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SeaBird claimed to be world's fastest personal submarine - and it doesn't even have a motor


December 29, 2011

Computer image of the SeaBird personal submarine that is designed to be towed by a surface vessel (tow cable not pictured)

Computer image of the SeaBird personal submarine that is designed to be towed by a surface vessel (tow cable not pictured)

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If the amount of personal submarine stories crossing our desks in recent years is any indication, recreational submarines are a burgeoning market. While most personal submarines, such as U-boat Worx's offerings, employ electric motors powered by a rechargeable battery pack, US-based company AquaVenture has taken a different approach to create what it says is the fastest personal submersible available. This is because the SeaBird doesn't pack a propulsion system of its own, but is instead towed through the water by a surface vessel.

AquaVenture says the patent-pending tow system used on the SeaBird essentially delivers the power of an internal combustion engine to an underwater vessel. Pointing out that the fastest personal subs currently available are limited to speeds of less than 10 mph (16 km/h), the company says the SeaBird will be certified to travel at speeds of up to 22 knots (25 mph/40 km/h), both above and below the water's surface.

The SeaBird can be towed on a cable of up to 400 ft (122 m) in length, which allows it to operate in a large cone behind the towing surface vessel. Up to two SeaBirds can be towed from the one surface vessel and AquaVenture says the vehicles can operate to depths of 150 ft (46 m) - however, this can be doubled to 300 ft (91 m) for "certain (non tourism) customers." The SeaBird also provides a habitable atmosphere for 24-72 hours.

Controlled via a side-mounted joystick and rudder pedals, the SeaBird is guided by an electrically-actuated 6-hydroplane control system, which AquaVenture says allows it to perform rapid 360-degree rolls, and climb and dive steeper than most roller-coasters. The company also offers the option of a single center-mounted 3-axis control stick in place of the side-mounted joystick and rudder pedals. The electrical system is powered by 24-volt hot-swappable batteries that can swapped out in around five minutes.

The SeaBird's pressure section is constructed from ABS certified steel, with the canopies made from ABS certified Plexiglass and the external faring or shell composed of composite materials - primarily fiberglass with Kevlar at the front for impact protection and in the lower portion of the shell for protection from sea-floor impacts. An energy absorbing crumple zone is designed to protect the sub's pressurized section in the event of a collision, while its positive buoyancy means it will automatically surface if the towing vessel comes to a stop or is disconnected from the SeaBird.

The SeaBird also features a sonar system to display potential underwater hazards in cases of reduced visibility and offers optional extras including leather seats, headliner and trim, custom exterior paint job, wired telemetry system offering the ability to transmit video, GPS and other data in real time between the SeaBird and the surface, additional video monitors, upgraded lighting, and additional sensors, such as water temperature, salinity and sea-state.

While a single-seater version is in the works, AquaVenture will initially launch with a two-seater model measuring 21.5 ft (6.5 m) in length, with a maximum diameter of 40.5 in (102.8 cm) and maximum width at the dive planes of 120 in (305 cm) and a dry weight of 6,570 lb (2,980 kg). Without its own propulsion system, the company says the SeaBird will be cheaper than most personal submarines on the market - although you will obviously need to shell out for a surface vessel to tow it if you don't already have one.

Its US$210,000 base retail price includes training for one pilot and a short warranty period that has yet to be finalized. AquaVenture has had the SeaBird in development for over four years and has just recently completed design and testing and begun taking orders.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

These inventions are useless unless the avrage man and woman can avail of them.Can we please have none elitest price tags


And my assumption is that the passenger(s) of this giant fishing lure will be able to control the path of their underwater adventure. Without controlling the speed. Running into anything on the sea floor. Baaad idea!


Combine the SeaBird submersible with the Jet-Lev remote control propulsion system (big, remote-controlled jet ski), and the submerged vessel now controls the speed and direction of the surface tow system. Of course this needs a TV screen to show where the surface vessel is going, a separate set of controls, and the combined price is now probably near $500K. Definitely a rich person\'s toy. For an affordable \"poor man\'s submersible\" see here: http://www.rqriley.com/aquasub.html

Pat Kelley

@RichardRF: We currently have prospective customers who would like to establish tour companies employing our subs. At our price range, which is an order of magnitude less than the typical personal subs advertised, a tour company will be able to offer tours in the $250-$350 price range -- well within the means of most western tourists. And they will be able to control SeaBird for themselves with a certified pilot in the rear seat.

