wide open, and just floating on their knees. The diver’s buddy was right next to them and in complete shock. They clearly had no idea what was going on. 15 years of diving and instructor training came over me like it was second nature.
I thought that the diver’s regulator had just come out of her mouth, so I popped mine out and offered it to her. That’s when I noticed that she was mentally checked out. I popped my second regulator in my mouth and attempted to put my first regulator in hers, but she was clenching her teeth. Something else was going on.
I pressed the purge button to force the air into her mouth past her clenched teeth. I noticed her cheeks moving so I knew the air was getting in. That was good enough for me, so I grabbed her under her arm and swam to the opening of the cavern. Once we got to the surface, I did everything I had been taught to do in my training.
I inflated her buoyance compensator, dumped her weights, got her on her back, and started towing to land. As towed her in, she started regurgitating all of the water she had swallowed in the cave. It seemed like it must have been gallons of water—not really the kind of hydration I think doctors recommend, though.
When I got her to land, other divers assisted me in getting all of her gear off. By this point, she was breathing fine but she remained in total shock for a while. She slowly came around as nothing had happened. As it turns out, she had suffered from an epileptic seizure…85 feet down in a blackened-out cavern. Talk about harrowing.
We were very lucky that we were only ten minutes into the dive or we would have both have incurred the bends and spent time in a hyperbaric chamber. The crazy thing is that she hadn’t even told anyone that she had epilepsy. When we later reviewed her consent form, she had checked off “No” to epilepsy. A kind of important detail on a dive, don’t you think?
I put myself at risk shooting up to the surface like that, but if I came across that situation again, I would not hesitate to save someone’s life.
9. It’s A Bird. It’s A Plane. It’s A…Jerk On A Boat?
I’ve only really had one scare while deep-sea diving. Some jerk-face with a yacht disturbed the peace and tranquility of our dive—and endangered our lives. He came cruising through our dive location at full throttle. You could hear the boat coming for a solid minute or two before it flew over our heads. Our boat had a dive flag on it and everything.
But they didn’t slow down. Barracudas, sharks, rays, manatees, dolphins…all cool. They aren’t threats. Believe me, the worst out there are humans—they’re way scarier.
10. Ship Ahoy!
This isn’t my deep-sea diving story, it’s my dad’s. In order to get his diving certification, he needed to complete three dives in open water. During the second test (remember, this was only the second time he’d ever been scuba diving in open water), there was a massive storm. This meant that the water off of the New Jersey coast where they were diving was pitch black, even during the day.
They couldn’t see anything at all, not even the hand of the instructor guiding them to the bottom. To complete the test, they had to reach the ocean floor, take off their masks, and “clear it” by blowing air into it, then put it back on and go back to the surface. It was so dark down there that my dad said that he didn’t see the bottom until he hit it with his face.
Anyway, my dad completed the mask test just fine (not that the instructor could tell in that dark seascape) and they began their ascent to the surface. My dad said that at one point, he couldn’t tell which direction was up and which direction was down, but they did finally make it to the surface—though, they might have wished that they hadn’t.
When they breached the surface, there was this massive ship coming straight through the channel directly at them. The instructor screamed, “SWIM!” and they all had to break into a scramble to avoid the ship. The side of the ship ended my whacking my dad, but he was otherwise fine. I just can’t imagine coming up from a pitch-black nightmare only to come face-to-face with a massive ship, hurtling towards you.
11. Magical Seahorse
My biology teacher told me a horrifying deep-sea diving story once. She had gone out swimming in the ocean south of the Philippines because she was trying to find an elusive seahorse. She had to go quite deep at night because, apparently, the seahorses are more active at that time. Of course, so are more dangerous sea creatures.
While she and her team were busy looking for this seahorse, a shark attacked them. They managed to get away, but not all of the sea life had been so lucky. The next day, they found a pretty big turtle that the shark had bitten in half—shell and all. Supposedly, that was the last time she went diving in that area.
12. Mistaken Identity
I was diving under an oil rig between Long Beach and Catalina Island. I was collecting sea scallops at around 60 feet or so. There were seals all around so I kept an eye out for sharks—you just can’t help but think about them when you’re down there. Everything was going fine and I was just about to finish my dive, but then I saw a blur swoosh right by me just in front of my face. I suddenly froze in fear.
I had no idea what it was, so my initial reaction was panic. My mind raced and I just assumed the worst. I started screaming, “SHARK!” When I finally collected myself, I was kind of embarrassed—thank goodness no one was there.
It was just a silly seal trying to play with me. I literally was screaming underwater for a couple of seconds. Funny thing is, I have over two dozen logged open water dives, some at night, mostly around Catalina and I never saw a shark.
13. And Away We Go
This isn’t really a deep-sea diving story. I hadn’t gone diving intentionally, but I still ended up under the water. I was walking on a beach in the Pacific Northwest with a relative several years ago. It was during the equinox, so the tide was way out. We decided to take advantage of the opportunity and went out maybe 150 yards.
