lighthouse-300x291A vast ghost fleet occupies the waters off of the east coast, primarily between the Chesapeake Bay and the Southern Outer Banks, christening the seacoast as The Graveyard of the Atlantic. This notorious nickname is due largely in part to the meeting of the arctic Labrador Current and the Gulf Stream current, resulting in a deadly trap in the waters off of Cape Hatteras. There is said to be anywhere from 600-1000 sunken ships off of the cape’s coast alone.

Treacherous water is not the only cause for the innumerable shipwrecks off of Hatteras Island, however. During both World War I and World War II, multiple German U-Boats sank, leaving behind a scattered underground reminder of a dark part in history. The sunken remains are a favored site for adventurous divers today.

Of the sunken war boats, the USS Monitor, a 987-ton turret gunboat, is the most well-known. Built during the Civil War, the iron-hulled steamship was the first ironclad warship commissioned by the US Navy. On orders to join others in Beaufort, NC for a joint Army-Navy expedition against Wilmington, NC, the Monitor was caught in a heavy storm 16 miles off the coast of Cape Hatteras, where she ultimately sank to the bottom of the ocean. She was rediscovered at a depth of 220 feet 111 years after she disappeared. To preserve the ship and wreckage the first U.S. marine sanctuary was designated within a .5 nautical-mile radius of the discovery off of Cape Hatteras’s coast.

While there is a myriad of sunken sites offshore for divers to explore, there are also many shipwrecks which lie buried beneath our feet. Some of these are uncovered only by storms and some are in plain sight today. The following shipwreck remains can be found by foot:

= Laura A. Barnes: a 120-foot four-masted schooner out of Camden, ME set sail from New York en route to South Carolina. She came ashore on Bodie Island during dense fog on the night of June 1, 1921. After tossing through wind and waves, the wreck settled about a mile south in the sand of Coquina Beach and has since be excavated and restored for public view at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras.

= Lois Joyce: one of the Outer Banks’ most recent shipwrecks, a 100-foot commercial fishing trawler lost in 1981 while attempting to enter Oregon Inlet during a December storm. The entire crew was rescued by Coast Guard helicopters but the $1M ship was completely lost. The wreck can be best viewed at low tide at the mouth of the Oregon Inlet.

= Oriental: a Federal transport steamship in the Civil War that ran aground 25 miles north of Cape Hatteras in May 1862. It’s exposed boiler and smokestack can still be seen sometimes in the surf off of Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge in Rodanthe.

= G.A. Kohler: pushed ashore just south of Gull Shoal Station by hurricane in August 1933, the four-masted schooner remained stranded on the beach for 10 years, after the captain supposedly sold the wreck to an Avon resident for $150. The Kohler was burned during World War II for her iron fittings but today the charred remnants remain, forever planted at Ramp#27, four miles south of Salvo.

= Margaret A. Spencer: a wooden ship, wreck date unknown, that lies keel up at the shoreline 14 miles south of Oregon Inlet Campground.

The coast is in constant metamorphosis as the wind and the tides shape the land every day, therefore this list of visible shipwreck sites could be here today, and gone tomorrow.

Plan a vacation with your most adventurous friend or loved one and come explore the remains and the myths of Hatteras Island yourself. For information on planning an Outer Banks vacation, visit or give us a call at 1-800-458-3830.