Fishermen and mariners spend a lot of time out at sea. While we could never really imagine what they’d run into out there, these brave souls are here to share their tales. From bizarre orange lights to inexplicable voices, here are some of the craziest things people experienced out in the open ocean.
Physically seeing a ship and confirming it on radio, talking to the captain, then 10 seconds later, looking up and it's gone. I did a radio check and nobody knew the call sign or what ship I allegedly talked to. Also, we got caught on the edge of a tropical storm. I was observing it with binoculars while my uncle and grandfather dropped the last crab cages. Water tornados are really scary.
I was on holiday and fishing with my girlfriend in a little rowing boat that we rented (with a motor). We were in a remote area on a fjord in Norway. We were about 400m offshore when some fog started to develop around us. After a few minutes, it was so thick that we could only see a few meters around us. The water had become mirror flat and it was so quiet that I could almost hear my heart beating.
We sat in the boat and talked about how strange it was. We also snapped a couple of selfies before firing up the motor to try to slowly navigate out of the fog. My girlfriend was getting a bit scared and so was I. Even though the boat engine was on and in gear, the boat wasn’t moving. I tilted the engine slightly up and saw that the propeller was indeed spinning, so I lowered it again and gave it some gas. We still weren't moving. My girlfriend dropped a piece of paper in the water and I gave it more gas.
Nothing, we just weren't moving. The water was still, the fog almost seemed to pulse around us, and it was eerily silent. My girlfriend started to bawl and I was freaking out when suddenly it felt like a giant foot kicked at the back of the boat, shoving us forward. The boat surged out of the fog back into the fjord and the fog dissipated behind us in a matter of a few seconds. The propeller had taken hold and we headed back to the dock.
Now, this was odd, but not as odd as what awaited us when we got back to the hut. The owner of the boat was waiting and said he was taking the boat back immediately because of some booking problem. He gave us back twice the money we had rented it for and then said he had to leave. So, we headed back to the boat together to get our stuff. As we were walking, my girlfriend mentioned the fog. He said, "Yes, we know about it.” We pushed him further on the subject but he got a bit angry and said, “Just get your things.”
It was bizarre. Back at the hut, we noticed the selfies we had taken were entirely white. There was zero EXIF data on them on both phones. Oddly, both of our phones were also 100% charged. This in itself was odd as it was mid-afternoon and my s7 usually had about 40% remaining because of battery degradation.
I was on a fishing boat heading for the Ross Sea in Antarctica. Two times, we got fully stopped in the water and completely surrounded by ice. White as far as the eye could see. Turns out, it was a thin layer of superficial ice that forms sometimes. After a few tries (and a couple of hours) we moved on, but it was pretty scary at the time. Moving forward through the ice was quite weird too.
2008 in the Atlantic. A wall. Our deck was 60 feet off the water and the wall was easily 30 feet off the water. It came from nowhere. It wasn’t on a chart, not on anything. We saw it on radar and approached slowly to inspect. Not sure whatever came of it as we went back to doing gator squares, waiting to refuel. It was easily 30 feet high and miles long.
Whales doing ballet in the bay. It was hilarious to watch such a massive beast come flying out of the water over and over again like it was just playing. Meanwhile, it's big enough to just crush me instantly. We also had a few small ones jumping about. My grandma has a story about an adult one coming up right behind the boat, just looking her in the eye for a minute and disappearing. My grandpa and his fishing buddy never even saw it, but it's one of her favorite memories on the water.
My father used to sail yachts for rich guys across the Atlantic so they could have it in their side homes depending on the time of year. His first time he got to truly see an open, starry night, he said he was appalled that it was so unusual to him. He added that because we’re all living in cities, everyone’s missing out on that kind of natural beauty that almost every other human in history would’ve had access to.
In Slovenia, while on our research vessel, we saw a pale and bold thing almost emerge from the sea. It looked incredibly humanoid (as in its head was poking above sea level, with a thin layer of water over its head). It was there for a split second and we assumed it was a diver trying to scare us. Lo and behold, we carried out a biodiversity assessment in that very area and found nothing apart from some smaller fish. But no man. To this day, me and my marine biology professors have no idea what it was and how it got there. We named this species as baldus manius .