AquaVenture WaterCrafts

@johnnydfred: SeaBird has a sonar based intercomm to communicate directly with the towing vessel captain, and thus speed is directed by the sub, but that is irrelevant to your concern. It is your path that determines whether you will impact an obstacle, and SeaBird\'s path is controlled directly from either seat with a joystick and rudder pedals. As mentioned above, tourists will dive with a certified instructor in the rear seat who can override the subs controls at anytime. Additionally, there is obstacle avoidance sonar, and operational restrictions that prohibit higher speeds when operating within close proximity to potential obstacles.

We would add that SeaBird has begun the process of ABS classification and will not be available for tours until the ABS approval process is complete. ABS approved tourist subs carry a perfect safety record of zero fatalities throughout hundreds of thousands of tourist dives.

AquaVenture WaterCrafts

Awesome, I can\'t wait to go scuba diving to all the new wreck sites of sunken submarines that crushed into coral reefs, sunken anything and just the sea floor. Of course, when that happens survival chances are very low, but hey- it\'s really speedy :)

Ender Wigin

The easiest way to add a \"brake\", would be a simple disconnect button, from the tow line. And that is the only way to make something like this safe. Otherwise it is like water skiing with a tow rope that can\'t be dropped. Not a good idea.

But otherwise it seems to have value. It is expensive enough so that it will most likely be purchased by those selling the service instead of for individual use. But everyone will want to try it.


Keep the submarine ideas coming! The more people want to explore under the surface of rivers, lakes, and seas the better our environment will be understood and cared for. If they could be made for less than $10,000 people would for sure be able to pool their money and buy one as neighbors or as an eco-friendly water enthusiast.

Carlos Grados

I would love to own an yacht style submarine, make full use of the ocean, not just float along the top. If I only had funding(sigh)..


@Pat Kelley: Please don\'t market for us. It\'s a (roughly) $200,000 vessel not $500,000. You could pull it with the Space shuttle, but that wouldn\'t make SeaBird a $5 billion purchase. Submarine operations are not the same as what is essentially a glass bottom boat in your link. All sub ops require a surface vessel for support to transport the sub to the operational area, to maintain safety equipment, and to clear the surface of obstacles when the sub surfaces. Our concept simply puts the support vessel to work. There is the capability to datalink throttle and steering data to the towing vessel (at a fairly nominal cost), but we believe that unnecessarily increases sub pilot workload and does not add to either recreational or operational value.

SeaBird operates at depths down to 300 feet, which is nearly 10 times sea level atmospheric pressure. That\'s 10 times the pressure differential required of the space station. And the ocean\'s saltwater is far more corrosive than outer space. So we have to pay a premium to operate safely in this environment. True, $200,000 is not cheap, but it\'s cheap enough for a tour operator to purchase and then provide reasonably priced rides to those interested.

AquaVenture WaterCrafts

@Rigby5, SeaBird does have a tow release mechanism as well as a hydrodynamic brake. But we would take exception to your waterskiing simile. A water skier must hold onto a tow rope to ski but then must release in the case of a fall. Anyone who has held onto a tow rope after falling knows the joy of getting a high pressure wash of their sinuses -- not the reason waterskis were invented. SeaBird, on the other hand, is designed to withstand tens of thousands of pounds of pressure and can be pulled all day long without any arms getting sore or water traveling up noses. The primary reason for the tow release mechanism is in case the towing vessel were to sink or some similar catastrophic event were to occur -- in general unnecessary for anything but the most dire of emergencies.

Thanks for your interest. Send us your email, and we will be happy to notify you where the first tour operation will be established.

AquaVenture WaterCrafts

I have been designing tow able subs for years, with ALL the safety issues worked out in my tow able subs, to my jet ski engine/electric subs, to world magnet motor type sub. My dad was very hard to get to like my sub designs, He and I built cars from drawings and other projects. Dad did not like the water, so, I had to design every possible problem out of all my sub designs and the tow able sub had many deign issues. The tow vessels movements, obstacles that could not be un avoidable, \"a monkey\" at the controls, cabin full of water, safety air, body suit for depth issues with leaks and dives, well, I don\'t want to give it all away, but this IS My dream project. One day I will pursue it for myself and then commercial uses. I went all the way with my designs to a live a board world sub to and underwater home with abundant green energy. I can build my own sub as I went and learned all the trade skills needed to build, but one and I plan to hire that out for now. Good luck SeaBird Team.


