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Houseboat builder turns his attention to tsunami survival pods


September 19, 2012

The Tsunami Survival Pod is a watertight, crush-proof capsule designed to allow its users to ride out tsunamis

The Tsunami Survival Pod is a watertight, crush-proof capsule designed to allow its users to ride out tsunamis

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Australian houseboat builder Matt Duncan was stunned when he saw footage of the Japanese tsunami on television. He was so taken aback, in fact, that he decided to do something to help people survive future tsunamis. The result is his Tsunami Survival Pod (TSP), and you can buy one of your own for AUS$8,500, or about US$8,900.

The floating watertight TSP is made from 4mm spiral welded steel, has a crush capacity of four tonnes (4.4 tons), and features impact-absorbing crumple zones. It accommodates four people in five-point harnessed safety seats, and can reportedly hold enough air to last those passengers for two and a half hours. It has a main hatch and a bottom-mounted secondary hatch (in case it ends up upside-down), both of which open inward to avoid being blocked by external debris. Each of those hatches also feature a one-inch-thick window, to help minimize claustrophobia.

The pod has a streamlined design, to keep it from getting snagged on debris or other objects. Should it avoid all the snags and end up getting washed out to sea, its flashing exterior lights ought to help attract rescuers. Once they find it, its integrated lifting hooks should help it be hoisted by a helicopter or ship-mounted crane.

Food rations, blankets and safety helmets are also included in the package.

Four small wheels on the bottom allow it to be pushed around by hand on smooth surfaces (such as driveways), and it’s said to be small enough to fit in a typical garage or carport. If you don’t think it’s worth keeping a TSP in your garage on the off chance that you’ll experience a tsunami, however, take note – Duncan says that it can also be used as an earthquake shelter. You also might be interested in checking out the Japanese Noah capsule.

Source: Havana Houseboats via Gold Coast Bulletin

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

This looks much better than the Noah capsule. The inwards opening doors would give a much better chance of getting out. There are still plenty of things that could go wrong, like being burred in debris, but I guess it's better than the alternative, of not having a capsule.


Just a matter of time before someone tries taking one of these over Niagra Falls...


(40+ years working with great apes. 59+ years of living. < 1 year of 'Comments'.) Here's the more than admittedly strange 'connection' between this story and chimpanzees !.... 40 years ago this October i was living briefly on the west coast of Fla. below Tampa, in a town called Oldsmar. Myself and a friend went to visit a place called "The Chimp Farm" owned and operated by a Bob and May Knowles and inhabited by more than a dozen of their ex-"boxing chimpanzees"(Google it), several orangutans and 2 male gorillas. Many of the chimps/apes were housed in converted wheeled tractor trailer cargo holds. It wasn't a very pretty sight though i know the Knowles only meant to do the best they could. I'll talk to anyone about anything and it happens i struck up a conversation with Mrs.Knowles that included the chimps' housing situation. May told me that when she and Bob finally settled down with their apes on the west coast of Fla. she had heard a disturbing story about the devastation a 'Texas generated tsunami' had wrought upon the opposite side of the Gulf of Mexico(to this day i have no idea if that's true ?). It was the fear of a reoccurence that prompted the Knowles to house as many of their apes in the trailer segments as they could. The idea was that if/when they received any sort of advance warning of a Texas/Gulf earthquake, and possible tsunami, they could immediately "CB" radio all their many 'trucker' friends in the area...to come, hitch their '18 wheeler' cabs to the trailers...and drive the trailer housed apes to safety with all due haste. I happened to visit the now late Mrs.Knowles again with another 'friend', Patti Ragan of "The Center for Great Apes", currently located in Wachula, Fla., almost a couple of decades later. Though husband Bob and the "trailer cages" were gone, the then ~80+ year old May Knowles remembered and reiterated her story. (•¿•)›

Tom McDonnell

If all you want the device to do is save you from a tidal wave a passenger hot air balloon tied to a good anchor will do without beating you to death. I'll take a boat that lets me save myself from wherever tsunami leaves me and I'll be able to use the boat for fun as well.


