Sailors Reveal The Scariest Nighttime Encounter They've Had In The Open Waters

The open ocean can be a terrifying place even in full daylight, but pitch blackness definitely ups the creep factor.

Unable to see your surroundings with miles of the unknown beneath you, it's understandable that most people might be a little jumpier than usual.

Reddit user u/SolaVirtusNobilitat asked:

"Sailors who have spent nights out on the water, what's the sketchiest encounter you've had out there in the dark?"


Off the coast of Jonesport on a WesMac. 3 of us decide to spend the night to get an even earlier start on the lobsters.

Quiet night, low winds, the Milky Way a broad band of light across the sky. Around 2 we all awake at the same time because we hear something really, really long slowly scrape along under the hull. Our beds were about a foot above from whatever it was. We looked at each other in silence. None of us wanted to be a hero and go up to see if there was anything to see. You wouldn't have, either, bud.



US Navy, Petty Officer in charge of Low visibility watch. Watch that is called when you are in the middle of the ocean and there is so much fog you can't see far from the ship. Watches are stationed in different places on a ship, to listen, watch and record any activity. It is to make sure no one sneaks up or we don't run into another ship or boat.

Anyway, I had just made my rounds and making sure everyone was in place and awake because it was middle of the night and pitch black. I was just about to check in with bridge watch and I get a call over the radio from 2 different watch stations. They reported movement in the water but was unable to see what it was, it sounded like something cutting through the water very fast. I called for the watch officer and I was already at the bridge so reported it and went to investigate one station while the officer went and checked the other.

With us posting at each, we both heard it, but could not see anything. The fog was so dense you couldn't see the water line. Two different stations hearing the same thing. (LHA is not a small ship).

We were all tense. We were thinking the worst. Just then a break in the fog reveals that there are huge fish swimming around us feeding on the algae. The algae was luminous and as the fish would swim through, it looked like hundreds of shooting stars in the water. It was beautiful! Even these words can't describe the beauty.

So my report read that it was a huge school of fish. The only people to whiteness it was the people on the watch.



While I was on 31st MEU, one night at like 0100, I walked down the starboard outside gangway that runs from the Marine maintenance shops, to the gym on the starboard side. It's about 150' feet long, and since we were in blackout conditions, it was pitch black outside.

About 2/3 the way down, there was this "Cwhiz" part of the defense system, that sticks out off the gangway so the hand rope cuts out through there.

As soon as I let go of the rope to grab the wall on the opposite side, the ship, which was in otherwise calm, flat water, decided to suddenly drop 10' as if it ran across another ships wake.

As I struggled to hold on, I swear I could feel something pulling me, almost as the ship suddenly rocked 45 degrees and I was getting shaken off like water on a dog.

Once it recovered, and I got my footing, it was back to flat, calm water. I blindly scrambled as fast as I could to the end, got inside and no one knew what bump I was talking about.

Mind you this is a several hundred ton warship and home to thousands. If there was chop; we'd know.

Nevertheless I took the interior passages after that.

Edit: apparently it's "CIWS" not "Cwhiz" but I'm going to leave it for comment continuity. Too many acronyms.



Not a boat or sailor, but back in 2014 I did a lot of IT work on off-shore drilling rigs during their final construction phases. Basically, after the rigs went through most of their construction, I would be flown out there for a day or two to get all of the general networking and systems up and running. This included verifying the microwave data link back to shore.

Now this was only about 10-20 miles off the CA coast, but it's still as dark as you can imagine out there. It's even quieter than normal because during this phase, there is maybe only one or 2 other people on board. Typically an electrician and a general foreman or similar. Sometimes only one of the two.
Anyhow, I was working on a rig about 20 miles out from Long Beach CA. I was going through some rough relationship issues at the time and wasn't in a great place mentally or emotionally.

We didn't have internet on the rig at this point so I was pretty bored and caught up in my head so I decided to go take a walk.
I ended up on the helipad smoking a cigarette and just looking at the stars. About 2 minutes later I almost crapped myself or jumped out of my skin. Maybe both.

As I was sitting there, a very small Asian man tapped me on my shoulder from behind. He was wearing a high-vis vest and white construction helmet. He asked me for a cigarette and where the closest bathroom was. I gave him one and pointed him in the right direction. Didn't really think twice about it.

Walked back down to the living quarters and passed the foreman on the way. Told him about the guy I gave a smoke to and he stopped walking and immediately turned around. Told me no one else was on this rig but him and I.

I ran to the IT closet where they kept their security camera storage appliance but our PoE switch wasn't installed yet. No video. Nothing.

We turned on every light source possible on the rig. Did a basic walk through but found no one or any traces of anyone.
We also contacted our transport company which also always typically has a search and rescue team available. They flew over 4 SAR and 2 security personnel. They did a walkthrough of the entire rig. Every possible inch they claim. Took almost a full day. Never turned up.

Still get a bit creeped out thinking about it. If given 3 wishes, one of them would be to know who/what that was and where they went.



So I'm a US Navy guy. We were somewhere in the Pacific and it was warm so I am assuming the Indian ocean, this was circa 2004. I worked nights and it's supersizing how quiet an aircraft carrier can be at night.

