Despite the nervousness I felt before jumping in the water, swimming cage-free with sharks in Oahu was one of the most special things I’ve ever experienced.
Our thirty minutes in the water flew by and I didn’t want to get back on the boat—and the rest of the group felt the same way.
Whether you’re embarking on a Hawaii shark diving tour today, or trying to decide whether or not to book this thrilling adventure, you’ve come to the right place.
Drawing on my own personal experience swimming with sharks in Oahu, this travel guide details everything you need to know, from how to mentally prepare for the experience and what to pack to what you can expect once you’re in the water.
Best Cage Free Shark Diving Tour (Oahu)
Looking for the best Oahu Shark Dive tour? I recommend this Pelagic Shark Dive Tour. It’s hosted by a local family-owned business that has been leading shark tours on Ohau’s North Shore longer than any other tour company. They provide snorkels and professional photos for free. Most importantly, I felt completely safe and taken care of by their team.
Note: My husband and I specifically chose this shark tour because of their great reviews. This article is not sponsored and is based solely on my firsthand experience. However, this article may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases through these links, at no cost to you. But don’t worry, I only share products I’d truly recommend to a friend.
Cageless Shark Diving Oahu: Firsthand Experience
Since the beginning of our relationship, my husband and I have shared a special love for marine wildlife. Although I was fascinated by whales and loved snorkeling before we met, we’ve spotted more whales, sea lions, seals, and other marine life together than I ever did alone.
Yet until recently, neither of us had ever seen a shark. I’m an adventurous spirit, but also a very cautious one, so I always felt a little nervous about sharks when snorkeling.
When I heard that we could go freediving with sharks in Oahu, I was immediately intrigued. I knew that if I intentionally encountered sharks with a trained guide, I’d face my fears and feel more comfortable snorkeling and diving with or without sharks.
There were so many things we wanted to do during our most recent Hawaii trip, and we actually ended up deprioritizing shark diving and removed it from our Oahu itinerary.
However, halfway through our trip we had a change of heart and realized that diving with sharks was something we needed to do—not only to face our own fears—but also to combat the shark stigma.
Snorkeling with sharks in Oahu is not for everyone, but if you’re able to let go of our culture’s perception of these big fish, I believe that shark diving will be something that transforms you.
After my thirty minute Oahu shark dive I feel so much more confident snorkeling and diving in the ocean. If I encounter a shark organically while swimming, I’ll have past experiences to rely on. Instead of reacting with shock and panic, I’ll be able to calmly and confidently deal with the situation.
If you’re intrigued like I was, I highly recommend that you let go of your fears and misguided beliefs about sharks and book this Oahu shark dive now!
Observing a Galapagos shark from the surface during our Oahu shark dive tour
Mentally Preparing for Cageless Shark Diving on Oahu
Even if you know statistically that you’re more likely to be injured or killed by a dog, car accident, or an inanimate object than a shark, it is complete normal to feel nervous. Given the way that sharks have been potrayed both in the media and in movies like Jaws, it makes sense.
That being said, it is important to put aside any preconceived beliefs you have about sharks before you embark on your Oahu shark tour. The reality is, sharks are far more threatened by us than we are by them.
As we enter into the ocean, we are guests in their home. Instead of cultivating fear, cultivate gratitude and a sense of respect for the ocean and all of the creatures that call it home, including the hundreds of species of shark. How special is it to be able to encounter such a powerful creature in its natural habitat alongside expert guides?
If you’re anything like me, any sense or nervousness will be replaced by awe the moment you see a shark swim gracefully beneath you. It seems like that was everyone’s experience during my shark diving tour.
Our group of snorkelers swimming with sharks in Hawaii
What to Expect When Swimming with Sharks in Oahu
Most Oahu shark dive tours—both cage dives and cageless—leave from the Haleiwa Small Boat Harbor on Oahu’s North Shore.
It’s a good idea to arrive at least ten minutes early, but be sure to follow any specific instructions given to you by the tour company.
Upon arrival, you’ll board the boat and get to know your captain and guides. On my tour, we had one captain and two safety divers who joined our group of six in the water. They gave us an overview of what to expect and helped calm our nerves before we jetted off into the Pacific Ocean.
Our guide explained to me that most shark boat tours head a few miles out to spots where the water is 250-300 feet deep. Once we were far enough out, our guides passed out our snorkel gear, making sure we each had fins that fit and freshly de-fogged masks.