Solo night watch on a sailboat delivery. New moon with overcast skies. The strangeness wasn't what I could see, but rather what I couldn't. Total silence on a broad reach, surfing down long unbroken swells. No light in the sky, almost no perceived movement, just four hours of nothingness. Occasionally, a wavelet would crest and reflect the light of the navigation light. It would cast a pale green flash that was the only reminder that I was on the ocean and not cast into an endless void. It was the most unsettling experience I've ever had.
My family traveled trans Atlantic in 1957 on a steamship, the SS Constitution, when I was seven. The ship sailed fairly close to the Capelinhos, which was a submarine (underwater) volcano that erupted from the fall of 1957 to the spring of 1958. It’s in the Azores off the coast of Portugal or thereabouts. The ship’s captain came as close as he dared and we all came out on the deck to watch. From where we were, it looked like the volcano was floating on the ocean’s surface. They told me that the volcano was creating an island, and as crazy as that sounds, it turns out to be true.
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I was on the helms, just before a period of darkness when one of the stars expanded from a dot to a flower-shaped orange thing that rotated very slowly. That thing was there for the whole night. As odd as it was, I don’t believe in alien spaceships. So, I’m still sticking to the theory of an astronomical phenomenon.
One time, off the coast of FL one night, I was driving parallel to the coast headed south about 50 miles out to sea. I looked right and saw the shoreline, clear as a bell. Almost simultaneously, someone topside got a text message. You could only see about 15 miles to the horizon from my pilothouse, and cell reception is about the same. Needless to say, I got that sinking feeling that there was some egregious error with the GPS and that we were standing in danger.
I freaked out and started trying everything I could from checking the radar to see if it was picking up land to verifying Fathometer readings against charted depth. I also reckoned the last 24 hours of course and speed changes. Turned out we were where the GPS thought we were, there was just some refractive nonsense going on.
I also had visual and radar paint on some vessels in excess of 40 miles, which is also theoretically impossible. I know that it doesn’t sound that bad, but it was pretty frantic. Imagine driving through the ocean and suddenly, you’re unsure if you’re in safe water because the atmosphere is bending the light wrong.
In my experience, I’d have to say it was when dolphins were taking turns surfing in waves behind my sailboat at night. I could clearly see the phosphorescent trail of them surfing down the wave and going between my rudder and keel. There were more than 20 individuals with the most amazing trails through the water.
I was motoring through Hurricane Irene between Anegada and Jost Van D. in open water. I was many miles from any coast or harbor. Yet, I somehow stumbled upon a local man with no boat doing "deep sea spearfishing". That dude had a 4x1.5 foot Rubbermaid container attached to two buoys filled to the brim with ice and fish. He had at least 300 pounds of deep sea catches (before gutting). And all he had was a rudimentary, blacksmith, iron spear rigged with silicone tubing on a stick for the propulsion.
Why are you spearfishing in the open ocean during a hurricane?! Not to mention, how did you spear all those, you wizard?! We scooped him up, gave him a ride, and then enjoyed an enormous bounty of fresh deep sea fish with the fellow. He must have given us 20-25 pounds of his catch when we scooped him and gave him a ride to Jost Van D. I saw the dude later on, getting off his dingy with plenty of fresh catches for the tourists. He was chill, poured us some of his homebrew booze and open grilled us some local chicken. I never learned his name.
I only spent about two months on the water, with about two weeks on the Great Lakes. But even just a couple miles offshore in the Atlantic when it’s a foggy and calm night, I totally get what sailors talk about when they say “sailing off the edge.” Sometimes it looks like the water just stops and there’s nothing after it.
I went on a trip from Hull to the Netherlands on a yacht several years ago. The North Sea is known for its oil and gas. What I found strange and almost creepy was the sheer amount of mostly abandoned oil rigs, just scattered about. Some were relatively close together as well. I remember being able to see roughly 13 of them around us at one point.
I live in Michigan and we have the Great Lakes. These lakes contain huge shipwrecks and fish so big that people can't believe they aren't from the ocean. Lake Michigan freezes in the winter near the beach to wear people can climb the ice, but it freezes in weird ways. It looks like giant frozen waves and small ice caves. Sometimes ice spheres form as the winter starts and thousands of ice balls just wash up on the beach.
