What is a tourist submarine?
We use the terms "tourist submarine" and "tourist submersible" interchangeably. Technically, the term "submarine" denotes a degree of autonomy that tourist vehicles do not have and the term "submersible" is more appropriate. Yet because the public more easily identifies with the term "submarine", that terminology is also appropriate.
A tourist submarine is a one atmosphere undersea vehicle that is designed to take paying passengers on subsea voyages for observation purposes. As such, t-subs have transparent viewports for external viewing. The term "one atmosphere" means that the pressure inside the submarine never varies from sea level regardless of operating depth. Typically, dives on a t-sub are less than one hour in duration and a t-sub can make up to 12 one-hour dives per day.
Are there different types of tourist submarines?
Yes, but the overall design differences are not very significant. The tourist subs differ in size and in design philosophy, but are similarly configured. The end result is that all of the tourist subs produced in the last 15 years, with just a couple of exceptions, are remarkably similar and pay tribute to the lack of imagination of their designers.
Purpose-built tourist subs range in size from 10 passengers to 66 passengers which corresponds to a range in displacement of from 30 tons to 150 tons. They all derive their power from lead acid batteries which provide sufficient power to operate from six to 12 one hour dives per day before an overnight battery recharge. Maximum operating speed is three knots and generally, cruising speed submerged is 0.5 - 1.0 knot. Because of their limited power capacity, tourist subs are towed to their dive site in the morning by a tow boat and then remain on site for the day while passengers are transferred to and from the submarine by a passenger transport vessel. For more information see the Anatomy of a Tourist Submarine.
The only notable exceptions are the Deepstar design, a tourist submarine with a transparent acrylic pressure hull and precursor to our Deepview series of acrylic hulled t-subs, the deep diving Bruker Seamaid TSIV, and our diesel electric Marlin and Nomad t-subs which, when compared to conventional tourist subs have 20 times the range, dive 7 times deeper and have 4 times the surface speed.
Where do tourist subs operate?
Tourist subs operate principally in tropical waters. There are numerous operating locations in the Caribbean (Barbados, Grand Cayman, Aruba, Cozumel, St. Thomas, etc.), the Mediterranean, the Red Sea, the Atlantic, the South Pacific, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea.
How expensive is to start a tourist submarine business?
A tourist submarine start-up is quite an expensive proposition due to both the high initial investment in the equipment as well as the development costs. However, well developed operations can often pay for themselves within 18 months. In correct circumstances the derived profit can be extraordinary.
Economic factors favor larger submarines because the baseline infrastructure and manning requirements do not differ substantially with vehicle size. A minimum sized sub for profitable operations is 10-passengers unless you are making very deep or specialty dives that demand a high ticker price. New tourist subs range in price from $1.5 million to $7 million and infrastructure and development costs from $750,000 to over $3 million. Available used submarine prices vary from $825,000 to $2.2 million. Therefore the least expensive operational start-up will be about $1.6 million with the most expensive costing over $10 million.
What are some of the issues surrounding the selection of an operating location?
Operating site selection is a complex subject. When we do a site feasibility study we analyze over 240 separate factors in order to predict the degree of economic success of an operation. Generally speaking, most tourist submarines operate in tropical locations where the weather is warm and the water is clear. Critical are areas with good visibility, little current and generally calm seas where the submarine can operate a minimum of 270 days per year. As a rule of thumb, and given standard capture ratios one needs about 12,500 incoming tourists per year per seat on the submarine, so to operate a 10 passenger sub at a given location you would need 125,000 incoming tourist arrivals into your limited geographic area. And, with an average ticket price of $75 a significant number of the tourists must be financially capable of paying for tickets. Other factors we consider are items like towing and transit time, operations base set-up, maintenance and haul out location, storm refuge plans, competing businesses, permits, immigration, environmental concerns, growth prospects, etc.
All of the mistakes in the tourist submarine business have been made. With professional assistance and guidance you can avoid repeating them.
What about crew training and licensing?
Licensing requirements vary from country to country but effective crew training is critical. If you purchase a submarine from us we can assist with the acquisition of experienced crew that is trained in the operation and maintenance of the submarine during the final phases of construction or refit followed by sea trials. An experienced crew can then provide further training over time to newly hired people at the operating location.
In the U.S. the Coast Guard requires that the pilot of the submarine have a Master's license for a surface vessel of equivalent tonnage and that he receive 40 dives and surfaces and 40 hours operating the submarine. The applicant is then given an exam based on the maintenance and operations manuals. Upon successful completion the applicant receives a specific submersible endorsement to his license.
If I wanted to start a t-sub business, what initial steps should I take?
You need to have access to at least $75,000 in capital to select an acceptable operating location and develop a business plan. We can assist you with both of these undertakings. Subsequently you need to identify an experienced management team, select a submarine based on the operating location and then begin a capital acquisition program to fund the project. Your ability to raise the funds will in large part be determined by the soundness and sophistication of the business plan and the erudition and experience of the management team. Keep in mind that there have been over 45 tourist submarine operations started to date which demonstrates the effectiveness of the business concept.