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Fear of Submerged Objects

Understanding the Underlying Issues


Updated May 07, 2012

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Although it is rare enough not to have an official "phobia" name, the fear of submerged objects is very real for many people. Anecdotal evidence points to a wide range of more specific fears. Some people are actually afraid of swimming in dark or murky water, where they cannot see the things around them. Others fear water snakes, alligators, sharks or other animals that may lurk beneath the surface. Some people worry about unseen contaminants or toxins. Still others are unafraid of natural phenomena, but have a specific fear of submerged man-made objects such as boat hulls, buoys or even discarded household items. Because the fear has so many possible subtypes, it may be rooted in many different basic fears.

Fear of the Unknown

Fear of the unknown is a primal reaction that likely served our ancestors in good stead. In the ancient world, life was inherently dangerous. Traveling to a new region, swimming in an unfamiliar watering hole, or dining on a new plant could lead to illness, injury or even death. Although our ancestors gradually explored their world and reached new horizons, the unknown remained something to treat with a great deal of respect.

Even today, it is wise to be cautious around bodies of water. Some water animals are dangerous to humans. Toxic runoff and high concentrations of bacteria could cause illness. Many waterways serve as watering holes for potentially dangerous land animals or pathways for potentially dangerous water craft. Submerged rocks and logs, waterfalls and rapids create hazardous conditions for those who are unaware.

In most cases, however, these dangers may be mitigated by those who know of them. Familiarity with a particular lake, stream, river or ocean can drastically reduce the risks. For those who are unfamiliar with a body of water, however, the knowledge that unknown risks could be lurking beneath the surface may be enough to trigger an existing fear of the unknown.

Fear of Animals

Water is a precious, life-sustaining commodity not only for humans, but also for animals. Both predatory and non-predatory creatures live primarily or solely in the water, while land-dwelling animals visit local watering holes to meet their needs. Even animals that are normally non-predatory may attack if they feel threatened. Although attacks on swimming humans are relatively rare, they are frequent enough to cause many people to feel nervous. If you have a specific animal phobia, such as the fear of sharks or snakes, you may be particularly afraid of entering their home.

Fear of Germs

Mysophobia, or the fear of germs, is a common phobia. While it is important and prudent to practice good hygiene and avoid common sources of contamination, those with mysophobia tend to take normal precautions to an extreme. Nevertheless, some bodies of water do contain potential sources of danger, from industrial runoff to parasites. Unfamiliar bodies of water, in which the risks are unknown, could easily trigger a fearful reaction.

Fear of Hazards

Water accidents occur relatively frequently, and submerged hazards are often to blame. Rip currents, rapids, logs and rocks may be difficult or impossible to see from the water's surface. It only makes sense to avoid diving or swimming beneath the surface without checking conditions below, and to use caution when navigating boats. But some people are more risk-averse than others. Those who are afraid of risk-taking may be particularly likely to avoid situations that they see as possibly harmful.

Fear of Ships

The fear of ships is highly personalized. Some people are afraid of any boat or watercraft, while others fear only massive multi-deck ships. Anecdotal evidence shows that for many, the scariest part of the ship is the part that sits below the water line. In some people this is related to the fear of the unknown, while for others, it has to do with a more generalized fear of large objects. Some people are also afraid of other man-made, submerged objects, while others are afraid only of ships. For many with this fear, submarines are the ultimate, most-feared items.

Coping With the Fear of Submerged Objects

For many people, the fear of submerged objects causes little difficulty in the activities of daily living, making the fear undiagnosable as a phobia. If you do not work in or around the water, you may be able to manage your fear by sitting on the riverbank rather than going for a swim, or only booking cruise ship cabins on a higher deck.

Like any fear, however, over time the fear of submerged objects may begin to affect your life. If you find yourself canceling plans or avoiding jobs that you might otherwise enjoy, it may be time to seek help. Treating a fear of submerged objects generally involves discovering and treating the underlying fears. Your therapist will work with you to develop an individualized treatment plan that addresses your specific needs.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

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