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THE SPORTSUB - HISTORY OF OUR PERSONAL SUBMARINES

 

SPORTSUB MODELS

Since selling the first SportSub in 1987, subs have been sold to many customers in over 18 different countries around the world. Most of the early customers were international dealers who were selling SportSubs to their customers in their own countries. The end users were private owners, resort tour operators, and commercial users. 

The first SportSub was a 2 person model. Based on feedback from these early owners, a 3 person Sub was developed. This new sub, called the ResortSub, was designed to allow tour operators to take 2 passengers at a time, thereby doubling their income for the same number of rides. Due to the interest in the 3 person sub by individuals, the SportSub III was developed. The SportSub III, like the SportSub, comes complete with everything you need to operate your sub.

Late in 1991, discussions began with the Olympic Organizing Committee regarding security for the 1992 Olympic games in Barcelona. They needed some submersibles to patrol the Olympic port where the events took place, the Olympic beach where the athletes went to relax, and the Port of Barcelona where there were 10 cruise ships housing VIP's from around the world. 

Based on the requirements for the Olympic subs, and the feedback from SportSub owners with commercial experience, theSurveillanceSub was created. This Sub has a protective cage that will prevent the sub from getting caught-up, hooked or tangled, and allow the sub to operate at night or in black out conditions. One of the high intensity lights is a roof mounted light that is rotateable from the cockpit, and can be used both above and below the water for night time surveillance while submerged or while on the surface. The xenon beacon allows boats and subs to see each other's location while on the surface at night. The underwater communications system allows all subs, divers, boats, and base stations to communicate. The additional air supply doubles the amount of time the subs can stay in the water before the air tanks need refilling.

Beginning in 2000, R&D was started on an automatic depth control system that would allow for easier and more precise control of a SportSub. The goal was to develop a system that would make the operation of an all-dry sub possible. The Depth Control System, which has auto-hover and auto-target capabilities as well as ascent and descent rate control, was brought into production in 2002. As a result of the Depth Control System, the all-dry TourSub became a reality. 

In 2003 the first 6 person, all-dry TourSub was built, giving purchasers a whole new option for multi-passenger tours in cold or warm water, as the passengers remain dry, entering and exiting the sub through a top hatch. The design of the TourSub is such that it maintains the same advantages that the SportSubs have over our competitor's subs. We offer unlimited visibility down in front and to the sides so the pilot and passengers have an unobstructed view of the bottom. After all, that is where all the life and activity is. Being able to see up seems like a good idea, but in practice it is only useful if you want a nice view of the surrounding water. If you want to see fish and coral, you need to be able to look at the ocean bottom. You won't see a big view-blocking nose on any of our subs. Instead we have big downward looking windows. 

Maneuverability is also a key issue. While our competitors design subs that maneuver like an airplane, the combination of the Depth Control System and our shorter length allow our subs, even the TourSub, to maneuver like a helicopter with auto-hover control. You can pilot your TourSub up, down, forward, backward, and even sideways! And when you take your hands off the controls, the auto-hover feature takes over and automatically holds you at your current depth. Talk about easy to fly! 
 

SPORTSUB DESIGN
 

The SportSub was designed in 1986 by a design team lead by professional engineer Ray Fast. The idea was to open the underwater world to all people. The process began by outlining the desired requirements and capabilities of the vehicle, and then incorporating them into a shape that would be both functional and suitable for a submersible. Included in the list of requirements were such broad things as affordability, ease of operation, maneuverability, and that it had to look "sporty" but also like a submarine. Some specific things such as the ability to see downward out of the Sub so you could see the bottom, automatic control of buoyancy, an air-tight cockpit with a breathable air environment so you could breath and talk normally, and guarantee reliability by sealing components so no water could get in, were all part of the list. From that list, the first SportSub was born.

To meet the requirements of affordability and ease of maintenance, it was decided an ambient design would be required. This means that the air pressure inside the sub is the same as the water pressure outside the sub. With this design, no certified pressure hull is required because there is no danger of the hull collapsing as no differential pressure is being exerted on the hull by the water. This allows for the use of a fiberglass hull. It also means that no expensive fittings are needed every time a hole is put through the hull. The result is a sub that can be purchased for 1/10th the cost of a one atmosphere sub!

