Are you ready to dive into the underwater wonders off the coast of North Carolina? Trust me, you’re in for an epic journey filled with unforgettable wreck diving adventures and encounters with incredible marine life paired with crystal clear and warm water.  The Crystal Coast is home to some of the most amazing diving destinations along the Atlantic coast, with pristine beaches and easy access to dive sites. Whether you're a seasoned diver or just starting out, the Crystal Coast offers a truly remarkable underwater experience that will leave you in awe. Grab your gear because we’re about to explore the best scuba diving in North Carolina.

Spade Fish

The Graveyard of the Atlantic

Let’s kick things off by diving into the fascinating history of the region known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Picture this: trying to navigate through treacherous currents, shifting sandbars, and intense storms that have led to thousands of shipwrecks off the Crystal Coast of North Carolina. Some of the most famous of these ships include the Queen Anne’s Revenge grounded by Blackbeard the Pirate, and many World War II casualties from tankers to cargo ships, and German submarines like U-352 and gunboats. These wrecks have become more than just a glimpse of the past; in time they’ve transformed into vibrant ecosystems teeming with marine biodiversity.

vertical diver

Exploring North Carolina’s Top Dive Sites

The adventures that can be discovered while diving off the shores of the Crystal Coast are virtually unlimited thanks to the hundreds of shipwrecks scattered across the Atlantic seabed. Whether you’re a seasoned diver or just dipping your toe into the sport, you have your pick of wrecks to explore. Let’s highlight some of the top dive sites off the coast of North Carolina.


1.   U-352 Dive Site

The U-352 is a German submarine that was used during the notorious U-boat attacks in World War II until it was sunk by the Coast Guard Cutter Icarus in 1942. 33 of the 48 crew survived the Coast Guard attack and spent the remainder of World War II as prisoners. Now the 218-foot German submarine is one of the most popular dive sites along the Crystal Coast. At a depth of 110 feet, it is considered an intermediate dive location. The wreck has become an artificial reef that attracts much sea life. If this wreck is too advanced, a replica of the U-352 can be seen in the signature tank at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores.


2.   Aeolus Dive Site

Looking for an underwater playground? Look no further than the Aeolus, built in 1945 as an attack cargo ship in the US Navy.  The 409-foot Aeolus was sunk in 1988 as part of North Carolina’s artificial reef program attracting all sorts of marine life, making it a diver’s paradise. Hurricane Fran in 1996 split the ship into three portions including a piece in an upright position making it an excellent multi-level dive site that includes a couple of swim-through sections. Make sure to visit this site on a high visibility day.

Little Fish Shipwreck

3.   Caribsea Dive Site

The World War II freighter Caribsea met its fate beneath the sea when it was torpedoed in 1942 sinking in less than three minutes and claiming the lives of 21 of the 28 crew members. Now Caribsea serves as a haven for marine life and divers alike. Keep an eye out for spadefish, baitfish, amberjacks, stingrays, cobia and Spanish Mackerel darting around the wreck in the summer, and don’t forget to grab your GoPro and snap some photos of the stunning coral growth. After your dive consider having dinner at the Emerald Isle restaurant Caribsea named after the shipwreck and famous for their crabcakes.

Lots of Fish around Shipwreck

4.   Papoose Dive Site

For the thrill-seekers out there, the Papoose wreck offers an exhilarating dive experience. Sitting upside down in the sand, this is a very popular wreck for marine inhabitants. Divers looking to go inside the ship can work their way internally as far as the boiler room, but that experience is recommended for certified wreck divers only. The 412-foot tanker was torpedoed near Cape Lookout by the U-124 in 1942. The Papoose is largely intact and rests in 125 feet of water under generally very good visibility. Fun Fact: Early on this ship was misnamed as the Papoose but was later positively Identified as the W.E. Hutton. It is still called the Papoose Dive Site to this day.

Spade Fish around Shipwreck

5.   Indra Dive Site

Looking to dip your toes into wreck diving? The Indra is the perfect starting point. With its shallow depth and abundant marine life, it’s ideal for divers of all levels. Sitting in only 60 feet of water, it allows for longer exploration. This 300-foot landing craft repair freighter is found about 10 miles off Emerald Isle. The Indra was sunk as an artificial reef in 1992 and is loaded with diverse aquatic life including barracuda, amberjack, toadfish, sea bass, and even flounder. Plus, it’s a great spot for underwater photography enthusiasts.