Glad he was thinking of saving lives, but I'd ventue a guess that the majority of those killed in tsunamis could never afford the $8900 US cost. Maybe the resort motels could for the rich tourist. Nice concept, but see limited practical use.


I live in a tsunami prone area, so I actually think about this a fair bit.. I even thought of something along these lines also.. but after reading "Pikeman's' comment, I just don't see how you could beat a hot air balloon.. what a brilliant idea! But how many folks have one of these in their back yard, I am not sure either...

Doc Rock

Pretty good idea, indeed, but I agree with 'ct' that it's a bit pricey for the population primarily exposed to coastal proximity. That said, I would suggest the innovator adds a transponder that could be activated once occupants are swept away. Skiers, wise skiers that is, who ski avalanche prone outback, wear the same device so rescuers can locate them asap in case they're swept away by a cornice fracture.

Peter Manbar

Problem with a hot-air balloon is the time taken to prep and launch. If kept ready it would cost a fortune in heating... A better idea would be a helium balloon. Design it like a flotation device. Strap on the vest/harness pull the handle and let a helium balloon inflate and lift the victim clear of the hazard. You could anchor the balloons to a weight, with a 30m or so of line. Enough to clear any event you would want to survive...

Ian McIntosh

As others have said, a little pricy, but it could possibly protect against other forms of disaster as well.

It might supply protection against hurricanes, tornadoes, short term wild fires , maybe earth quakes (falling debris).


re; Ian McIntosh

I assumed having the balloon's fabric prepped over a vertical pipe and a heater/blower (a space heater on steroids) to fill it. But your light gas idea is at least equally good except helium is too leaky and expensive. While methane will require a bigger balloon the gas could be used as fuel after you land. Just as an aside in the US if you are tethered you don't need a license.

re; Wombat56

To protect against hurricanes get an ICE powered vehicle and heed the evacuation order; if you are going to leave the vehicle unused for extended periods investing in a LP Gas or Natural Gas fuel system is a good idea as they are stable over time unlike gasoline which will require adding fuel stabilizers.

Tornado and wild fire shelters are best built under ground and for the wild fire shelter include a big air supply and a good airlock entry; a secondary exit consisting of a vertical concrete pipe with a ladder in it and filled with sand and covered with a bit of sod on top would make it virtually impossible for you to be trapped inside by the heat welding the outer door shut or enemy action. Inspired paranoia is a survival trait.

Earthquakes have too little warning to get to such a shelter in time.


Japan has tried to build walls to keep a tsunami from coming inland, but instead of building all of these walls or buying one of these pods, build shelters located on every block that would have the water go over the top leaving the people inside safe with enough air, water and food to sustain them until it is all over. When the alarm is sounded that a tsunami is approching, everyone in that area would be albe to get to one on these shelters. I think this is a good idea, but if the Japanese didn't care not to feed their children radioactive food, then they are not going to be building these kind of shelters.

James Eldridge

Pikeman , I like the idea, but a tethered balloon has a few flaws. 1) too much wind. 2) floating or rolling debris rolling over the tether line. this would either cut you free, or pull you down into it. (a loose tree trunk would kill you easily)

Perhaps combine a couple of ideas here, and make the Gondola a light weight motor boat, for a quick exit, or a lift. In case of need, land the balloon and fire up the motor.


If you have suitable "handles" on the side of the TSP you could put anchor straps thru them to secure floor mounted bolted anchor points and the TSP could them be used as a tornado shelter. It would be safer than many underground shelters that could potentially become flooded- just a thought :-)

Richard Corso

Final thought for now - you could have outside of the TSP compressed air inflated very strong plastic inflation devices - like they had on the old NASA Apollo re-entry pods so that would ensure that the TSP remained upright.

Richard Corso

These survival schemes would be of little use to save most of the people in the past couple events. One needs to be nearby the pod, balloon, etc., and know that a tsunami is approaching for any survival scheme to work.


Or check out the original design from aero space engineers in the 2011 Nasa Tech Briefs contest. http://www.king5.com/news/local/Tsunami-survival-capsule-tested-187983001.html

Heidie Stanton-Sharpe
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