We jumped in the water and were immediately met by a sandbar shark, who quickly swam away once he saw us. We swam about 20-30 feet away from the boat with our two safety divers. Then our boat captain revved the engine to attract sharks, who associate that sound with fishing boats that tend to drop scraps.
A few photos from our magical Oahu shark encounter
One of our safety divers took pictures while the other dangled a shiny thing that looked a bit like a fishing lure. Shimmering ten feet beneath us, it sparked the sharks’ curiosity, keeping them from being too curious about us. Once they realized it wasn’t a fish, and we were boring humans, they descended into the depths.
We only encountered 1-3 sharks at a time, and beside the sandbar shark we saw when we first arrived, they were all Galapagos sharks. We also saw a barracuda, jellyfish, and several interesting fish.
Most of the sharks swam below us, but a few curious ones tried to get a better look at us from our level. Most of the sharks only stayed around us for a few minutes and then lost their interest and left. Our captain had to rev the engine several times throughout our dive to attract more sharks.
After about twenty minutes of observing the sharks from the surface, our guides allowed us to freedive as we wished. This was the perfect time to get some good photos without the rest of the group in the background.
After thirty minutes, we were done, and as I said at the beginning, sad to leave the water.
Galapagos shark swimming beneath our group during our cageless shark dive in Oahu
What to Pack for a Cageless Shark Dive in Hawaii
★ Bathing suit: This one seems obvious, but it has to be on the list!
★ Waterproof sandals: My husband and I both love our Arizona EVA Birkenstocks, which are waterproof (unlike normal Birks) and make the perfect flip flop alternative for beach vacations
★ Towel: If you’re looking for a great travel towel, check out Nomadix (I bring mine everywhere!)
★ Light sweatshirt: Depending on the day, it can be a little chilly on the boat ride back to shore. I recommend packing a light sweatshirt or shirt for the ride.
★ Dry bag: A dry bag keeps your electronics, wallet, and other important items from getting wet on the boat. I have this dry bag and I bring it on all my beach vacations to protect my camera, phone, wallet, and journal
Optional packing list (dependent on tour)
★ Snorkel gear: Most tours should include snorkel gear, but if you want to bring your own, you can.
★ GoPro or waterproof phone case: GoPros and waterproof phone cases are not allowed on some tours. The tour I took included a free photo package, so it wasn’t a problem for me!
What to leave at home (or in your rental car/hotel)
★ Jewelry: You don’t want to lose it, but you also should avoid wearing anything that might shimmer in the light and attract a curious shark
★ Face sunscreen: My tour guide advised us to avoid putting sunscreen on our faces because it can fog up your snorkel mask
PS: You might also be interested in swimming with dolphins in Oahu
My husband and I swimming with two Galapagos sharks during our cageless Oahu shark encounter
Cageless Shark Diving Oahu FAQs
Is it safe to dive with sharks on Oahu?
The risk of being attacked by a shark on a shark dive is very low. If shark attacks were common (or happened at all) on these tours, these tour companies would not be able to operate.
The fact that dozens of local ecotourism companies host shark diving experiences on Oahu’s North Shore daily without any sharks attacks speaks to how low the risk is.
On my Oahu shark tour, my guide told us that sharks are actually quite poor hunters. They prefer to go for easy prey—like scraps dropped from fishing boats or injured marine mammals. Humans are not apart of their diet and they don’t have any reason to act aggressively towards us unless they mistake us for prey.
Shark attacks tend to happen in murky water or rough waves when sharks confuse humans for fish or other marine life. One thing that can add to the confusion is if a swimmer is thrashing in the water, which makes it even more difficult for the shark to understand that what they see is not prey.
Freediving with sharks of course has its risks, but if you go on a tour like I did, you’ll have trained safety divers who swim with sharks several times a day, every day. They are intimately aware of shark behavior and can tell if any sharks are exhibiting aggressive behavior before it becomes an issue.
Are there any other risks to be aware of when snorkeling with sharks in Hawaii?
If you are prone to seasickness, you may experience it on your boat ride out into the ocean.
In addition, you may get stung by jellyfish. I got stung by a few during our shark dive, but thankfully the stings weren’t bad at all. Rather than stinging, they itched a little and were less bothersome than a mosquito bite.
Of course, you should be a competent swimmer if you intend to dive in the open ocean with sharks.
Where can you swim with sharks in Hawaii?
