Community Submersibles Project : Citizen Project Builds Submersibles to Explore Our Hidden Planet
An Evocation of Adventure: Manned Submersibles for Everyone! What If You Could Explore the Deep Sea in a Submersible? Become a submersible pilot! Learn about submersible mechanics, operations and safety with our two subs. Get access to ocean exploration technology and programs. Join us to explore the hidden wonders of our planet!
Join us to explore the hidden wonders of our planet!
“Any dive discovers the unexpected. I always want to go see what is next, what is just beyond my lights, what is in the dark. And frankly I love to spend time in Inner Space. It’s a peaceful, tranquil, mysterious place where you are surrounded by unknown life. I love to just go fly underwater…”
- Graham Hawkes, submersible engineer/inventor and pilot
“The capacity to mount a major oceanographic expedition is no longer limited to nations, organizations, and individuals with substantial financial backing. Private citizens are able to contribute meaningfully to the collection of data in the high seas and conduct their own research and monitoring expeditions…”
- Dr. Andrew Thaler, deep sea ecologist and ocean technologist
“You have the acute sensation that you are space-traveling into the further reaches of our planet, and indeed, one of the most remote corners of the human experience. When confronted with such extreme novelty of life forms on your own planet, you experience a complete and profound awe. The nearness of its mysteries expands you.”
- Shanee Stopnitzky, Director of Community Submersibles Project and marine scientist
Open Pathways to Ocean Exploration for All!
What if any wonderer could explore the deep sea in a submersible?
Exploring the deep has felt as out of reach to the average person as space travel.
Without the technology, training and means to access it, the deep ocean remains a remote frontier of unrealized potential and imagination.
Manned submersibles—small, strong, dexterously mobile underwater vessels capable of charting ocean depths—offer unparalleled access to an immersive, first-person experience of our deep planet. They are one of the most powerful technologies to allow us to discover our vibrant, complex and mysterious inner worlds.
Up until now, exploring our oceans in submersibles has been an experience afforded only to government-sponsored researchers, the military, or the very wealthy, at a cost of around $60,000 per day of submersible diving. Manned submersibles offer one of the most extraordinary, information-rich perspectives of Earth that humanity has ever explored, yet they have remained financially and logistically out of reach to all but a few.
We want to change this.
Our dream is to build a new community platform for submersibles pilot training and access that will allow anyone and everyone to explore our underwater worlds!
- Launching the first submersibles pilot certification program available to the public
- Providing hands-on training in submersibles mechanics, operations and piloting
- Offering access to submersibles and open-source technology for ocean exploration
Join us on this journey to open a new frontier of ocean exploration!
WHO ARE WE?
Hello, World! We are the Community Submersibles Project — currently a 300-hearts-strong and growing collective of submersible enthusiasts in Berkeley, CA. We are a DIY crew of makers, mechanics, fabricators, engineers, artists, dreamers and doers dedicated to making ocean exploration accessible to all! We cooperatively own and operate two manned submersibles that anyone can learn how to use. We want to offer more tangible opportunities for the public to safely engage with these vessels of wonder and exploration.
Over the past year we have been working hard to develop a submersibles pilot training and access program for the people. We’ve joined forces with the best to make this make happen!
Community Submersibles Project + Hawx Open Ocean
World-renowned submersibles engineer, inventor and pilot Graham Hawkes has for decades revolutionized the way we access and experience the ocean. He is responsible for the design of a significant percentage of manned and unmanned underwater vehicles that have advanced the industry worldwide. Together, we are co-creating the Submersible Diving Academy, the first-ever submersibles pilot certification agency available to the public!
Graham Hawkes augments our efforts with HAWX Open Ocean, a company he founded to design and build revolutionary, safe, affordable, and ecologically responsible technologies for both manned and unmanned vehicles to enable undersea access to all—especially kids! His latest invention is the Sea Rocket, a gravity powered vertical water column vehicle, also known as a lander, which collects data and video as it travels from the surface to the sea floor and back.
If you’re curious, this is the story of how we met and the incident that galvanized our collaboration.
WHAT ARE WE CREATING?
A Tri-Pod Program: Training + Technology + Public Access and Engagement
Giving the Public Access to the Deep
Together, we are forging the Submersible Diving Academy and Open Ocean Community Platform that will enable any curious and thoughtful person to explore the deep with:
1. Formal online education program for submersible pilot certification
2. Community node providing hands-on training with check-out dives
3. Access to submersibles, ROVs, landers, and other technologies for ocean exploration
HOW WILL WE ACHIEVE THIS?
Here's How We're Empowering a New Generation of Ocean Explorers!
1. Get Certified as a Submersible Pilot with Curriculum Designed by Graham Hawkes!
The Submersibles Diving Academy will be the first-ever public submersible pilot training and certification agency. Jointly developed by Graham Hawkes and Shanee Stopnitzky, the ground school program offers formal structured curriculum and training in the fundamentals of submersible mechanics, operations and piloting.
- Modeled after rigorous aviation training courses with extensive simulations
- Students start with online courses of fundamental theoretical knowledge and training
- Then complete check-out practice dives with submersibles in their local area
- Distills knowledge of foremost authorities and experts in the field
- Guided by Hawkes’ experience of having trained hundreds of submersibles pilots
- Ensures more people can safely access ocean exploration in submersibles
Manned submersibles are the safest known form of transportation in terms of numbers of accidents per numbers of trips. 
