Submarine enthusiasts, periscope up! A Dutch company has plunged into the murky waters of the "personal submersibles" market with what it claims is the world's first mass-produced personal sub.
While competitors of U-Boat Worx BV say its products are not unique, it is one of only a handful to attempt to sell submarines directly to consumers, due to the considerable technological difficulties and safety concerns.
But the company has already sold six of its "C-Quester" line of subs, which go for Ђ62,500 (US$82,000) for a one-person sub and EUR94,500 (US$124,000) for a two-seater, said company spokeswoman Tamara Smit. Only one has actually been shipped, she added. But there's a lot of interest.
"Who's looking are a lot of adventurers," she said. "Who's (actually) buying is more, people with money who want to be able to say they were first among their friends to have their own submarine."
The CQ1 is about 2.8 meters (12 feet) long and weighs a metric ton (2,200 pounds), light enough to pull on a trailer with a pickup truck. It's battery-powered and guided underwater with three propellors, which the driver controls via a joystick and small instrument panel. Top speed: 3 knots (3.5 mph, 5.5 kph).
They look sporty and come in candy colors. The driver's head is sealed inside a clear plastic bubble, and the sub can descend to a depth of 50 meters (160 feet).
Such small watercraft are rare enough that if a country's law addresses them, they are usually considered boats, and don't need a special license. Often they may simply slip under authorities' radar. And sonar. But getting insurance is nigh-impossible.
Jon Wallace, a co-founder of psubs.org, a web site for personal sub enthusiasts, praised the U-Boat machine for its price, design and "space age" look, but said it was difficult to gauge how well it will sell.
"The home-built market is not interested in purchasing a sub because half the fun is building (it) from scratch," he said by telephone from New Hampshire.
A do-it-yourself sub can be built for $17,000 to $20,000 (EUR13,000 to EUR15,000), but the maker has to be able to weld, he said.
On the upper end, tourism companies and researchers pay millions per submarine but probably wouldn't be interested in a U-Boat Worx sub, because it doesn't have certification from the American Bureau of Shipping or a comparable standards organization.
U-Boat is "looking for the guy that wants a pleasure craft," Wallace said. "Right now, a professionally-made submarine costs at least $150,000 or more. They've been able to bring that price downwards. It's still a lot of money, but they've gained some market."
He predicted that the biggest problem will be buyers becoming dissatisfied with the view that they can get in water that's not crystal-clear.
"You can't see the bottom, you can't see the fish, you can't see anything else, and pretty soon you'll be asking yourself 'what am I doing down here?'," he said.
Competitors include such companies as SEAmagine Hydrospace Corp. and NoLand Corp., maker of the "Bionic Dolphin" a unique design resembling a jet-ski that can briefly submerge.
One larger maker of submarines, U.S. Submarines Inc., was negative about prospects for U-Boat Worx.
"Every now and then little companies like U-Boat Worx come along and then they kill someone and go out of business, giving the rest of us a bad name," said President L. Bruce Jones, in an e-mailed response.
U-Boat Worx's Smit said the company's subs are designed to the highest safety specifications, have multiple ways of surfacing in an emergency, and come with four days of training.
The subs maintain a constant pressure to keep people from getting "the bends" when they surface and are tested at 5 times the depth they are supposed to go.
Built-in safety mechanisms including the weight of the sub compared to the air it holds prevent people from trying to go too deep.
But "of course you can fool around with technical things if you try to drive a car at 200 kilometers per hour (125mph) in a sharp bend, you will crash," she said.
She said the world has nothing to fear from people who would try to use a personal sub for evil, reports AP.
"It doesn't go far or fast enough to smuggle drugs," she said.
A terrorist "could carry out a suicide attack scuba diving. He would have no reason to buy such a thing," she said.
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