There are other benefits also. Regular compressed air in scuba tanks can be used as the main air supply instead of pure oxygen. This is both easier to get and much less expensive. Instead of intense technical training you only need basic Scuba training and then to be trained as a sub pilot. You can enter and exit the sub easily without the need of a lock-out chamber. It is also very light weight and compact. The result is a sub that can be towed on a trailer behind almost any car and launched from any boat ramp, or carried on the deck of a yacht.

The operational concept is a pocket of air is trapped inside the cockpit of the sub (like an upside-down cup traps air when pushed underwater). This trapped air in the sub provides lift, or "buoyancy". When the lift created by the air trying to rise to the surface is equal to the weight of the sub, the sub is said to be at "neutral buoyancy". When neutral buoyancy is reached, the SportSub will not rise to the surface or sink to the bottom, it will stay at whatever depth you are at. This is the desired condition for SportSub operation. When in this condition the sub's motors are used to accurately direct the SportSub up, down, forward, backwards and to turn left or right, or any combination of these. This is much easier and more accurate than using ballast tanks to control buoyancy which in turn cause ascent or descent. 

The sub is open at the back below the water line. To get into the air pocket you swim forward into the opening in the back of the hull and then come up inside the sub in the air pocket. Once inside you and your passenger(s) sit on fold down seats. Because the air pressure inside the sub is the same at the water pressure outside, the water can't come up inside the cockpit (just like the air in the upside down cup keeps the water out of the cup while underwater even though the cup has an opening in the bottom).

The air environment inside the sub is a tested breathable atmosphere. The air quality is controlled by an air flow meter regulating a continuos flow of air entering the cockpit. As this air enters the cockpit it forces the old air out thereby controlling the amount of CO2 in the cockpit. This ensures that the air in the sub is always suitable to breathe. Extensive verification testing has been done in a hyperbaric chamber with air gas content monitors. A copy of this report is available if required.

As research and testing began we realized that nothing like this had been done before. Many people had tried but no one had actually built anything that worked. The biggest problems were control of buoyancy and keeping water out of the places where it didn't belong. 

To solve the buoyancy control problem Ray invented an "electronic buoyancy control system" or "EBC". (We have applied for patents on this proprietary system.) To give you an understanding of this system and why it is important we need to begin with "Boyle's law". Boyle's law states that the volume of a given quantity of gas varies inversely with pressure. Therefore, as pressure increases, the volume that a quantity of air takes up gets smaller. As an example, if you took a breath of air and held it, and if you could swim to 33 feet below sea level (2 atmospheres of pressure), the air in your lungs would decrease in size by 1/2. This decrease in air volume results in smaller lungs. The smaller your lungs are, the less space your body takes up.

The result is you become more dense (that is more tightly packed, not more stupid!). This increase in density causes you to be less buoyant in the water and changes you from neutral to negative buoyancy. You now feel a distinct downward pull. The deeper you go the stronger the pull becomes, because of the decreasing air volume as a result of the increasing pressure as you go deeper. Also, if you start an ascent from the bottom, the air inside the sub starts to expand, increasing its buoyancy and accelerating an ascent to the surface.

As you can see, neither of these is a very good scenario. The solution is theoretically simple enough though. As the water pressure increases, add air at the same time so the volume of air in the cockpit stays consistent. The problem comes in controlling this. If you try to add the air manually, and don't add enough, you loose buoyancy and begin an uncontrolled descent. If you add too much, you become positively buoyant and begin and uncontrolled ascent (almost as dangerous as an uncontrolled descent). So in theory it is possible, but not at all reasonable in practice.