We were enjoying ourselves, looking at polychaetes and stuff. Eventually, we figured that the tide would be coming back in soon so we headed back toward the regular beach. On the way in, we hit a patch where this little current had kicked up the sand and we couldn’t see the bottom. We didn’t make much of it, but we should have.
Everything seemed fine until we were about a third of the way across. Then, all of a sudden, there just wasn’t any ground beneath our feet anymore. It was so cloudy we hadn’t been able to tell that there was a huge drop-off right there. It was just open water for maybe eight feet. I just grabbed my relative’s shoulder and swam really fast.
Somehow, we made it to the other side. I still don’t know how we made it. I can’t even swim. I’ve never gone out that far since that incident and always kept my feet where I can see them.
14. Somewhere Were The Sun Don’t Shine
I was on a small sailboat in the Caribbean. We were sailing between the islands of Bequia and St. Vincent. It’s a distance of about 12 miles but it seems shorter, like maybe four or five miles. About halfway between the two islands, one of my friends dropped her sunglasses overboard and they started sinking slowly to the bottom.
Thinking nothing of it, I quickly jumped into the water to try and grab them. That’s when I realized I had just made a big mistake. I couldn’t save her sunglasses from Davy Jones’ locker and I quickly learned why. When I swam back to the surface and crawled back onto the boat, the captain was laughing hysterically. Apparently, we were floating over 8,000 feet of the open ocean.
Needless to say, when the captain told me how deep the water was, I was creeped out. My friend’s sunglasses were long gone.
15. Not All That Glitters Is…Run!
This isn’t my story; it’s my parents. They like to go scuba diving when they travel and they have gone several times over the years. They visited Mexico once and went diving there before I was born. I’m not sure where they were exactly when they had this hair-raising encounter, but I’m glad that I wasn’t around for it—I’m not sure I would have handled it quite so well.
Anyway, my mom was slightly lower down in the ocean than my dad, inspecting the ocean floor. My dad was looking up and around, keeping a vigilant eye out—fortunately for them both. My mom had on a gold necklace that was floating in the water around her. It was a sunny day and they were still in fairly shallow waters, so it was sparkling in the sunlight.
From my mom’s point of view, she was having a grand ole time looking at the sea critters below. Suddenly, my dad grabbed her and started frantically shaking her arm to get her attention. When she looked up, she was horrified. She saw a barracuda directly in front of her, far closer than was comfortable. It was staring intently, with its scary teeth on full display.
My mom’s shiny necklace had totally transfixed the barracuda and it was just hovering there—I guess they don’t see a lot of things that shine at the bottom of the ocean. My mom slowly moved up her hand to cover the necklace and the barracuda slowly moved away from my parents. It just took off without bothering them.
They both made it out of the encounter unscathed but it was still pretty unsettling. She learned an important lesson to always be a little more aware of her surroundings when diving. It could have been a much meaner kind of fish.
16. Slow Poke
We weren’t diving, but this encounter was potentially even more dangerous than a run-in with a shark. I watched my mother reach down into the water and pull out a Conus textile. She had no idea what it was. And in case you’re wondering, it’s a type of snail that shoots a neurotoxic dart to hunt fish. Occasionally, people will pick it up with dire consequences.
The snail clearly didn’t like it when my mother picked it up. I saw it stick its tentacle out of the shell and start waving it around, feeling for a target. Fortunately, even at 14 years old, I knew my natural history well enough to know that she was in danger. I screamed at her to throw it away. She managed to put the frightened snail back into the water before it could take its shot.
The sea is full of dangerous creatures, no matter the depth.
17. Under Pressure
This is a pretty well-documented deep-sea diving tragedy. Some divers came up from an extremely deep dive at an oil drilling site. Either someone gave them bad advice or they had faulty equipment. Either way, the end result was not pretty. The tragedy occurred during the decompression procedure. It went horribly wrong.
Apparently, someone opened the door while the chamber was still pressurized at depth. The four divers perished instantly. The diver nearest to the door quite literally exploded and they found bits of his body all over the oil rig. So, next time someone tells you that people don’t explode in decompression chambers like you see in the movies…tell them they’re wrong.
18. No Man Left Behind, I Swear
This didn’t happen to me, thank goodness. It happened to my brother. Believe it or not, the danger didn’t happen in depth. When he was 18 years old, he was a part of the dive club at his school. They went on a diving trip that year, and the crew that handled the dive counted heads wrong. I don’t know how they managed that because roll call is pretty simple.
Anyway, halfway through the dive, the boat went back to shore without the people that the dive team had left out of the count. There were about five of them, two girls and three guys. All of them were between the ages of 15 and 18. So there they were; a small pack of teens, about two kilometers from the shore. They didn’t have any communication equipment, so really, their only option was to swim back.
About halfway through their swim, one of the girls got tired. She couldn’t swim anymore and started crying. My brother, along with another guy, had to swim with her or she wasn’t going to make it. They had to drag her along, making sure she didn’t drown. In the end, everyone made it out OK, but it was still a very scary swim in open water.
The worst part of it though wasn’t that the dive team left them behind or that they had to swim across the open water. After the ordeal, the school tried to hide it and had the audacity to suspend my brother from school for catching him with contraband on the trip.