On this night there were no flight operations and about 80% of the crew is asleep, no one even-thinking about flying around. The sea wasn't too rough that day, however I do remember the sound of the random thuds of slightly larger waves. So, at about 1am we decide to cut through the hanger bay to lunch. There were two guys in-front of us. I could see them moving in back and forth in a "s" type pattern meaning the ship was rolling gently port to starboard (left to right). As the two guys in-front of me "S" snaked toward the open aircraft elevator door (side door about 50x40ft).

I could see the top of a wave coming right at us. That wave had just decided to join us in the hanger bay. The bottom of the wave hit with that vibrating thud, the top of the wave sheered off and rolled right in to the hanger-bay. Knocking over the two guys and as it turned from a wave into a puddle, the wave decided to return to the ocean sucking the two guys out toward the dark ocean.

Fortunately one sailor stopped short and the other managed to grab on to the post and wire that loosely guard the elevator door opening.
That was 100% sketch!



I was on a friends boat in the San Fransisco Bay a good number of years ago. It was well past dark and I was enjoying the ocean breeze leaning over the gunwhale. All of the sudden something black exploded out of the water while cutting loose this slobbery snarling "BLAARRRRRGGHHH." All I saw was a flash of crazy sharp fangs sillouhhetted by a black greasy looking mass before it crashed back into the water.

After everybody came running to see why I was screaming and crapping my pants it was explained to me that I probably saw a sea lion jump out of the water in suprise at the boat passing so close to it.



More weird than sketchy, but squid fishermen. Hundreds of them with white lights in the middle of the night and in the middle of what we thought was no where. They were small boats so we saw the lights well before we saw them on radar. Kind of freaked until we got closer and realized what they were.



Underway, early March in a snowstorm, well east of Cape Cod, moderate seas and ship is rocking pretty good. We lose power and go beam to the seas. Except for emergency lighting, which was not much because our battle lanterns were garbage, and personal mini mag lights, it's dark as hell at times. The worst part? You could hear the creaks and groans of the ship. It was intensified when the ship would take longer than normal to right itself. It made the ship seem much older than it was. At times like those, I would say to myself, "should've went to college, dipsh*t!"



Not really an encounter but we had a man over board at 2am, 8 days into a 21 day sail from the Galapagos to Polynesia. Really heavy weather and couldn't snuff out parasail and someone came forward without being clipped on and got knocked over board. Took us about 25 minutes to get them back onboard and 3 hours to sort out the lines etc.

In terms of encounters, huge groups of luminous jelly fish are pretty weird to see at night. Curious whales/dolphins are really cool.

Probably the sketchiest is coming close to container ships during the night, those things don't change course unless it's essential.



When you're in the middle of the ocean and realise that if you got dumped in the water it is likely that no one would even notice you missing for a while and it's a big f**king ocean to go looking in for one guy.



50-odd miles offshore on a sailboat, pitch black. Suddenly we hear a loud "CRACK" and the boat shifts an inch to port. Then silence for twenty minutes followed by another loud "THUMP" and boat shudder. Made our way quickly back to the coast. In dry dock there was a 2 foot diameter dent in the hull.

I'm guessing a sleeping whale.


I heard what I'm assuming is a whale breaching while it was pitch dark.

It'd be cool if I could see it, but at night when I have no idea what's out there it was kind of spooky. Sounded like a lot of water shifting around and big splashes in the dark. I don't see what else it could've been.



Two situations:

I was on a tanker somewhere in the middle of Indian Ocean. Graveyard watch, fairly good weather, good visibility. I notice a lighthouse light ahead of me, looks far but it is very distinct, flashes rhythmically, quite bright. I check the Radar, nothing. I check the chart nothing for at least 400 miles. I continue to observe until it just stops abruptly. Freaked me out a bit.

Waters near philippines, quiet watch, few fishing boats in the area. Suddenly i notice a very faint light dead ahead of me, looks very very far, nothing on radar, can barely see it. I thought i have some time until it shows up on Radar but something was telling me to alter course to starboard. So i did and 1 minute after the alteration i was passing a tiny fishing boat by about 200m with one guy with a sh*tty torch on board. If i didn't act on my instinct i would have ran him over.



The actual dark. It is pitch black out in the middle of the ocean. That can be quite unnerving. On the upside on cloudless nights the night sky is breathtaking.


The water is also breathtaking as well.


Yeah but that's on the downside.



Full disclosure, this is not directly sailing related. But I am a sailor and have a creepy night time ocean experience to share.

While guiding a night dive once, we had a massive female seven gill shark follow us for the whole dive, just occasionally coming into our visibility before darting off.

She was probably just curious of our lights or maybe using them to hunt but it was just really unnerving to know she was around but unable to see her.

That being said, I love sharks, and she did us no harm. They're usually super chill and not to be feared. But you can't help but respect any predator bigger than you are who while it follows you around in the dark.



Out at sea at night no moon, pitch black. I'm talking shootin the sh*t with a shipmate and out of nowhere whap!!!! The loudest slap I have ever heard. My buddy literally screams. WTF!!!! A flying fish, right in the face. That was 40 years ago. I'm still laughing.



