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The ultimate tender: a recreational sub

Jan 1, 2003

Underwater exploration has seen a boom in the last few years with several key developments in technology. More sunken vessels with treasures and secrets presumed to be lost forever are being found and recovered. It is no wonder, then, that small submarines are becoming increasingly available for tourism and recreational use.

A Vero Beach, Fla.-based company called U.S. Submarines, maker of small recreational and commercial submersibles, offers a whole line of craft that range in size from a small, $400,000 two-seater that can explore depths to 200 meters (660 feet) to a $75 million megayacht capable of diving to 305 meters (1,006 feet) and crossing oceans. One of the company's specialties is supplying minisubs that can be rigged to yachts, similar to tenders that can be stowed on deck and swung into action by davits. Granted, any yacht capable of carrying a subeven the 11-footer Triton, see illustration, which weighs 2.7 tonswould have to be generously sized.

Operation of the craft is said to be somewhat intuitive, which means you don't have to be a former Navy bubblehead to appreciate the sub's agile capabilities. Most maneuvers are performed with a joystick. Maintenance and piloting training is fairly straightforward, according to U.S. Submarines president L. Bruce Jones, and is provided by the company for no extra charge.

Operating a sub for commercial tours requires a Coast Guard master's license of sufficient tonnage, including a submarine endorsement that is awarded after 40 dives and a 40-hour course (imagine the bragging rights!).

Nonetheless, submarines are complex machines that involve technology beyond the scope of ordinary citizens. As a result, recreational submarines have some built-in safety features that prevent operators from making certain foolish maneuvers. "We train the operators to a high standard. However, we do build in a number of safeguards, including hatch ballast-tank interlocks so that you can't dive with the hatch open; four independent means of surfacing; 72 hours of emergency life support; an underwater telephone with pinger locator; and an emergency buoy with EPIRB and satellite communications (on some models)," said Jones.

There are reportedly several of the subs already in operation around the world, including the $1.2 million, four-passenger Discovery 1000, also pictured, which is stored on the stern of a 240-foot motoryacht. "It has worked out very well and they are thinking of ordering a much larger submarine that would follow the yacht around," Jones said.


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