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Learn to Pilot a Submersible

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There’s a new way to build your yacht crew resume. Earn a submersible pilot’s certification. Far from a daydream, this expertise could soon be in high demand. The doubly good news is that there is now a training facility in the Caribbean.

“The submersibles market is a new market,” says Sophy Willemsen, marketing and communication executive for Netherlands-based manufacturer, U-Boat Worx. “Everyone knows submarines but having a submersible for leisure is a completely new idea. Our company started 17 years ago and at the start, we were mainly busy with developing high-quality mini submersibles. As pioneers, it was unknown to many people, but we did see a high demand in the research field straight away. Nowadays we also see a higher demand in the yachting industry. A NEMO 2-seater for example, our series model, takes up the same space as two jet skis. So yes, this makes a submersible the new ‘must-have’ for private and charter yachts.”

© Tom Van Ossanen 2020
© Tom Van Ossanen 2020

Submersible Pilot Training Facility

It’s the recreational popularity of these submersibles, along with a more reasonable than in the past price tag averaging US $600,000, that is leading the demand for trained drivers to pilot these craft. To this end, U-Boat Worx is the first in the world to open a submersible training center, and the company did so in 2019 with their Sub Center Curacao, in Willemstad.

“We chose this location because of the deep reefs around the island. It’s a hotspot for divers because of the multiple species of coral and fish. And with the collaboration with Adrien ‘Dutch’ Schrier, a well-known Caribbean entrepreneur and diving expert, this location was an easy choice,” says Willemsen.

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Launch and Recovery. © Tom Van Ossanen 2020
Launch and Recovery. © Tom Van Ossanen 2020

There are five courses available, starting with the Introduction Pilot Course (IPC). Anyone can learn some of the basics of becoming a submersible pilot in this 1-day course. It starts with a brief classroom session followed by three submersible dives under the supervision of the pilot instructor. No certificate is issued, but the experience is definitely worthwhile and it’s a good test to see if you want to go further and learn more. Next up in difficulty is the Supervised Pilot Course (SPC). You’ll learn about the most exciting aspects of operating a submersible including buoyancy control, maneuvering, navigation, communication, and critical safety procedures, and take 13 dives. In the end, you receive a Supervised Pilot Certificate, where you can make dives under the supervision of the chief pilot. The third of the courses to provide experience is the Private Pilot Course (PPC), with 12 days, 21-dives, and 6 theory exams. Tuition for these ranges from US $4,200 for the IPC to US $26,500 for the PPC.

© Tom Van Ossanen 2020
Sub Center Curaçao © Tom Van Ossanen 2020

The two other courses the Center offers are those designed for professional certification. These are the Surface Officer Course (SOC), which is 10 days, 4 dives, and 7 theory exams, and then to the most highly technical Chief Pilot Course (CPC), which lasts 16 days, 24-dives and 7 exams. At the end of this, you’ll be able to make your own dives solo, or with passengers. Tuition for these is US $15,500 and US $31,000.

“This availability of this training, which lowers the bar to entry by not having to own your own submersible to learn, is creating a lot of enthusiasm. There are pilots now who are excited to work in this field either freelance or full-time. And some submersible customers now feel comfortable knowing there are trained pilots available to drive them,” says Roy Heydra, U-boat Worx marketing manager.

© Tom Van Ossanen 2020
© Tom Van Ossanen 2020

Sea More

Unlike their larger counterparts, i.e., fully autonomous submarines, submersible’s fit only a few passengers, are relatively short in range, and require a source of support, like a yacht, to repower and replenish breathable gasses. The latter limitations are hardly drawbacks for the chance to stay dry, roam typically further than snorkel or scuba allow, and explore the deep like a modern-day Jules Verne. 

“In my opinion, you take all the good parts from snorkeling and diving, like the freedom that you have and the view that you have and the weightlessness that you experience, minus all the bad parts like the pressure, cold, decompression, and difficulty breathing, and that equals what a submersible experience offers,” says Heydra. “You’re sitting in the same environmental pressure as there is at the surface, although you may be at 300 feet, and limited only by your battery power, which can operate for up to 8 hours. Plus, you stay dry.”

In addition to U-Boat Worx, Triton Submarines in Florida, USA; DeepFlight and SEAmagine, both in California, USA; and Silvercrest Submarines and Subeo, in the UK, are other manufacturers of leisure market submersibles. 

Predive. © Tom Van Ossanen 2020
Predive. © Tom Van Ossanen 2020

On the Horizon

Perhaps the next type of pilot certification Sub Center Curacao will offer is for U-Boat Worx 1,250-ton, 123-foot-long yacht submarine, the Nautilus. The company debuted its designs for this yet-to-be-built craft that functions as a superyacht and a submersible at the 2022 Monaco Yacht Show. Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea fiction may soon be fact.

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  1. How many subs are already out there and still unmanned? How long should a new pilot work just to cover the cost of his license? I wonder how many applications have already been sent to the training center. At least for the time beeing it does not seem such a worthwhile investment unless paid by the owner and this sounds definitely like an even more remote option…

    • I’d imagine actually that this makes sense for the Owner… If you are going to spend the money to have a sub, you are going to want it to be a safe and professional experience for your friends and family. Right?


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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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