19. I Don’t Want To Find Nemo
I dive a lot—several times a week, maybe. My area has a lot of theoretically dangerous sea creatures: sharks and barracudas, morays and stingrays, blue-ringed octopuses, cone snails, box jellies, and so on. Basically, if it lives in the ocean and it can harm you, then you can probably find it where I go diving.
Despite all of those scary creatures, only one thing has ever attacked me. Twice. It’s definitely not what you’re thinking, though. Clownfish. I was attacked by a clownfish. Like Nemo. They are territorial and will get in your face if you’re near their anemones. I usually respect their space, but I was watching something else during the few times I unknowingly invaded their space.
Turns out, they will actually bite if you don’t leave their space fast enough. Despite what a lot of people tend to think (especially given the daunting and dangerous animals in my area), sea critters aren’t your problem if you’re diving. If you leave them alone, it’s fine. The real danger is sea conditions.
20. I Don’t Need A Floatation Device
When you go deep-sea diving, you want to ascend to the surface slowly. This is because under pressure your blood and tissues can hold more gasses (in particular, inert nitrogen from your compressed air) dissolved in it than when you’re at the surface. As you ascend, these dissolved gasses have to return to being gasses. If you go slowly, you just breathe out these gasses as you come up.
If you ascend too quickly, however, you start to run into problems. Ascending too quickly doesn’t give those inert gasses enough time to leave your body safely. They turn into bubbles of gas in your arteries and veins before your body can vent them out. This causes embolisms as well as decompression sickness (a.k.a. the dreaded bends).
I was diving with a friend at about 25 meters—that’s roughly 82 feet. She had on this old, beat-up BCD (buoyancy compensator device). It’s a vest that you can inflate with air to control your buoyancy. Anyway, when we were down there, her BCD malfunctioned and started to inflate on its own. This has happened to me before as well, but I just disconnected the air hose from the BCD which stops it from inflating.
I’ve gone on to do about ten dives with a busted BCD that I had to inflate manually. It’s not something that experienced divers should have any problems with. My friend was an experienced diver so I have no explanation as to how she reacted when her BCD malfunctioned. She failed to disconnect the air hose—either she panicked or she didn’t have time,
I saw that she was having buoyancy control issues. She was upside down in the water, kicking to try to stay down. When I realized how bad the problem was, I glanced around for a rock or something else heavy to weigh her down, but by the time I looked back at her, she was gone. It all happened so quickly; it must have been a matter of seconds.
When I didn’t see her, I figured that her BCD must have carried her to the surface. So, I followed her up, trying to ascend quickly. Even so, my dive computer was beeping warnings at me. Finally, I surfaced and saw her there. She looked fine but I wondered why she hadn’t used her dump valve (there is a valve at the bottom of the BCD for the express purpose of releasing air when you are feet up).
Upon inspecting her vest, I saw that the string to pull to open the valve was missing. That means that it would have been quite literally impossible for her to dump the air in her BCD when she was down there. I was pretty worried that she would come down with the bends, but she mustn’t have fully pressurized while she was down there and she was fine in the end.
Most people are often worried that I dive alone a lot, but honestly, all of my scariest and most anxious moments were problems occurring with other people. The moral of the story is: always check your gear before you use it!
21. Yum, That’s Tangy
Sometimes the biggest dangers in the sea are the smallest fish out there. I was diving in Hawaii once, enjoying the Pacific waters when I began to notice a reddish hue in the water around me. It took me a second to figure out what it was, and then I clued in—there was blood in the water. That was pretty strange to me, so I started looking for the source of the blood. When I finally found it, I freaked the heck out.
To my surprise, I discovered that I was bleeding! I had a bunch of tiny little cuts on my legs and that’s where the blood was coming from. Then I felt something hit my shins. When I looked down, I saw a whole swarm of tiny little tangs nipping at my leg like it was an all-you-can-eat buffet. They were having a field day.
For those who don’t know, tangs are thin, bright yellow disc-shaped fish that live in saltwater. Dory from Finding Nemo is a tang fish. They’re only like, five inches—approximately 125 millimeters—but they are vicious. They are not at all nice like Dory.
22. Any Port In A Storm
I was doing a boat dive once. The dive itself was easy as pie…and then we surfaced. When we came up, we encountered some insanely rough conditions. There were 20-foot swells everywhere we looked. I remember seeing the ladder attached to the boat going up about six to eight feet with each swell and then crashing down into the water.
We couldn’t even approach the boat without the risk of the ladder impaling us as we tried to climb it. We had to just chill for a while down beneath the surface until the conditions calmed down. When everything settled down, I finally grabbed onto the rope and climbed up as fast as I could. I hung onto the ladder while the boat crew grabbed my BCD and hauled me out of the water onto the swim step.
Half of the divers puked on the way back into port. Those were by far the roughest conditions that I have ever been diving in—I don’t need a repeat.