You can go shark diving on Maui and Oahu, but the most popular destination for shark diving in Hawaii is Oahu’s North Shore. You can check for Hawaii shark dive tours on Viator.
What type of sharks can you see off the coast of Oahu?
According to the Oahu shark tour guide I went with, the most common types of sharks you’ll see include Galapagos sharks and sandbar sharks. In addition, you may see tiger sharks, hammerhead sharks, white-tipped reef sharks, and gray reef sharks.
What other type of marine wildlife can you see on an Oahu shark dive?
I saw a barracuda, several interesting jellyfish and tropical fish.
If you’re lucky, you could also see sea turtles, dolphins, humpback whales, mahi-mahi, and other sea life.
Is the water cold?
Unlike in other popular shark diving locations like La Paz, Mexico, the water off the coast of Oahu is not cold!
The water is a comfortable temperature, so you don’t need a wetsuit!
Can you do shark snorkeling near Waikiki?
Oahu cage free shark dive tours leave from Haleiwa Small Boat Harbor on Oahu’s North Shore, which is on the opposite side of Oahu.
Should I do shark cage diving or cageless shark diving in Hawaii?
While I highly recommend cage free shark diving, they are plenty of shark cage diving options in Hawaii. This highly-rated shark cage diving experience is a great alternative.
Shark Book Recommendations
Want to learn more about sharks either before or after your Oahu shark dive? Check out these books:
After an almost deadly encounter with a tigershark, this photographer dedicated his life to learning about these creature’s integral role in our oceans.
Other Fun Aquatic Experiences & Boat Tours in Oahu
The best thing to do in Oahu is spend time on—and in—the water! Whether you’ve decided shark diving is not your thing, or want to book a few other unforgettable experiences in addition to your shark tour, be sure to check out these other fun Hawaii tours:
Along with shark diving, swimming with dolphins in the open ocean is one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced. I haven’t gotten the chance to do this tour in Hawaii yet (it’s on my list!), but I was able to swim with dolphins in Puerto Escondido, Mexico and it was so special. If you don’t feel comfortable diving with sharks, this is a wonderful alternative.
This private sunset charter is perfect for any special occasion like an anniversary, bachelorette party, or romantic date night. With your own private captain, chef, and crew you’ll get to watch the sun set over Oahu while enjoying a delicious tasting menu and open bar. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to spot humpback whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and other marine life along the way.
If you’re crunched for time or on a tight budget, this full day island tour with sea turtle snorkeling is a great way to see Oahu. It includes roundtrip transport from Waikiki and plenty of fun stops as you cruise around the island. Some notable stops include a local taro farm, Turtle Beach, the Dole Plantation, a macadamia nut farm, and a handful of stunning viewpoints.
Watching a majestic Galapagos shark swim beneath me on a Pelagic Shark Dive in Oahu
Final Thoughts: Swimming with Sharks in Oahu
Freediving with sharks in Hawaii is an experience I will never forget—and I hope I get to experience again someday. I truly feel so privileged to have observed these majestic creatures in their natural habitat, and I hope more people are able to do the same.
Have you swam with sharks in other parts of the world? I’d love to hear about it in the comments! And if you have any questions about shark diving in Oahu, let me know.
More Oahu Travel Guides:
★ Oahu North Shore Itinerary (1 Day)
★ 5 Best Oahu Shark Dive Tours
★ 21 Oahu Hidden Gems and Secret Spots
★ Hawaii Packing List for Females
★ How to Visit the Mermaid Caves in Oahu
★ Oahu Byodo-In Temple Travel Guide
★ 21 Best Things to do in Kailua, Oahu
★ How to Visit the China Walls in Oahu
★ How to Visit Halona Beach Cove, Oahu
★ How to Hike the Lanikai Pillbox Trail at Sunrise
Essential Hawaii Resources
Traveleing to Hawaii soon? There are a lot of travel companies out there, but some are better than others. After five unforgettable trips to Hawaii, here are some of my favorite websites and resources for planning once-in-a-lifetime vacations.
🛬 Airport Lounge Pass: One membership with Priority Pass grants you access to over 1300 lounges in nearly every country (trust me, it’s a game changer!) And the lounges in Hawaii airports are pretty sweet!
📱 Easy phone plans abroad: If you’re not American, you’ll want to get phone coverage in Hawaii. I use this company to get an eSIM for phone coverage while traveling—without getting a SIM card or canceling your existing plan (unless you want to!)