Sea Star

The Beauty of North Carolina’s Underwater World

The real sea star of the show in the Crystal Coast’s underwater world is rich marine life! North Carolina’s waters are home to a diverse array of underwater creatures from curious colorful fish to vibrant coral reefs. Whether you're an experienced diver or simply appreciate the beauty of marine life, the Crystal Coast is a must-visit spot for those seeking to explore the wonders of the underwater world, making it a top destination for ocean lovers.

Lion Fish

Marine Life Encounters  

Get ready to be mesmerized by the beauty and diversity of the flora, fauna, and marine ecosystem in this region. From vibrant schools of fish darting through wrecks and warm Atlantic waters to intricate coral formations filled with countless sea creatures, each dive promises unforgettable encounters with nature’s wonders. The Crystal Coast boasts a rich biodiversity, with species ranging from colorful reef fish and spade fish to sea turtles gliding through the ocean currents. Don’t forget to grab your underwater camera to capture your experiences as you explore the depths of the Crystal Coast.

Black and White Dive

The Appeal of Wreck Diving

The allure of wreck diving off the coast of North Carolina is undeniable. Beneath the waves lies a treasure trove of sunken ships, each steeped in history and shrouded in mystery. Exploring these underwater time capsules offers a unique glimpse into the past, where relics lay silent on the ocean floor. From World War II vessels to sunken ships doubled as artificial reefs attracting captivating sea life, each wreck tells a story of maritime adventure. Many of these wrecks can be reached by boat, allowing divers to immerse themselves in the haunting beauty of these submerged graveyards. Wreck diving off of the Crystal Coast is not just an exhilarating experience; it’s a journey through time.

The Appeal of Wreck Diving

Preparing for a Scuba Diving Trip:

Before you take the plunge, make sure you’re prepared. Inventory all the necessary gear including wetsuits, masks, fins, and tanks. Safety should always come first, so familiarize yourself with the dive sites you want to explore and any potential risks before diving in.  If you're unsure about the best spots or need assistance with equipment, consider booking a charter with a reputable dive company. They can provide expert guidance and ensure you have a safe and enjoyable experience. Know your experience level and don’t take any unnecessary risks.

Blue Coral

Best Times and Seasons for Diving in North Carolina

Timing is everything when it comes to scuba diving in North Carolina. The waters off the Crystal Coast offer a unique diving experience year-round. Summer and Fall temperatures range from 75-80 degrees making it the ideal location to do some warm water wreck diving. Thanks to the Gulf Stream offshore our winter months bring us temperatures ranging from the mid 50’s and 60’s providing fantastic visibility.

Black and White Diving

Choosing the Right Scuba Gear

When gearing up for your diving adventure, make sure to choose the proper scuba gear. Start with the essentials: a well-fitting wetsuit suitable for the current water temperatures. A reliable mask that doesn’t leak, provides a comfortable fit and a clear view underwater is crucial. Fins should be chosen based on comfort and efficiency. Additionally, investing in quality regulators, buoyancy control devices and dive computers ensures reliable equipment throughout your dives. Before you go, check in with local dive shops or experienced divers from the area for insights on the best gear for the Crystal Coast’s unique diving conditions.

Vertical Ship

North Carolina Dive Charter Options

Guided dives, equipment rentals, nitrox fills and training are available through several local professional dive shops: Olympus Dive Center is located in Morehead City and Discovery Diving Company, Inc., Serenity Charters, and Encounter SCUBA are in Beaufort. They’ll take care of all the details so you can focus on exploring. These shops also sell and rent essential scuba diving gear and can provide tips for selecting the right gear and ensuring a safe and enjoyable diving experience. 

Sea Slug

Scuba Diving Treasures are off North Carolina’s Crystal Coast

Scuba diving off the coast of North Carolina is an experience like no other. From thrilling wreck dives to encounters with mesmerizing marine life, there is something for every underwater explorer. Start planning your diving adventure today and discover the treasures that sparkle beneath the waves. Discover the best scuba diving in North Carolina and start planning your Crystal Coast diving adventure today!