23. Horror At The Beach
This wasn’t exactly a deep-sea dive, but it was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I was on a beach dive with my parents. We swam out from the beach to a small reef and then started descending to check out the cool marine life. It was only a few minutes after getting down to the reef that something started going wrong with my parents.
My mother was showing signs of agitation and clutching her chest. When we surfaced, she started spitting up this dark liquid and struggling to breathe. Fortunately, it was a busy beach and after we inflated an emergency buoy, lifeguards from the beach rushed out and carried her back to the shore where an ambulance waited.
It turned out she’d suffered swimming-induced pulmonary edema brought on by the pressure near the reef. Things turned out fine, but having a medical emergency underwater in the ocean is a special level of scary.
24. It’s All In Your Head
Deep-sea diving is not for anyone with a fear of the unknown. I learned this hard way when I took an advanced scuba class while still in college. One of our dives was a night dive. It was in one of the Great Lakes, so since it was not a tropical body of water, I wasn’t expecting to see lots of scary and dangerous fish. But I psyched myself out anyway.
I could not judge how deep I was without looking at my dive computer and vertigo was a serious problem for me when I wasn’t at the surface or on the bottom. It was the only time I saw fish close up. Many of them swam within inches of my mask without any fear, probably because they didn’t recognize us as a threat.
It was by far the creepiest dive I’d ever done. Like a horror movie. As a grown adult, three-quarters of the way through my bachelor’s degree, I knew there weren’t any monsters lurking down there. Nevertheless, I was so terrified when I thought of what might appear through the darkness at the edge of our flashlight beams.
It was all in my head but I swore to myself that I would never do another night dive again. At the same though, I never felt so alive as when I got out of the water afterward. It was honestly one of the few times in my life when I’ve experienced outright euphoria.
25. Shark Bait, Hoo-Ha-Ha
I grew up in Oz but this is no fairy tale. When I was 15 years old, I took the family boat out and drove out to the reef by myself to clear my head. That was mistake number one. I went for a dive and got down to a depth of about 28 meters—that’s 90 feet, give or take—when I really only had certification for 60 feet. That’s mistake number two.
Whilst diving, I spotted a three-and-a-half meter long Mako shark coming right at me. For those who are unaware, Makos are basically the cheetahs of the ocean, and they only have two speeds: curious (harmless) and lunch (very much harmful). This guy was in lunch mode. So, I hovered, as I learned in my training, as there would be no way for me to outmaneuver or outswim a Mako in open water.
Nowadays, we dive with Shark Shields which emit electronic pulses that freak the sharks out and keep them away. But back then, what we used was essentially a chainmail sleeve. The idea was that sharks hate the taste of metal, so if you give it your arm, it’ll bite down, decide you’re gross, and move along. But it was just a theory.
So there I was, hovering and waiting for this Mako to turn me into fish food. Finally, it came at me and I did a perfect maneuver to give the beastie my arm. Just before the powerful crunch, however, I had a horrible realization—it occurred to me that I had left my chainmail sleeve on my bed. Mistake number three and counting. I wasn’t totally defenseless though, thank goodness.
I had my kelp knife drawn and managed to drive the blade right into the Mako as it bit down on my arm. Blow for blow seemed fair to me. I managed to injure the Mako and make it think twice. It clearly thought that I wasn’t worth the fight because it swam off. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was alive. But I wasn’t out of the woods—or, rather, the water—just yet.
I had this huge wound on my arm from the bite in open water and it was gushing blood. That meant that there was blood in the water and there would be other sharks around, picking up my scent. In a state of panic, I dropped my weight belt and shot up to the surface way too quickly. On top of my shark-bitten arm, I would be dealing with the bends as well. Mistake number four.
When I surfaced, I realized that I already made mistake number five. Because I hadn’t been paying attention to the currents—I was, understandably, a little preoccupied with my shark friend—I was approximately a quarter-mile downstream of my boat. This meant that I had to swim to the beat with my injured arm, all the while trailing blood for some eager shark to follow.
I managed to make it to the boat without encountering any more sharks but I had made yet another mistake. My dad had been going on about getting the communication equipment on the boat fixed. I hadn’t done that. Worse yet, I hadn’t upgraded the first aid kit like I had been threatening to do. Those were mistakes six and seven right there.
I ended up having to race back to shore with nothing more than a lousy, makeshift tourniquet to staunch the bleeding from my arm. Long story short, my series of unfortunate self-inflicted mistakes earned me 172 stitches and boatloads of physical therapy. My friend, the Mako shark had quite the jaw on him. He had actually bitten down on my triceps and detached them.
Now, I have this easily identifiable shark-bite scar on my arm. Oh, and I lost my deceased grandfather’s favorite kelp knife that he had left me.
26. Life In Color
I wear heavy-prescription lenses and I can’t wear contact lenses. I usually carried two prescription masks with me when I went diving but I couldn’t find my second mask before leaving home, so I only had the one with me. I figured, hey, nothing had ever happened before, right? I guess with that attitude, I kind of invited disaster.
Halfway through a weeklong live-aboard dive trip, someone dropped a tank on my prescription mask and shattered it. Now, I am functionally blind without corrective lenses—I can see colors starting about five inches from my face and that’s about it. I was devastated about my shattered mask—without it, I thought my trip was over.