There are countless real horror stories and just as many ghost stories about the lakes. The strangest thing I've personally seen is that giant ice wave effect and people swimming in freezing temperatures. I've seen massive ships visit from the ocean. They make you sit there in awe at how deep those lakes must be for those to function.
Many people lose their lives and go missing in Lake Michigan every year. There are unpredictable currents that can pull people under. Most people here are taught how to best deal with these situations, but it still can pull you out into extremely deep waters where it’s likely you won’t get enough energy to make it back to shore.
I was doing substance patrolling operations and some smugglers had tried to sink their boat when we showed up. But, it had too many bales of powder to sink. We took in the smugglers and then shot the boat, but the bullets would only penetrate a few feet into the bales. We tried, but this thing just wouldn’t sink.
A bunch of whales were curious about what was going on, so we stopped because we didn’t want to harm them. We rammed the boat at slow speed with our ship and it broke in half and sunk, except for the bales of snow. They had holes in them and the whales were playing with them. I had to go down in a boat and get the bales of powder away from the whales, who were now enjoying themselves a lot more than they were a couple of hours ago. That was a long day.
My dad and I used to fish in the Gulf of Mexico. We were way out when my dad caught a rope. He pulled it for seemingly ever until we found a wooden box on one end. The box was a trap filled with stone crabs (normal enough) but we couldn’t find another end of the rope, the trap was very worn, and the crabs seemed to be newly caught.
An owl 300 miles offshore. I hoped it would stay with us or get close enough to catch, but it flew off into open water. Lots of land birds get stuck at sea, sometimes they accidentally fall asleep on a ship and wake up in the middle of the ocean to try to find land again. Some get blown out from storms. They eventually drink too much saltwater and pass. The smaller ones get eaten by seagulls. It's sad.
We were at least five days away from land and our ship was covered, bow to stern, in praying mantis. After all my years out on the water, seeing all of them on our boat like that wasn’t truly the weirdest thing ever. But after not seeing much life for a few weeks, it was definitely an experience for all of us aboard.
I’m not a mariner or anything like that, but I did see something peculiar — waves. Not just any old waves though, they were in a grid. I was standing in a grid of waves, so I got scared and ran because I had a real bad feeling about it. I asked the lifeguard what that meant and he immediately got everyone out of the water because grid waves mean serious riptides, which can be dangerous for boats too.
One time, on the coast, I saw a massive storm stretching as far as you could see, which is very far when you have nothing obstructing your view. There was lightning everywhere. I can’t put it into words. Every city was probably getting a lightning strike per minute, but from my point of view, with this massive panoramic view, there must have been 10 bolts of lightning per second, sustained over at least an hour. It was absolutely mesmerizing. Like any good mariner, I grabbed my smokes, did the ol' one foot on the railing and watched.
A giant sea tortoise with a seagull perched on its back from the flight deck of the Nimitz. Then we ran it over. Also, we had a problem with birds off the bow while trying to do flight ops. So, the captain had the helicopter squadron buzz them away by doing close flybys of the bow so we could launch. But the birds didn't move and a bunch got chopped up.
I was fishing with my grandfather and in Prince William Sound, we pulled into a small bay for the night. As I was about to fall asleep, I heard strange grunting coming from the shore. I almost soiled my pants when it started. My grandpa heard it too, so we pulled out a flashlight and shone it at the source. It was two black bears mating.
I worked on a research vessel. We once trawled up a prosthetic leg a few days off land. I always wondered what happened to the person who that leg belonged to. Did they lose it overboard while fishing? Were they also attached to the leg in the water at some point? The mystery of the leg still sticks with me five years later.
I've spent about a full year, in total, at sea. Probably the strangest experience was the one time. It was only once. I was on a fishing boat and the skipper just turned the engine off for the night. We just… drifted while two guys slept and one stayed on watch. The silence and the sound of the waves on the boat was peaceful, yet disconcerting.
One time, I was sailing towards Costa Rica. This was somewhere around the spring of 2012. It was 2:00 a.m. on an extremely dark night. We looked over the side we saw bioluminescent plankton outlines and trails of dolphins eight or nine feet below the surface. They were cavorting beneath the boat. It was quite a scene.
