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he super rich will soon be able to make a splash with their very own personal submarine, with manufacture of the ‘Phoenix’ possibly to be based in Dubai. But for most of us, the $80 million price tag makes it completely out of our depth, Ben Smalley reports.

    Luxury yachts and private planes have long been the ultimate status symbols for the super rich, but that could soon change when an American company begins manufacture of a range of personal submarines.

    Picture the scene – you are cruising the Indian Ocean when suddenly you decide to dive to 300 metres and view the marvels of the deep through your own submarine’s large panoramic windows, and all without leaving the comfort of your plush leather armchair.

    It may sound like fantasy, but this will soon become reality when U.S. Submarines begins manufacture of its range of personal subs - including the 36-metre Seattle 1000 and the extraordinary 65-metre Phoenix 1000 with its equally incredible $80 million price tag.

    The company’s co-founder and president, L. Bruce Jones, says he has secured customers for the submarines, including some in the Middle East, and is now looking to relocate from Fort Lauderdale in Florida and establish a manufacturing facility overseas – with Dubai’s Jebel Ali Free Zone a leading contender.

    “Our plans are to build the world’s most advanced civil submarine manufacturing facility where we would design, engineer and construct sub-sea vehicles and structures for the world market,” he says. 

    “We are currently evaluating a number of different locations, and I cannot say with any surety that we will actually end up in Jebel Ali, but we like Dubai’s progressive business climate, its central location and its freedom from taxes, while inexpensive labour costs and an excellent quality of life are also pluses. Within 30 days we should make a decision.”

    U.S. Submarines was formed in early 1993 and has been involved with over 80 submarine and manned submersible projects. Until now, however, these have largely been scientific research vessels and passenger submarines for the tourism industry.

    The idea for the personal, luxury submarine struck Jones while testing a new tourist submarine on the Caribbean island of St Maarten in 1990. Realising he was going to have to work late, he invited his wife to join him on the deck for dinner but, on the spur of the moment, decided to take the sub down and have their meal underwater.

    “It was really sort of romantic,” he recalled in an interview with New Scientist magazine. “I thought: You know what? People ought to have the chance to own a sub that would do this sort of thing, where you could go down and spend the night on the bottom.”

    The vehicle he conceived was unlike any other designed before. Deep-sea research vessels are cramped capsules that have to be transported to their dive site by a support ship. Even today’s tourist submarines, which operate at a number of resorts around the world, have limited range - and military submarines do not offer a glimpse of the marine life outside, despite being able to travel long distances.

    Jones saw a gap in the market and set about designing long-range, luxury submarines that would appeal to the super rich. And, with customers now in place, his company is ready to take the project beyond the drawing board stage.

    “As soon as we finish construction of the manufacturing facility we will begin construction of several luxury submarines in different sizes for various clients,” he says.

    Unwilling to be specific, Jones says interested buyers tend to have one trait in common - they are all wealthy!

    “We group them in three additional categories. The most interesting are the avid scuba divers and ocean aficionados who are very interested in the sub-sea world and view a luxury submarine as a vehicle for exploration.

    “With 2,300 mega-yachts operational around the world, some costing in excess of $150 million, the stakes in the game of one-upmanship are rising, and some yacht owners like the idea of having a larger and more unique toy. The luxury submarine also attracts individuals who have never owned a yacht, but are fascinated with the idea of traveling beneath the surface of the world's oceans.”

    He adds: “We are dealing with all types of potential buyers, from wealthy Arab sheikhs, to world leaders and hi-tech mega-millionaires. However, virtually all insist on confidentiality.”

    The luxury submarines will be powered on the surface by twin turbocharged marine diesel engines, before switching to rechargeable battery power when they dive to depths of up to 305 metres (1000 ft).

    “While surfaced, the submarine acts very much like a yacht, although the submarine is heavier and has a lower profile,” Jones explains. “Cruising speed for the Seattle is approximately 14 knots, and the submarine has transatlantic range, allowing the owner to travel virtually anywhere.

    “When the submarine is surfaced the captain controls the vessel from inside the acrylic cabin in the superstructure or deck house. From here, he has an excellent view and access to all the necessary instrumentation for control and navigation, including radar and GPS.

    “When it is time to dive, the captain shuts down the diesel engines and switches to battery power. He then goes below to the pilot’s compartment located in the bow of the submarine forward of the main lounge. From here he has an excellent view of the underwater environment through an immense forward viewport.”

    While the captain is operating the vessel, the owner can enjoy the sumptuous luxury in the elegant staterooms; furnished in rich fabrics, mahogany panels and the finest leather – or they can work with their own interior designer to stamp your personal style - and all in air-conditioned, temperature-controlled comfort.

    “Regardless of the operating depth of the submarine, the interior of the passenger cabin remains at surface pressure, which is one atmosphere,” Jones explains. “As a result, there are none of the pressure-induced physiological effects experienced by scuba divers. A guest aboard a submarine can stay comfortably submerged for as long as desired, and the submarine can dive or surface at any rate.

    “The submarine also has a sophisticated central air-conditioning and life support system. Basically, oxygen stored in high-pressure bottles outside the pressure hull is injected into the passenger cabin in order to maintain a level of 21% by volume. The carbon dioxide respired during breathing is scrubbed out of the air by a special granular chemical contained in the main scrubbing system. The air is also dehumidified and heated or cooled as necessary. The Seattle 1000, for example, carries enough oxygen to remain submerged for over three weeks without surfacing.”

    Jones says the experience, success and safety of tourist submarines illustrates that the concept can be extended to personal, luxury submarines – so long as there are customers willing to pay the price to buy one.

    “Last year, the global tourist submarine industry carried over two million passengers and enjoyed $150 million in revenue,” he says. “Since the first contemporary tourist submarine went into operation in 1985, over 45 purpose-built vehicles have entered service - no longer are trained divers the exclusive visitors to the sub-sea world. Now, regardless of age or physical condition, passengers can directly experience the myriad denizens of the deep from the air-conditioned comfort of a contemporary tourist submarine.”

    U.S. Submarines is also taking the concept further than personal submarines with plans for floating semi-submerged residences, complete with an entire floor underwater enabling you to watch the marine life outside the panoramic windows, as well as underwater hotels and resorts.

    The company has signed a preliminary letter of intent to design and engineer the underwater portions of the world's first underwater resort - which is planned for a prime piece of real estate in Las Vegas, and will comprise 500 underwater rooms set in an artificial lagoon - and continues to develop plans for the world's first permanent sea floor resort in the Bahamas.

    And once the company’s manufacturing facility is up and running, Jones says it will take between six and 18 months to construct the first personal submarines, depending on their size.


US Submarines’ range of underwater vessels includes:

Triton 650

Designed for launch and recovery from megayachts, this two-person mini-submarine has the capacity to dive to 200 metres.

Nomad 1000

The 20-meter (65 ft.) long Nomad has a luxurious interior similar in size to that of an executive aircraft. Developed as the first diesel-electric tourist submarine, it is available in 24- and 36-passenger configurations.

Seattle 1000

At 36-meters (118 ft.) in length, the Seattle is the submarine equivalent of a luxury yacht with spacious staterooms on two decks.

Phoenix 1000

The ultimate personal transportation device, 65 meters (213 ft.) in length with 470 square meters (5000 sq. ft.) of interior space on four levels.



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