In the SportSub, these principles (pressure and gases' reaction to pressure) are regulated through the EBC system. With the SportSub and the EBC, the sub always maintains neutral buoyancy, and it does it automatically. All you need to do is remember to turn it on. When you begin to descend and the water pressure increases and tries to decrease the volume of the air in the cockpit, the EBC senses this and adds pressurized air to the cockpit to maintain the air volume required to give neutral buoyancy. When you ascend, the water pressure around you decreases and the air in the cockpit tries to expand. The EBC senses this as well and exhausts the correct amount of air, so again, there is no change in the volume and the buoyancy. Because of the EBC you can enjoy your SportSub ride and leave the control of the buoyancy to the SportSub. The SportSub is capable of maneuvering under power in 3 dimensions. Power is applied to two battery powered electric motors, mounted amidships, one on each side of the sub. The speed of each motor is controlled independently by two speed control levers in the dashboard. These motors normally propel the sub forward, but can be rotated as much as 90 degrees upward to propel the sub up or 90 degrees downward to propel the sub down. Turns are accomplished by speeding one motor up and slowing the other down. The sub can turn on the spot by putting one motor in full reverse and the other in full forward. The SportSub maneuvers much like a helicopter. 

Flying a SportSub is a new and exciting experience. While a car operates in 2 dimensions, the sub operates in 3. This extra dimension takes a little getting used to, and definitely adds more than a little excitement. The top speed of 4 knots doesn't sound very fast to those of us used to driving down the highway at 65mph, but remember we are talking about the underwater world where 4 knots provides plenty of excitement!

In 2002 a new option known as the Auto Depth Control System (DCS) was added to the SportSub line. A client said it best: "The Auto-Hover Control system allows much more accurate control of the sub, in all directions. I can put it exactly where I want it and then I can release the controls and it just sits there. It makes piloting a SportSub a breeze!" The new Auto-Hover Control system uses 4 fixed position thrusters instead of the 2 variable position thrusters of standard subs. All 4 thrusters are computer controlled by a single joystick. There are three available modes of operation:

Manual Mode
Auto Hover Mode **
Auto Target Depth Mode **

** Includes Auto Ascent/Descent Rate Control

With the DCS now you can pilot a sub with ease! This is done by using 4 motors instead of 2, and having the main diveplanes fixed so they only point forward and having the second pair of thrusters fixed so they only point up and down. With this arrangement you can now change depth and maintain forward control simultaneously. This gives significantly more control and allows for even better pin-point positioning of the sub.

For all subs that incorporate the Auto-DCS, the sub is controlled with one hand on a single joystick and is entirely fly-by-wire. It is as simple as pointing the joystick in the direction you want to go, and using the joystick-mounted thumb switch to select whether you want to ascend or descend, by pushing the switch up to go up or down to go down.

The advantages of this new option don't end there however! What we have described so far is 'manual control'. There are two other automatic features available. The first is, Automatic Hover Mode. With this feature selected whenever you release the depth control thumb switch the computer takes control of the vertical thrusters and controls them so you hold or 'hover' at your current depth. This is done automatically. You don't need to do anything other than stop using the thumb switch. Whenever you push on the thumb switch again to go up or down the auto hover disengages and you go up or down (depending whether you push the switch up or down) until you release the thumb switch again, at which point the computer takes over again and holds you at your current depth. In addition, your rate of depth change is limited to less than 1 foot per second (1f/s). This is a great safety enhancement.

The second feature is an optional add-on called Auto Target Mode. With this feature selected you scroll the digital readout until it reads your target depth, and the sub will automatically ascend or descend (as applicable) to this target depth at no greater than 1f/s without you having to do anything other than watch the scenery. For example, if you are at 75 feet and want to ascend to 10 feet for a safety stop before surfacing, you would select Auto Target Mode on the control panel and then using the thumb switch scroll the readout until it displays "10 feet". The computer would turn on the vertical thrusters to begin your ascent and would control the thruster's speed so the ascent would not exceed 1f/s, until you reached 10 feet. At that point (actually slightly before) the motors would reverse so you would stop at 10 feet. During this whole process you could continue to control the horizontal (forward/reverse) thrusters, or just sit back and enjoy the ride. 

The Auto-Hover Control System is standard equipment on the ResortSub and SurveillanceSub. Auto-Target Depth Mode is an optional add-on. Auto-Hover is available as an option on other models. Existing SportSubs can be refit with the Auto-Hover Control system. Refitting prices will vary depending on what equipment your sub has currently.

