Last Updated: February 14, 2023
It’s tough to beat the scuba diving scene in North Carolina, especially when you’re looking for dive opportunities in the Atlantic you literally cannot find anywhere else.
While most people flock to North Carolina to do a bit of diving between the months of May and October (when the Atlantic water is warmest), there are great dive opportunities all year round – including some amazing wrecks.
Below I dig a little bit deeper into best North Carolina diving sites, the kind of conditions you can expect, and even breakdown some of the best dive shops in the area you’ll want to check out, too.
Let’s jump right in!
Best 6 Diving Sites in North Carolina
1. U-352 Wreck
If you are only going to dive one area in NC you’d want to make sure that it was The Graveyard of the Atlantic.
This stretch of the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of North Carolina gives you an opportunity to dive a number of different wrecks, but the most famous of these have to be the three scuba accessible U-boats.
U-701 and U-85 are little more challenging to visit (and require some experience with technical dives to dive safely), but U-352 sits in only 110 feet – typically pretty calm water – and is about as accessible as a World War II era submarine wreck could be.
Those serious about maximizing their time diving these wrecks are going to want to charter a trip. Some people try to hit all three U-boats in one trip, others stretch all three visits out over a lifetime, but most people that dive one of these submarine wrecks inevitably end up coming back to see the other two.
Other wrecks in The Graveyard of the Atlantic include the 400 foot long Aeolus, the USS Indra, the turn of the last century luxury liner Proteus, and a 312 foot freighter called the Normannia.
2. Morehead City
Home to one of the best dive shops in the entire state, the Olympus Dive Center (more on them in just a moment), Morehead City offers a diverse array of different diving adventures to folks at every level of their scuba journey.
Newer divers are going to be able to go out for half-day, full-day, and extended day trips just to sort of get their “feet wet”. Dives down to 50 feet, 60 and 70 feet are still going to be thrilling and adventurous, with lots of wreckage, lots of natural features, and tons of underwater life to explore.
More experienced divers, though, are going to be able to go a little further offshore and tinker around in The Graveyard of the Atlantic parts that stretch down into Morehead City. There are over 2000 shipwrecks littering the ocean floor off the coast of this city, opening up a world of exploration opportunities you just won’t find anywhere else.
3. Emerald Isle
The Emerald Isle scuba diving community is established in the south western part of the Crystal Coast of North Carolina and offers up a ton of dive opportunities in both the Atlantic Ocean as well as the coastal waterway.
There’s a landing craft repair ship that sunk in 60 feet of water about 10 miles off of the Emerald Isle that draws people from all over the world. A 328 foot ship, the craft was intentionally sold to produce and artificial reef in the summer of 1992 and today it has one of the most unique underwater ecosystems in this part of the Atlantic.
You’ll find a ton of marine life here, including fish and sand tiger sharks that you can get real up close and personal with. Because the vessel is only in 60 feet of water even those that are relatively new to scuba are going to be able to get in on the action.
4. Atlantic Beach
Scuba divers that had out from Atlantic Beach are going to have a couple of different vessels in mind before they slip beneath the surface.
One, the Caribsea is an American freighter that was torpedoed in World War II in about 80 feet of water. The wreck itself is easy enough to explore, but a lot of people come to the wreckage just to see the gigantic population of sand tiger sharks that call her home.
The Hutton is another wreck that people had out from Atlantic Beach to explore. This is a 465 foot long tanker also sunk by a U-boat in World War II. It sits in just about 70 feet of water, making it beginner friendly.
The Spar is a relatively new addition to The Graveyard of the Atlantic, having only been intentionally sunk by the US Coast Guard a handful of years ago to become a home for underwater life and an artificial reef.
This boat sits on the bottom of the ocean upright and fully intact, making it very easy (relatively safe) to explore.
Wilmington is home to hundreds of different shipwrecks, but a lot of people love to dive this city for an opportunity to see wrecks from the American Civil War – shipwrecks you literally cannot find anywhere else.
A number of blockade runners during the American Civil War were brought down just outside the city proper, only a few miles offshore, and in relatively clear and calm water.
One of these blockade runners – the Condor – just off of Fort Fisher, quickly became the very first heritage dive site in NC and is still a hugely popular destination for people all over the world.
There are a number of other boats and ships sunk throughout the Wilmington coastline, including a number that stretch back to the earliest days of American history. When you dive this part of the state you’re diving in a time machine!