It\'s kind of funny AquaVenture WaterCrafts posted here about their claims purporting about the awesomeness of the real life actual performances of their vehicles since all the pictures of said vehicles in action are computer rendered comped over some photos.


@martin.g: Thanks for your assessment. We\'ve already accepted several orders and have a large number of inquiries, so let\'s just let the market determine the future. The nice thing about capitalism is that you don\'t have to make Everyone happy to be successful. Nonetheless, we hope you get the chance to at least try SeaBird out on a tour someday. We think that a ride in SeaBird will change your mind about its \'future\'!

AquaVenture WaterCrafts

@Space Bagels: Gizmag writes the story and decides upon which pictures to display. Nevertheless, the 7th picture in the article is an still photo of our single seat prototype during testing. We developed and tested the prototype in fresh water lakes in New Hampshire with little access to anything interesting to view underwater, so we developed artwork so people can better visualize the operation of our sub when it does have a chance to operate in this setting. But you\'re welcome to go to our website: www.aqvwc.com where you can see our prototype, as well as a scaled radio-control technology demonstrator in live video. We hope you get the chance to ride a SeaBird yourself sometime. Thanks for your interest.

AquaVenture WaterCrafts

@Ender: We think about safety in everything we do. Safety has been designed into SeaBird from the very beginning. SeaBird pilots must complete an extensive and thorough training program before being certified to dive. During training, sub pilots learn how to use the obstacle avoidance sonar (primarily for conditions where visibility is obscured), but ordinarily, the large hemispheric windows provide excellent visability, making any inadvertent collision fairly unlikely. A surface ship is far more likely to impact a coral reef, as reefs can be obscured from a surface ship captain\'s view (unless sonar is available). Even so, collision with coral reefs would not under most circumstances present a hazard to SeaBird -- the vessel\'s design is far too robust. But we also take environtal health seriously, which is why we have operational restrictions on speed when operating near coral reefs or near any obstacles to include the sea floor. And even in the unrealistic case of a pilot who decides to operate recklessly and intentionally impacts an underwater obstacle, SeaBird\'s external kevlar shell, it\'s proprietary energy absorbing crumple zone, and a solid steel inner hull will protect its crew under most collision scenarios.

Additionally, as SeaBird is always tethered to the surface, it is inherently safer than autonomous subs. Statistically, diving an ABS certified submersible is FAR safer than SCUBA diving. And you can dive SeaBird in one atmospheric comfort, without worrying about salt water getting in your eyes, and you can dive with a cold if you can\'t equalize your ears. And the young, the very old, the infirmed, and any other person who cannot, for whatever reason SCUBA dive, will be able to enjoy an underwater dive in SeaBird. Thanks for your interest -- hope you get to try out SeaBird for yourself sometime!

AquaVenture WaterCrafts

No self propulsion - no future I am afraid. None the less a very good effort.


Great idea. We used this method testing the first Bionic Dolphin 20 some years ago and it was great fun so long as you had direct communication with the tow vessel through the umbilical tow line. Free flight was also a great experience using ballast and buoyancy as the only propulsion. Flying the currents is fun and challenging.

Best of luck and fun on your endeavor.

Tom Rowe

Thanks for your comment, Tom. We have a sonar-based communications system that works well for underwater operations and functions, even if the tether were to break. And it is great fun!

AquaVenture WaterCrafts

Ok, so this thing get towed by a boat? Thats not cool.. I\'d like to see a manufacturer make a luxury yacht sized or larger Submerines for cruises; Not that would be nice!


@Gargamoth: I assure you, SeaBird is VERY cool. It is more than twice as fast as any other personal sub in the world, can dive upside down, travel straight up, and down steeper than most rollercoasters. It\'s controlled with a joystick, like a jet fighter, and is simple enough to operate that tourists will get to \'fly\' it for most of their tours. And it\'s economical enough that tour operators around the world will be able to buy them and be profitable at very reasonable tour prices of $250-$350, affordable to the typical cruise ship passenger. We think THAT is really nice!

AquaVenture WaterCrafts

Reminds me of being pulled behind a car on a skateboard or sled. I have done both in my misspent youth, and I have the scars to prove it. No thank you, not again.

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