The DCS is a huge step forward in how SportSubs are operated. As outlined above, on the basic SportSub you point the diveplanes: forward to make the sub go forward, backwards or to turn; and you rotate them 90 degrees so they point up to go up, or down to go down. This gave great control and allowed the sub to maneuver like a helicopter going straight up and down, rotating in its own length, etc., but you couldn't change depth and control forward motion at the same time. Also, hovering the sub required quite a bit of skill and practice.

SPORTSUB SAFETY
 

In the event you do have a problem, SportSub's have a number of safety backup systems: 
1. Upward Thrust. To power yourself to the surface.
2. Buoyancy Control Adjustment for Positive Cockpit Buoyancy. Allows you to perform a controlled ascend under the control of the buoyancy control system even if you have no battery power left.
3. EBC Manual Override. This allows you to override the sensing mechanism of the EBC in the event of a sensing mechanism failure.
4. ReservAir. ReservAir is a separate 80 cubic foot air tank in case your main air supply is depleted. ReservAir supplies air to all of the sub's systems.
5. Manual Cockpit Air Inlet. This system uses air from the ReservAir tank and allows you to bring the sub to the surface in an out-of-main-air situation, in the event of an EBC failure, in the event of an electrical failure, or all of these at the same time. This system's lever also can act as a "dead man switch" allowing either the pilot or passenger to bring the sub to the surface in the event of a problem.
6. Droppable Lead Ballast. 20 of these 10 pound lead bars allow you to trim the weight of the sub to accommodate exceptionally light or heavy people or loads. They can also be thrown out of the sub to create positive buoyancy in an emergency so the sub can ascend to the surface under the control of the buoyancy control system, even without air or battery power.
7. Scuba tanks and regulators. There is a scuba second stage (mouth piece) for every person in each SportSub. These can be used to add air to the cockpit to create positive buoyancy, or to swim away from the sub to the surface.
8. Front and Rear Ballast Tanks. By blowing ballast from these tanks, the sub will ascend to the surface, however, it will not be under the control of the buoyancy control system. You must have compressed air left to blow ballast with. This system will, however, assure positive buoyancy when you reach the surface.
 

SPORTSUB PROJECTS
 

The SportSub has been used in the Living Seas exhibit at Epcot Center, Disney World in Florida. The Living Seas exhibit is the largest saltwater aquarium in the world. They have everything from live coral reefs to sharks swimming around and we found it especially interesting that the dolphins liked to play with the Sub. They swim along in the prop wash for awhile, then take off up ahead, swim around, and do the whole thing all over again. There has also been a ResortSub on display at the Living Seas Exhibit in Orlando, Florida for a number of years.

Paramount Pictures used a SportSub for the filming of the movie "The Hunt for Red October" starring Sean Connery and Alec Baldwin. In the movie there are 2 scenes where the "Red October's" periscope is seen on the surface. Because the "Red October" was only a mock up and it couldn't submerge, they needed something to run along under water carrying the periscope. Once the movie was done, Paramount entered into a promotion with Movie Time and Nestles to promote the movie. The grand prize was a SportSub! Shortly after that promotion, HBO ran "The Hunt for Red October" as it's movie of the month. They also had a contest where the grand prize was a SportSub!

Also, a SportSub is featured in a film shot in the Bahamas called "Zeus and Roxanne" and stars Steve Guttenberg and Kathleen Quinlan, and is directed by George Miller. The Movie is now available on video and DVD. 
 

SPORTSUB CUSTOMERS
 

One of the greatest complements to SportSubs is their acceptance by those who buy the best. SportSubs have been purchased by everyone from Crown Princes to adventurous cottage owners who want to have fun with their neighbors. ResortSubs are the hottest new toy for many of the worlds largest mega yacht owners. Many of these subs are painted to match the colors of the owner's yacht, private jets and other toys!

Not all SportSubs are being used for fun of course. Many subs are being used for salvage, search and rescue, inspection work, treasure hunting, and anything else you can think of, from a Fire Dept. Dive Rescue team in Brazil, to the sub used by a Navy in infiltration maneuvers in Europe. There are always new ideas showing up as more innovative and adventurous people have access to this technology.
 

This information is subject to change without notice.

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