6. Nags Head and Oregon Inlet
The Outer Banks area of North Carolina jot out into the Atlantic Ocean, creating a unique seascape under the water that you have to see firsthand to fully appreciate.
This unique feature made this stretch of Atlantic coastline particularly popular with early English colonists as well as pirates from the Golden Age. A lot of ship captains from this era mistook the lanterns on horses walking this stretch of land as lanterns on ships, wrecking their vessels because they they ran aground on the low Outer Banks.
For this reason, there are tons of sail powered vessels that found a watery grave just outside of Nags Head and the Oregon Inlet.
If you ever dreamed of diving legitimate pirate ships – actual pirate ships, not phony wrecks put together in modern times as a tourist attraction – in the Atlantic Ocean than this is where you’re going to want to start your NC diving expedition.
Recommended Read: Best Scuba Diving Sites in South Carolina
Best Time to Dive in NC
Though you could scuba dive in North Carolina all year round (particularly if you’re comfortable with cold weather diving), this stretch of the Atlantic Ocean is really best explored between the months of May and October.
That’s when the diving conditions are calm, that’s when the water temperatures are high, and that’s when visibility is at its maximum.
It’s important to remember that the conditions underwater here are a bit different than in the Pacific, the Caribbean, or any other tropical destination hotspot. The water is always colder (even at its warmest) and always a little bit darker (even at its brightest), so you need to have at least a little bit of technical skill under your belt to feel completely comfortable.
The majority of the time diving in North Carolina is relatively calm, relatively stable, and pretty easy going – between the months of May and October, anyway.
Like most other Atlantic Ocean dive hotspots up and down the US east coast, there are going to be windy days that produce a choppy surface, making even the simplest of dives a little more challenging.
When the chop gets worked up you’re usually looking at between 2 and 3 foot seas. This these kinds of conditions make up about 50% of the dive days in NC. Water will be a little bumpy but it isn’t going to be miserable.
Is North Carolina Good for Scuba Diving?
The Tar Heel state offers some of the best scuba diving opportunities for folks of every skill level, particularly those that want to explore The Graveyard of the Atlantic.
You’re just not going to find a bigger density of shipwrecks anywhere in the United States, especially not ones that range from the earliest days of American exploration all the way up to the modern era – and everything in between.
If you want to dive legitimate history (pirates, American Civil War, World War I and World War II history) North Carolina has it all.
What are the Best Dive Shops in NC?
A fantastic little dive shop on the Outer Banks, this spot is relatively centrally located in the middle of some very exciting dive options – including the Carl Gerhard, the Huron, and U-boat-85.
Offering charters, equipment rentals and outfitting, as well as scuba certifications and more advanced technical trainings, this is a full-service operator from top to bottom. The co-owners and founders are dive instructors but also handle kayak rentals, snorkeling, and spearfishing excursions as well.
The charters available in-season from Discovery Diving located in Beaufort just might be the most popular options in the entire state.
Offering a variety of different charter options (half-day, one-day, extended day, twilight dives, and weekend packages) up and down the Crystal Coast, all of the hottest dive spots can be chartered with this group.
On top of the charter program they run certification and training for new and veteran scuba divers alike, a unique shark identification program working in partnership with the North Carolina Aquariums, as well as a very active coral reef restoration program.
One of the most beloved dive shops in the whole state, and maybe the most legendary of the bunch, this Crystal Coast dive operation is a long-running shop that people flock to annually.
Running charters to all of the popular spots (as well as some “off the beaten path” spots few other charters go to), Olympus is a full featured dive operator from top to bottom. You’ll be able to get expert instruction and training, full certifications, rent and buy gear, get your tanks topped off, and so much more.
This dive shop works out of Wrightsville Beach, operating day trips with their two completely custom dive boats.
A bit of a newer operator compared to some of the other options, it’s the completely custom dive boats that have built a lot of buzz for this outfit. The very experienced team built these vessels to their exact specifications, giving their clients the best possible experience not only underwater but while they are out on the boat as well.
The PADI Open Water dive course they offer is one of the best in the state, too.
My unbounded love for the oceans and everything it has to offer motivated me to pursue my passion and become a professional scuba diving instructor.
I keep reading, exploring, and learning more about scuba diving and the underwater world all the time, so I’m excited to share my knowledge with fellow scuba enthusiasts and hopefully contribute a little to your development as a diver. I want people to fall in love with the oceans with as much passion as I have. Read more about me here.