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 laboured 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.



Coming through a part of the Mediterranean with a lot of oil platforms, at night, I was conn, one of the other ensigns was JOOD, and our Navigator was OOD. Nav ducked into the chartroom, so it was just me and the JOOD when we saw what looked like another oil platform on the horizon. Only it wasn't showing up on either of our radars, it wasn't on the chart, and the laser rangefinder wasn't working.

So the two of us are watching this thing get closer and closer, and we were about to call the captain up to the bridge (JOOD had just picked up the phone) when Nav walks back into the pilothouse, takes one look at the two of us freaking out and goes " guys know that's the moon, right?"

The quartermasters left that one out of the deck log.



Not a sailor, but I was once on a small research vessel for 37 days.

I don't know the specifics, but we were about half way into our trip when we lost all power. It was night, and I was woken up my people shouting and loud banging. It wasn't panic or danger, it very clearly sound like frustrated problem solving and crankiness.

Anyway, it's f**king black. Everything is pitch black. There some emergency safety lights here and there, but it's mostly just red indicators with small strobes at the bottom of doorways.

People are walking around below deck setting up wind up lanterns, taping flashlights to water bottles (makes a nice lantern) and trying to figure out what's going on.

It's dead quiet except for what noise we are making. No current. No waves. No wind. No moon. We are in the middle of nowhere. Black and silence. It was deafeningly silent.

Grabbing my head light I make my way up to the rear deck. It was like walking into a wall of nothing.

I've never felt so out of space and disoriented. My head light illuminated the deck and the sky was brilliant with stars. It truly is amazing to be out there with no light and just the unimaginable vastness of space. The thing is, my head light messes with my night vision.

So I turned it off as I look out to the black horizon, where it ought to be. Shouldn't take long for my eyes to adjust and then I'll be able to make out the shimmer of starlight refracting across the calm waters.

The ships lights flicker on and my star gazing is cut short. Sucks. Holding the railing while walking back to the cabin door, the lights cut out again. I keep walking.

I feel, for a moment, the most intense disorientation overwhelm my senses. My eyes only see black. The briefness of the ships lights was enough to close down my irises. My inner ear, already uneasy from weeks on the sea, spun and flips as upper back smacked into the water.

I was overboard and it felt like forever entering that water. The panic of immersion and no direction. I flailed and I was underwater, cold and black.

That was probably one of the worst experiences I've ever had.

The ships lights came back on as I found the surface. I'm sure it was only seconds, and it was only minutes until I was hoisted out of the water and it was years ago yet everyone still won't let me forget that time I fell overboard.




This happened in 1986, my wife and I were two days out of the Azores headed to Newport, RI. We were in our 60' Dutch built wooden trawler bringing it to the USA. It was green.

It was a gorgeous night, 1/4 moon, gazillions of stars, big pod of dolphins playing in our bow wake, phosphorescent seas all around us, flying fish bouncing off the cabin. Our wake was visible for at least a mile behind us, glowing in the night.

That night I had the Middle watch, about 0330 I decided that since there were no running lights on the horizon and we were 200 miles south of the shipping lanes that it would be OK to turn our running lights off so I could really enjoy the spectacular light show Mother Nature was providing. Even woke the wife up early so she could see the light show outside.

About 5 minutes later an American voice booms over the radio; "Will the green fishing boat please turn your lights back on!". They didn't answer my question asking who they were.

There were no boats visible anywhere. No wakes, no glow! To this day I don't know who made the broadcast. When the sun came up there were no ships in sight.

300+ miles from the nearest piece of dirt, someone was watching us!



Highly doubt it was a sub, they aren't going to break radio silence for something that minor.

Willing to bet a Navy P-3 saw you while they were out on patrol and decided to mess with you/"enforce maritime law". They usually flew out of either Rota or the Azores IIRC back then. They can fly far enough away from you that you won't hear or see them while still seeing you with their optics. Guessing they saw you turn the lights off and thought "hey, watch this!" because the majority of those patrols were/are incredibly mundane and boring.



I was onboard the USS Rueben James in 2012. I was standing watch in combat and decided to take a smoke break on the starboard side wind break at 3am. It was cloudy so almost pitch black. I had gone down at this time on many occasions and there are usually 1 or 2 other people up that late going out for a smoke break. When I got out there I could see nothing but the cherry of someone else's cig. I face outward and leaned on the break and lit my camel gold and asked how his night was going, having no idea who I was speaking to but figuring I would find out when I heard his voice/description of his night.

I got no response.

I turned around to see if he had heard me and with my eyes adjusted I would have been able to make him out leaning against the steel wall. As I turned around the moon cracked out from the clouds and slightly illuminated the small confined area I was in and the only 2 directions anyone could have walked away. There was no one there. I was alone. I had seen the cigarette and the exhale of smoke from someone on that wind break but no one was there and no one could have left the smoke deck without my hearing or seeing them. I don't believe in ghost or the afterlife or any of that nonsense but needless to say I didn't stick around outside for long.


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