But I decided to go diving anyway. I was on a boat with nothing else to do. My husband acted as my “seeing-eye.” Even though I wouldn’t be able to see where I would be swimming, at least I could see my gauges, so I felt reasonably safe. Much to my surprise, diving without my prescription mask turned out to be a godsend.
It was among the most amazing three days of diving I’ve ever had. I saw the colors, shapes, and movements. Without the ability to focus on the details, I actually took many of the best underwater photos I’d ever taken. I wasn’t worried about focusing on a particular coral or fish; I was looking at the larger color patterns.
So, what could have been a disaster actually turned into one of the best dive experiences of my life.
27. The World’s Worst Dive Buddy
I love deep-sea diving but I don’t night dive and for good reason. My father does though, and he came back one day with this terrifying story. He was swimming in the darkness on a deep-sea dive when he became dimly aware of someone next to him. This wasn’t exactly unusual. There were several people in the water that night, but my dad was concerned about why their light might be off.
Without that diver’s light, there was nothing to see. It was just an empty void next to him but he could still feel something there—in the slight change in currents, maybe. Before he could shine his light on this person, he became aware of a chilling circumstance—his dive partner was on his other side. This meant that either whoever was next to him had somehow separated from their own dive buddy or…it wasn’t a person at all.
The need to know caused him to shine his light, tentatively, at the shape, revealing a massive barracuda, keeping pace with him. Rightfully surprised, he moved back a bit, but the creature just kept near him. Dredging up some boldness, he moved towards it, and it moved away from him, always keeping that comfortable distance between them.
After a moment, my father continued on, trying to put the thought of the predator out of his mind as it continued to shadow him. It didn’t take long for the beam of my dad’s flashlight to illuminate a fish. Then, in an explosion of speed and bubbles, the barracuda shot out of the darkness and intercepted the fish with its razor-sharp teeth.
The barracuda retreated back into the inky waters, only to return to my father’s side a few heartbeats later. This kept up, for as long as the dive did. The barracuda stayed close, using my father’s light for hunting. When at last the time came to return to the boat, the barracuda remained by his side until they reached the craft, then spun in the darkness and dove away.
I’m still not sure if the barracuda saw my dad as a friend or as food.
28. USO (Unidentified Swimming Object)
I went spearfishing in the Atlantic Ocean and nearly caught more than I could handle. The depth was about 30 to 50 feet with a lot of pocket reefs around. I swam away from the reefs to see what was in the opposite direction. Visibility was pretty decent at about 40 feet, so I had no reason to be afraid of anything sneaking up on me. Boy, was I dead wrong.
In front of me, near the surface of the water, right at the edge of my visibility, I caught sight of this massive body. I could make out that the object was about two or three feet thick and about six to ten feet long. I could only see its body, whatever it was. I couldn’t see its head and if it had a tail, I couldn’t see that either.
Whatever it was, it was light silver in color with somewhat darker golden or brown stripes. It was only there for a second. It must have been turning to go in the opposite direction, away from me, and I only saw a part of its body. I had never seen anything like that and I was just so curious and intrigued. I had to know what it was.
I started to swim towards it. I had only swum about 12 feet towards this thing when this terrible fright came over my body. It was a primal, undeniable feeling of absolute dread and horror. My body was telling me that whatever that thing was, I needed to get the heck out of the water as fast as I could. And that’s exactly what I did.
I stopped swimming towards the object and immediately pivoted back to the boat. I swam on my back so I could keep looking behind me, in the direction that that thing had been. I still don’t know what it was. But it was massive. It was a giant and I was a fly. Some part of my animal brain knew what it was; dangerous.
29. My Own Worst Enemy
The only thing that really scares me when I’m diving is the potential for lung expansion injuries. The one time I freaked out was when I was swimming near a wreck at about 100 feet. I lost perspective and buoyancy control, suddenly realizing that I had surfaced about 40 feet in under 30seconds. Visions of the bends and a popped lung instantly came to mind and I panicked.
I dropped a ton of air from my BCD to get back to depth in a hurry. I got this massive squeeze from it in my ears which hurt like heck, but it gave me a chance to calm the heck down and get a grip on myself. Once I settled down, I got a better sense of where I was and I was able to re-establish control over my buoyancy…and not a moment too soon.
The bottom line is that the scariest thing that can happen when you’re diving is anything you do to yourself. Unless a shark decides to turn you into sushi. Then that’s the scariest thing.
30. Seal The Deal
I was on a night dive looking for a resident bluntnose sixgill shark. Out of nowhere, a large grey animal darted past me, just barely illuminated by my light. It was way faster than my research indicated a sixgill shark would be, so the idea that something even more dangerous was circling me flashed through my head. To make matters worse, I couldn’t quite make out the size of this mystery hunter either.
Then it darted past me again on the other side. It was definitely circling me. Both times it had darted past me, I had only caught sight of it in my peripheral vision. I was barely able to illuminate it with my forward aimed spotlight. It was just so fast. I decided to descend to the bottom to get a more defensible position.