So. Many. Flying. Fish. Its also sort of eerie being in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, just absolutely nothing in any direction, and many stories up, knowing you'd just vanish forever if you somehow fell in. It’s also kind of crazy how big some storms and waves get. I never saw anything otherworldly or mythical or anything, but your eyes can play tricks on you in that sort of environment.
At sea off Christmas Island, north of Australia. On warship HMAS Sydney, saw a star moving across the sky. It was so bright that it lit the sky up with a kind of electric blue. It looked like electric blue daylight. It was also moving rather slow compared to a star. It was most of the way across the sky and turned 90 degrees off the atmosphere. All the crew in the bridge with me were all stunned and not a single one of us had ever seen anything like it. It was scary, awesome and burned into my memory.
My grandfather was working in the Soviet fleet when they tested nukes. He was there when Tsar-Bomba exploded, too. He says that there were violent waves and everything was shaking. (They didn't see the nuclear explosion, but the consequences were horrific). I may ask him for more of his army stories because he’s quite old now (he's 80).
I was on a Frigate making way from San Diego, heading to Hawaii. One of the lookouts spotted what appeared to be a small island off in the distance. The captain decided to investigate. We pulled alongside what was a very large, unalive whale. What was memorable was the hundreds of sharks visible in the water, tearing chunks out of the carcass.
In the South China Sea, I saw some lights closing in and couldn’t see anything on the radar. I was about to have a heart attack because those lights were closing in really fast. I went onto the bridge wing where I could take a 30m jump into the water, as I was certain we were about to collide with some huge piece of… I don’t what. It was when it flew barely one meter off the bridge that I realized it was an aircraft with a really strange shape. Maybe it was a drone, I really don't know. I still don't know why it was flying so close to the water.
After spending several seasons commercially fishing Alaskan waters, every season brings new and strange things. One time, I was sitting on the deck at sunset, gazing out, and I heard what must have been a massive splash behind me. I turned around to find completely still water with no ripples for miles. None of the other three dudes onboard heard a thing.
When hurling through the Indian ocean, after my duty’s done, I’ll usually go and lie on the open deck to look at Milky Way and stars. A few times, I heard wailings of women and colorful dancing lights, which would be there for a brief amount of time. Once they became routine, it didn't bother me anymore.
A cargo ship at night, dimly lit, that did not answer any radio calls. We technically had right of way as a sailing yacht and wanted to contact them to make sure we had a plan. In the end, we adverted the course as we didn’t want to crash. It felt like a ghost ship, but I like to assume that they just didn’t have someone on the radio.
The weirdest experience is something I felt. I once had a suspicious gut-turning uneasiness (not seasickness), like how people describe a haunting. I’ve felt it before in New Orleans. This instance was felt sailing across the Philippine Sea from Guam to Singapore via the Sulu sea. It only lasted an hour or so, but it just felt like “something’s here” vibes. In reality, we were the only ship in eyesight or on the radar. Eight months later, they found the wreckage of the USS Indianapolis. I realized that’s the approximate area we sailed through.
2010 Atlantic: fog. An endless fog that laid down on the ship while in transit. It was so thick you would get soaking wet from it on the smoke deck. You couldn't see outside more than five feet. The blowers in the engine room sent it inside and we had to turn them off. I went to a mooring station to look out and it suddenly disappeared. We just drove out of it into a perfectly clear sky. There wasn’t a cloud all the way to the horizon.
When I was a very young and green cadet on a tanker in the GOM, our Boatswain grabbed one off the deck, looked at me and said, “Flying fish are good luck.” He then proceeded to bite the fish’s head clean off and toss it overboard. He did this all while maintaining eye contact. He’d casually take the scales out of his mouth like they were sunflower seeds. It’s worth mentioning that this man was the largest man I’d ever met in my short life at that point. Picture Terry Cruz, but not as lean and with a Cape Verde accent. It was the strangest thing I’ll ever see, but I’m constantly surprised by nature.
