Yes and no. The risks of working on and operating submersibles should be taken very seriously, but first and foremost, submersibles are currently the safest form of transportation in terms of numbers of accidents per numbers of trips. Submersible diving is not actually how it looks in the movies. Some of the most important points to address this question are:
- No civilian has ever died from a submersible implosion – the industry has figured out the technical specifications to keep submersibles from imploding.
- For every failure point, submersibles are designed with multiple backup systems. There are multiple ways to regain buoyancy if an unintended descent occurs, breathe in the case of a life support system (oxygen and CO2 scrubber) failure, and communicate with the surface if comms go down. These redundancies are the reason why submersibles are so safe.
- Because there are so few submersibles in the world, there is no such thing as a manned submersible engineering degree. Most of the professionals in the field are general engineers who gained submersible experience with the small number of submersibles in the world, and that is how they came to possess their expertise. This path is not dissimilar to the vibrant DIY submersible community, many of whom are engineers. These serious builders have followed the specifications determined by engineers and documented in the literature on the subject. The DIY submersible community has an outstanding safety record, and the people who tend to build their own submersibles also tend to be extremely meticulous and safe individuals. Please visit the Personal Submersibles community here: psubs.org
You can also read the bible of submersible engineering here that is the basis for all submersible design, whether DIY or professionally manufactured, to get a sense for the technical requirements of a submersible: Manned Submersibles by R. Frank Busby
All said and done, safety ultimately comes down to the care of the individuals in the crew and the systems in place to make certain all adhere to the safety protocol. We require that our crew get training on mechanics, operations, risk assessment and piloting before performing any tasks with the subs. The focus of this training is to learn the risks of their work, the potential failure points and their mitigation, and methods of identifying and correcting mistakes. We use extensive checklists during any maintenance work or operations so that mechanics and pilots are not reliant on their memory to conduct all of the safety protocol of their work correctly.
Everyone who successfully completes the training has to demonstrate an exceptional attention to safety details, and everyone on our crew cares deeply about protecting others from harm. Our training program is modeled after higher risk industries like small craft aviation.
TLDR: submersibles are the safest method of travel if the proper protocol is followed, and we take safety extremely seriously.
As we mentioned above, no civilian has ever died from a submersible implosion. So while it is totally natural for a human in a metal pod descending into enormous pressures to feel afraid, it is actually not a very likely submersible death.
We test the integrity of the metal, all hardware, and acrylic through frequent visual inspections and ultrasonic testing once every 3 years. As part of our annual sea trials, we send the subs down unmanned to a depth of 20% deeper than our intended maximum depth, just to be extra sure that the sub can withstand the depth in its current condition.
Noctiluca was named after the genus of bioluminescent dinoflagellates that occur off the coast of California, which are also known as ‘sea sparkles’. Noctiluca means night light in Latin!
We did not build her! Marlin S-101, now Noctiluca, was built in England in 1987 by Marlin Submarines and was commissioned by the Swedish navy for use as a SONAR target during training exercises. From there she was purchased by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, where she received her orca paint job to scare off baleen whales from whaling ships. They renamed her ‘Whales Forever,’ and rumor has it her existence was responsible for a Norwegian naval vessel sinking during a botched attempt to stop a Sea Shepherd boat, which was provoked by seeing a submarine on their deck. She was then purchased by the business partner of the now CEO of Triton Submarines, and we picked her up from the Triton yard in Florida and brought her home to Berkeley, California.
Yes! Currently the Diesel engine is not working, but the diesel motor is only used for long distance surface travel, and for refilling the air tanks and recharging the batteries. Noctiluca is designed to be able to operate without a mothership and so is technically a ‘submarine’ and not a submersible, but she is a fully capable electric submersible without the diesel engine. She has plenty of onboard power storage for traveling long distances with the electric motor, the only difference is she needs to go back to port to get ‘recharged’ and we won’t be making any long distance surface expeditions until the motor is fixed.
The subs currently live in Berkeley, California. They are both on trailers, and can dive anywhere within driving distance that has a launch ramp.
Back our Kickstarter or make a tax-deductible donation! Become a member and attend events! Join our email list and become a volunteer! Tell your friends and spread the love!
We are currently developing a certification protocol for becoming operations crew and/or a pilot, and to do this, you must also be a member of the cooperative. In the meantime, your best chance of getting on a dive is to sign up to be a volunteer, so please go to the join page and sign up for all the things. The pilot school will be announced via the email list so get on that too! Anyone can go on a dive if they have a willing crew and pilot.
Part of the intent of this project is to disintegrate the financial model of paying lots of money for a dive. We have funders, and we have participants, and dives are not transactional between these two types of members. The current cost of a dive is the actual expenses, which are extremely low: gas money for transportation and boat launch fees.