When I got to the bottom, I decided just to sit on my knees and aim the light in one direction until whatever this thing was, flashed through my light again. And then it happened. As it turned out, the beast that had been “hunting” me was just a harbor seal. It had been using my light to find fish to eat. He—or she—hung out with me and my dive team for a while.
In the end, it was a pretty cool experience. We never did find the sixgill shark we had gone diving for in the first place but at least we helped someone find their dinner.
31. I Think I’ll Just Close My Eyes For A Second
This was pretty much my fault—and I may have slept through the dangerous part—but it’s frightening to know how close I came to swimming with the fishes…permanently. The weather had been pretty hot and the water temperature was also really warm. I’d gone for a dive and a long swim with my team in the morning, but I’m a dive-aholic, so we headed out for our second dive later that same day.
The boat dropped us off in the wrong spot so we had to swim against a massive current to get to our intended site. Halfway into the swim I just felt like I needed a nap. With the water being so warm, I just closed my eyes and did exactly that. It felt so peaceful. It was so easy just to let the water carry me, kind of like a sensory deprivation chamber. Little did I know that that decision would almost cost me my life.
Before I knew what was happening, I immediately dropped down to an even deeper depth. I was lucky that one of the guys on my dive team turned around at that exact moment and saw what was happening. He swam as fast as he could towards me and caught me before the currents could pull me into the dark deep and out of sight forever.
The other diver asked if I was OK and right after I said I was, I passed out again. I was so exhausted that I inadvertently spat out my breathing regulator out and started blowing bubbles. The other diver then went behind me, shoved my regulator back in, wrapped his arms around me, and took me straight to the surface. He saved my life.
32. Fear And Diving
I had a frightening experience before I was even able to get to 100 feet down. I was doing my certification dive for my PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) basic open water certification. I was at about 35 feet when my regulator started free-flowing. Our divemasters had instructed us on what to do in this scenario, but that still didn’t help me in the end.
They had taught us to put our tongues against the roof of our mouth to allow us to breathe when our regulators started free-flowing. I had done this technique before and it had worked just fine in the 70-degree pool. Unfortunately, I was in a 40-degree lake for my certification and the temperature added a bit of stress and anxiety to the situation.
I was fine until the tongue technique didn’t work. In a panic, I grabbed my backup regulator. I tried to clear my backup regulator of water but when I breathed in, I still managed to suck in water. My panic turned to sheer terror. Thankfully, this happened during my certification and there was a divemaster with my little group.
I signaled an emergency ascent to the divemaster and he and I shot to the surface. By this point, I was in a complete panic like I’ve never known before. I was convinced that I wasn’t going to surface ever, despite already having my head above water. Once we got to the surface, the divemaster, as expected, kept his cool.
He was smart enough to reach between my flailing arms and inflate my BCD. After a few seconds, he was able to calm me down, but I was unable to complete the dive. Every time my face went under the surface, I started having a panic attack. Eventually, I pushed through my fears but it took a lot of trying and a lot of courage.
I went on to get my advanced certification which involved a dive to 110 feet and a number of other challenges. Unfortunately, after that accident, diving gave me pretty bad anxiety and it got to a point where pushing through the fear was no longer worth it. It’s been a long time since then and I’m not sure how I’d react now. Maybe after all this time, I’d enjoy it again.
33. Grave Digging
This isn’t my story, it’s my older brother’s. A friend of his ran a museum and he was able to locate a ship that went down in Lake Michigan back in the 1800s. My brother’s job was to swim down to the wreck with a few others, wait outside the hull while they went inside to punch a hole through the rotted wooden hull and hand him bags filled with whatever they could find.
He said the creepiest part was after they punched a hole to hand out the bags. Instead of bags, however, random shoes or some other article of clothing came floating by. It took my brother a second to realize where these things were coming from. They were the clothes from the people who had gone down with the ship and lost their lives.
Even though they had permission to visit the shipwreck and recover whatever they could find, he said he felt like he was disturbing someone’s grave. They ended up turning all of those items over to the museum.
34. Health Hazard
An acquaintance who used to be an industrial diver told me this story. There was a ferry accident in the Philippines. It turned out that the company that owned the ferry had been using it to smuggle massive barrels of a banned pesticide to some of their plantations. Thus, when the ferry sank, it had the potential to become a toxic environmental disaster.
Even worse, they couldn’t retrieve the bodies of the crew who had gone down with the ship until they cleaned out the pesticides. The company that owned the ferry hired my friend and his coworkers to retrieve the barrels while the corpses were still underwater. By this point, the bodies had floated to the top of the upside-down hull and their hair was hanging down, swaying in the currents.
My friend and his team of divers managed to successfully remove the hazardous barrels of pesticides so that another dive team could retrieve the bodies. However, the event caused my friend so much trauma that he left that field altogether and now works on land.
35. Ranger Danger
I went spearfishing in Laguna Beach back in 2008. The beach was absolutely empty even though it was a perfect day. This never happened and it should have been a warning sign for me and my friends. Anyway, we headed out a few hundred yards and began diving. The visibility was horrible—maybe five to eight feet, at the absolute best.