Back in the 1980s, I was sailing around the Philippines and was becalmed one morning at about 10:00 a.m. There was no land in sight. The water was as flat as a mirror. Within half an hour, the sky and the sea turned yellow. I couldn't see where the horizon was. There was no funny smell, no wind, I couldn't see the sun. There was nothing, just yellow. It really weirded me out. It stayed like that for about an hour and then just slowly dissipated. I thought it might have been a sand storm but there was no sand on the boat or on the water. It wasn't fog either.
I was working on a commercial fishing vessel and there was a fire in the engine room. We put it out but we were in water ~200nm south of Panama City, FL in the middle of August. Fellow fishermen towed us in, but it took two days. We slept on the deck and because we had no lights on, we could see every star possible. It was so clear you could also see satellites moving across the sky. The stabilizers were still down when we lost power, about 15-20 feet down. At night, you could see them clear as day because of the bioluminescence.
The "green flash." It's a real thing. You just have to get the timing right at sunset or sunrise. I believe it happens when the sun refracts through the water. I think it happens when the sun perfectly passes through the sea with nothing above it due to your relative position. It’s truly beautiful and inspiring to see. I first saw it in the British Virgin Islands off of Anegada. I then saw it again in Cane Garden Bay. Nothing can top that kind of beauty.
I’m not a mariner but I was in the sea cadets training to be one. This one time, I’ll never forget that I was driving the boat when I saw someone just randomly swimming towards the sea. When I asked if they needed help, they said that they didn’t. They then just kept going. I still to this day wonder why they were doing it.
Smoke. One time, my ship went through the Malacca Strait and we could barely see the bow. In the neighboring countries (Malaysia and Indonesia) people were burning the rainforest to make way for palm oil plantations. There was so much smoke in the Malacca Strait that it restricted visibility. It got into the ship through the vents. All my clothes smelled like sweet smoke for a week. Yes, for some reason the smoke was kind of sweet. I could smell it three days before we even got to the Malacca Strait.
I did dinghy racing on Lake Michigan. By far the craziest was the harbor we sailed from. There were salmon spawning and all summer, on the way to the dock, you would see maybe three a day. Also, my dad used to have a house on Block Island before it became super expensive. The ferry went through a submarine test ground that also had whales, so you would see something and it could either be a whale or a submarine.
We were on a six-month sailing trip. This isn’t that strange, but I kept hearing my name at night when no one was around. I told my husband and our friends that were on another boat. Apparently, they experienced the same thing (hearing their own names). I’m guessing it’s just a combo of wind and boat sounds paired with isolation. Though, I was relieved that they were experiencing it as well. I thought I was losing it.
I’m a landlubber, but years ago, some random passenger on a cruise ship dialed an emergency number. Evidently, he thought that he saw a foreign submarine on Finnish territorial waters. The border guard and the Navy started a full-scale manhunt and a few moments later, the ”submarine” was identified as an isle. It looked like a submarine from miles away.
I once encountered several enormous dragonflies. This was in the Red Sea, near the Sinai coast. I have no idea what they were doing there. The nearest land was as barren as the surface of Mars and twice as dry. The ocean was salty as always, and thus far beyond the ability of dragonflies. Land and sea were both equally inhospitable to them. There was literally nothing else alive above sea level other than the dragonflies and the people on the boat. The insects landed on our boat for a little while, then moved on. To where, I cannot say.
I was in my fourth year in the navy. It was fall and we were off the coast of Cape Hatteras when one of my lookouts spotted a water sprout. We maneuvered and avoided. Then another formed and we did the same thing. Then another and another... before we knew it, there were 10-15 water sprouts all around us. It looked like science fiction. I can’t believe I didn’t get a picture.
A helicopter dropping packages with glow sticks on them in the Bermuda Triangle. Jetskis appeared out of nowhere and collected them. It was way too far out for a jetski to get there, they'd have to be from a boat. I was asleep on the net, everyone else was below deck. I was afraid to move because this operation was likely to be something sketchy. But, it could’ve been some training thing. In the morning, I told everyone about it and they said, "Ah, yeah. That happens sometimes," and went about the morning.
I was sailing off the coast of Korea at night in really dense fog. I had a visibility of less than 100m. All of a sudden, an unbelievably bright orange light came falling from the sky. It went diagonally from left to right and when the light hit sea level, everything went dark. The whole sky was lit up orange but I couldn’t see what it was through the fog.
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