The Most Famous Shipwrecks in OBX

02/15/2023 | by Joseph Mitchell | Outer Banks Attractions and Activities Outer Banks Museums and Historic Sites


It’s common for travelers to head to the Outer Banks in search of time on the sand, savoring seafood, and exploring lighthouses too. But for all of the beauty and fun available on land, the Outer Banks hosts an equally appealing world under the waves. Today, it’s estimated that more than 2,000 shipwrecks are located off the Outer Banks. These wrecks lie in an area known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic which stretches from Currituck all the way to Bogue Banks. The many wrecks that have happened along the Outer Banks have been the result of everything from weather and war to piracy and shoals that are difficult to navigate. Sitting within the water graveyard, it’s possible to find tugs, steamers, barges, and submarines as well as schooners, fishing trawlers, passenger ships, clippers, recreational vessels and lightships too. The following are a few of the shipwrecks that still fascinate Outer Banks visitors today.

The Ephraim Williams

On December 2, 1884, The Ephraim Williams fell victim to Frying Pan Shoals near Wilmington. Unable to control the vessel, the Ephraim Williams drifted toward Cape Hatteras. While the crew was able to be rescued before the vessel sunk, they endured 90 hours of shipwreck conditions before they could be reached by life-saving crews from the Cape Hatteras station.

The Priscilla

Weather was to blame for the destruction of the vessel Priscilla. The San Ciriacao Hurricane hit Hatteras Island on August 16, 1899, and didn’t cease battering the landscape for two full days. During this traumatic weather event, the Priscilla came ashore near the Gull Shoal life-saving station. Beach patrol first heard cries for help from the vessel on August 18th at which point the vessel had already been torn in two. The crew onboard was able to be helped to shore, but the Priscilla would join the ranks of seven vessels that were lost to the beach in that hurricane alongside six others that disappeared at sea.

The Mirlo

War was the culprit when it came to the sinking of the Mirlo on August 16, 1918. As this British tanker made its way up the North Carolina coast hauling gasoline, it was hit by a German U-Boat torpedo. The midship hit split the tanker in two and the crew was forced to abandon ship. Miraculously, the vast majority of the crew was able to be pulled from the sea as the vessel sank despite fiery conditions as the onboard gasoline was ignited post-explosion.

Visit the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum to Learn More

Outer Banks visitors interested in learning more about the many wrecks that have happened along the Outer Banks over the centuries will want to make time for a visit to the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum during a stay. Located at 59200 Museum Drive in Hatteras, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am until 4:00 pm and offers family-friendly scavenger hunts as well as rotating exhibits. It’s a great place to get a closer look at the mysteries and tragedies that still reign below the waves.

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