Then a ranger appeared on the beach and started yelling at us from the shore. He was waving for us to come in. I had no fishing license at the time, so my buddy swam in to see what the ranger needed. After talking to the ranger, my friend started yelling and waving to me. At this point, I realized that I must have been in serious danger.
So, I swam back to shore, my heart racing the whole time. Apparently, the rangers had closed the beach because there had been several great white sharks hunting sea lions at that beach earlier that day. In that murky water, even the great whites would have had dampened senses and could easily have mistaken a human for food.
Knowing how close I had come to being shark food left me terrified. I didn’t return to that beach for ten years.
36. A Final Parting Bow
My most harrowing encounter would be the time I went fishing for rock cod in fairly shallow water on my 18-foot Boston Whaler. About 20 feet underneath me, clear as day, I caught sight of a truly massive predator. I had just been hanging off the bow, jigging. If I had fallen in, it would have been the end of me.
This great white shark swam right by, slowly. It was petrifying. I’m so glad I kept my balance and didn’t fall into the water.
37. Quit Your Whaling
I wasn’t deep-sea diving but this scared the heck out of me. I was on my boat once when I got a subtle reminder of just how mortal we humans are. I had stepped off the boat and gone for a dip when a pack of orcas breached just 20 feet away from me. I know that orcas are peaceful, but that didn’t stop me from freaking out.
When something the size of a box truck with a mouth as big as your whole body pops up right next to you from out of nowhere, you’ll freak out too.
38. Sticking To The Grind
I went diving in the early 1990s off the coast of Florida. I had been using a spearfish—rather ineffectually, I confess—for a few minutes. Suddenly, I heard this strange grinding noise to my right. I turned my head and my blood ran cold—I saw an enormous set of barracuda jaws grinding away just inches from my face. I could see the points on its fangs.
I still recall the fish’s eye rotating around to check me out as if considering whether or not I was food.
39. Say, “Cheese!”
I don’t consider myself to be a deep-sea diver. My deepest dive to date is 111 feet. I guess that’s still pretty deep. Anyhow, this incident didn’t occur on the ocean floor. I was in about eight feet of water in Crystal River, Florida. Divers and other marine enthusiasts know the area for attracting manatees in the winter months.
The authorities don’t let people dive there anymore. My own divemaster suggested snorkeling this dive because it was shallow and it usually scares the manatees off. It was my first set of dives out of certification, so I was determined to put my gear on regardless of what my divemaster said. I probably should have listened.
There were two manatees in the immediate area. An older juvenile was hanging out and loving the attention from the snorkelers. The other manatee, we assumed, was the older juvenile’s mother. I had a little disposable underwater camera and I couldn’t let this opportunity pass. As soon as I hit the bottom, the big one approached me.
I moved the camera out of my face but the mother manatee just got closer and closer. That’s when my nightmare began. She literally grabbed the regulator out of my mouth. Initially, I panicked, but my skills were still very fresh in my mind and I eventually calmed down and grabbed my octo. I spent the rest of the dive trying to get far enough away to get pictures of her. She was a nosy pest.
40. Mama, Don’t Preach
While I was in high school, my whole family went about getting their dive certifications. Who knew that even dive training was dangerous business? The last dive we had to do before we got fully certified was an open water dive. We decided we would do it on vacation, as all other dives were done in the States in a pool. It was a wreck dive about 200 yards offshore.
I’m not sure why but mom’s tank went empty way faster than everyone else’s while we were out at sea. She didn’t realize how low it was until it was below five percent capacity. In a rush, we surfaced and started swimming back to shore…but my mother panicked. She was an experienced swimmer and snorkeler but she couldn’t handle it with the other scuba gear.
We whistled for help but the locals thought that we were just being fools. They didn’t realize my mom was struggling. We kept her up and got her back. Finally, about 50 yards out, the locals realized we were towing in a diver in distress. Everything turned out OK in the end, but I haven’t been scuba diving since. It just conjures up bad memories.
My brother went on to become a divemaster though so it paid off, I think.
41. I Eat Fear For Breakfast
This experience was terrifying but also exhilarating—I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. I dove into the Great Blue Hole of Belize when I was 16 years old. I was 150 feet underwater. At some point, I became aware that I wasn’t alone. Not at all. About a total of a dozen bull sharks were swimming above and below me in circles.
Regardless of all of the sharks, I would still give this dive eleven out of ten stars. It was the coolest experience I’ve ever had.
42. Hand-Me-Down Horrors
I went for a dive about 40 feet deep in a lake behind a dam in Michigan. My dive buddy and I bought some equipment from a sergeant on the Air Force Base nearby and we were testing it out. The used tanks had a type of valve called a J-Valve. The way J-Valves work is that it gives you air normally until there’s about 500 psi in the tank, then it shuts off your air. You have to push a rod on the back of the tank to re-open it, then start your ascent. It’s not the most practical kind of dive tank but it was second-hand and cheap.
Anyway, my buddy and I descended to the bottom. Faster than I could say, “Arrr, matey!” my buddy headed off. Our dive plan was to follow the edge of a weed bed to a big stump that always had a bunch of fish chilling under it during the day. At least, that had been our plan. All of a sudden, my regulator stopped giving me air. That’s when things started to go downhill.
I breathed all the way out, expelling every single molecule from my lungs. And when I went to breathe in…nothing. I tried again, and no air. Then I remembered the J-Valve. I pushed the rod as I supposed to and I felt it chunk into place. I tried to breathe in again but once again, nothing. No air. At this point, I panicked.
I had panicked once before in my life, as a child, and I felt the exact same sensations rising again. It was like there was a small animal in my brain clawing to get out. I had enough presence of mind to pray, “Please Lord, help me stay calm and get out of this.” A sense of calm immediately washed over me. Thoughts flashed through my mind, but not in a panic.
On instinct (or by divine inspiration) I pulled on that regulator one more time. Thank God, I got a little bit of air. I tried again and got just a bit more air—just enough. I swam to my dive buddy, who, at that point, had realized I hadn’t been following him. I signaled “No air. Surfacing.” and got the heck out.
The next day, I went to the dive shop. It turned out that a spring in the J-Valve had failed and closed it prematurely in a position where it couldn’t re-open. I got a K-Valve (the kind that’s on all the time) installed instead. And yeah, I never bought used equipment again.
43. Halloween Under The Sea
I don’t have a scary diving experience myself but I’ve given a few divers a real fright. I used to teach rescue diving. Part of doing that sometimes was playing the role of “corpse floating around near the bottom” for students to rescue. I scared so many random people who weren’t part of the class. They would grab me and frantically shake me to see if I was still alive.
I would even have a big eight-by-ten slate next to me that said, “Not a corpse! Teaching a class!” They would almost never read it.
44. Deep-Sea Disco
This was scary and pretty cool. I did a night dive in Bonaire once. We had our flashlights on and the light attracted all kinds of curious fish. A small school of five or six Atlantic tarpon showed up. They stayed a good distance away from us during the day, but at night they used our light to hunt. At the height of this, there were ten or twenty of these three- to four-foot-long fish circling us head to toe.
They often came close enough to touch. Their bodies were reflective so it was like being inside a disco ball. We turned our lights off all at once and the tarpon got kind of confused. It took a while for my eyes to adjust but when they did, I saw these silhouettes just circling around us. I’ve dived with sharks and great barracuda, but that was probably the most unnerving experience I’ve had.
45. Curiosity & The Whale
My dad and I used to go fishing off the east coast of Nova Scotia, Canada in our Zodiac when I was little. On one of those outings, we stopped a couple of kilometers from shore when we spotted a pod of Minke whales. They were so close, just a few hundred meters away. Then we noticed another couple that popped up on the other side of us.
They came a little closer and kept playfully bobbing up to the surface to look at us. We figured they were just as curious about us as we were about them. We couldn’t believe how intelligent and almost human these creatures seemed. And then the unexpected happened—one bopped the underside of our Zodiac and we noped right out of there. They were a little too curious for me, thanks.
My craziest experience was diving with my father and cousin. We were searching for lobster in the cracks and crevices of huge rocks. My cousin signaled to come over and pointed in a dark hole. I shone my light in and right at this huge lobster that had gotten stuck. I sunk my arm into the hole and triumphantly pulled out the biggest lobster I had ever seen.
We weren’t the only ones with our eyes on our prize though. Two moray eels popped out of a couple of holes, fixated on our lobster.
47. Close Encounters Of The Carrier Kind
My dad was a navy diver for a while. The scariest story he told me about was when he was working underneath an aircraft carrier. Carriers are obviously massive ships. Someone on board screwed up though and hadn’t taken tide times into effect. So, my dad and his dive partner started seeing that the bottom of the carrier and the bottom of the bay were closing in on them.
They managed to make it out alive.
One of my first dives was a night dive in Hawaii—a bad idea. I went down to see the Manta Rays. They have lights at the surface and at the bottom to attract plankton which, in turn, attracts the manta rays. I thought I would be okay with a night dive, but I absolutely wasn’t. I totally spazzed out and couldn’t get over the darkness.
I’m not claustrophobic or afraid of the dark, but going under dark water is a truly creepy experience.
49. Bottom Of The Food Chain
The creepiest thing I ran into on a dive was an insanely bloated goblin shark carcass. Something had been eating and chewing away at it. So much of it floated up from the ocean bottom and it was drifting. Its eyes were hanging out. I am pretty sure If I wasn’t breathing through a regulator, I would have screamed louder than a thousand decibels.
Even the scariest predators are prey for something.
50. Reef of Grief
While I was snorkeling in Aruba once. I was out in the water that was probably 40-feet deep or so above this pretty decent-looking reef. I took a big breath and dove down to check out the reef a little closer. Out of nowhere, this massive sea snake came bolting out of the reef in my general direction. Needless to say, I turned around and swam like an Olympian back to the surface.
You never know what’s lurking beneath the waves.