2. Making Submersibles Accessible to All!
The Community Submersibles Project intends to be a model community node that can be replicated in a network of privately-owned submersibles throughout the world, offering global access to the incomparable awe of exploring the deep. The Community Submersibles Project:
- Acts as a local node for check-out dives required to earn full pilot certification
- Offers public access to engage with submersibles: maintaining, repairing, operating
- Provides immersive learning and experiential education, lectures and workshops
- Enables affordable cost of dive operations to make submersibles accessible to all
- Maintains/upgrades Noctiluca, a 32’ diesel-electric sub that can dive to 300 feet
- Maintains/upgrades Fangtooth, an 11’ electric sub that can dive to 30 feet
We hope that submersible owners throughout the world will become their own nodes so that the Submersibles Diving Academy can be global in scope with local operators.
3. Empowering Kids of All Ages to Discover the Deep!
The Sea Rocket is a safe, low-cost autonomous ocean data collection probe, invented by Hawkes as part of a series of ecological responsible technologies to make exploring our oceans possible for everyone. Especially kids!
- Collects data and video from the surface to the sea floor as it travels vertically
- Releases a biodegradable weight and rises back up to the surface for data recovery
- Uses off-the-shelf data collection instruments, including camera systems like GoPro
- Can carry any type of commercially available or DIY test equipment, such as CTD
- Can be made by anyone with a set of plans and access to basic power tools
- Also available as turnkey kit or fully-assembled and ready to use
The Community Submersibles Project and HAWX Open Ocean are building a community of underwater makers, divers, explorers and ocean enthusiasts to help create the next generation of submersible techies, pilots and citizen scientists.
4. Open Source Platform for Open Ocean Exploration!
We want you to share in our evolving journey of restoring and maintaining our submersibles! At every stage, we will make all the documentation for this project open source and available online. That means you will have access to a growing library of engaging content, tools, and resources:
- Electric schematics
- Bill of materials (BOM)
- Build instructions with detailed photos
- Diary and record of repairs and maintenance
- Scheduled maintenance, repair and upgrade plans
- System overviews and detailed specs: electrical, engine, life support
Share in the process of learning, discovery and exploration!
MEET OUR TEAM
Shanee Stopnitzky (Director) is a complex systems and marine scientist, evangelist of embodying wonder, and mother of two submersibles. She founded the Community Submersibles Project in 2018, and wants to convince everyone she meets to go on a submersible dive!
Taran Smith was raised on a boat and taught to fly planes as a child, he found piloting a submarine to be the obvious next step. He knows the ocean as the greatest source of awe and wonder in this world, and loves nothing more than to share in its perpetual surprise.
Alessandra Nölting is an open-source hardware enthusiast and maker with a passion for all things ocean. Her interest in ocean exploration and conservation was sparked when she started tinkering with OpenROV's underwater drones. Alessandra is excited to be making submersibles & marine exploration more accessible to the general public!
Graham Hawkes ocean engineer/inventor has designed and built more than 60 manned submersibles from atmospheric dive suits to flying subs. His body of work includes the manned Wasp and Mantis Atmospheric Diving Suits, the Deep Rover research submersibles, and the Deep Flight series of winged submersibles. He held the record for the deepest solo ocean dive for over 20 years using a Deep Rover submersible he designed. Currently, he runs HAWX Open Ocean with a mission to design and build safe, low cost, eco-smart technologies that will allow everyone to explore our oceans.
Julie Silverman is the co-founder of Sea Rocket, Founder/Owner Summit2Shore Consulting LLC, STEM educator, project manager, educational outreach product developer, AND environmental activist. Her strong commitment to and passion for igniting environmental activism through hands-on exploration is infectious!
MEET OUR SUBMERSIBLES!
Both subs are being refit for deeper diving and upgraded with newer onboard technology.
Fangtooth is a homemade, 11-foot electric sub that can dive to 30 feet with up to 3 people. We are upgrading the pressure vessel to be capable of dives to 120 feet, and recently added essential safety equipment for dives of up to 8 hours.
Noctiluca (formerly Marlin S-101) is a 32-foot diesel-electric sub with a storied history. She was built by the UK-based Marlin Submarines in 1989 and upgraded by amateurs over the years. In the 90s, the sub was owned by anti-whaling activist organization Sea Shepherd. The Community Submersibles Project purchased the sub from her last owner, US Submarines co-founder Ellis Adams. Noctiluca can currently dive to 300 feet with life support for up to 72 hours.
Noctiluca is incredibly unique given that she has a surface range of up to 500 miles and an onboard air compressor powered off the diesel generator, making her capable of remote expeditions without a large surface support vessel. She also fits inside a shipping container and can be shipped anywhere in the world, including tropical archipelagos that have never been explored below scuba depths.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
The Human + The Ocean + The Extraordinary
The Human Element
By design, manned submersibles place human capacity for experience front and center in the act of exploration.
You can get to know a place through study and various means and tools, but until you actually go there, your full understanding is not there.
Manned submersibles enable direct observation of information. They allow us to engage and interact with biotic and abiotic landscapes. Finally, they enable heightened spatial awareness and contextual understanding.
These extraordinary underwater crafts allow us to travel deeper and with a greater freedom than before, so that we can directly observe, describe and ultimately better understand and care for our deep realms and its resources.
Explore Your Inner Space
“Earth is a stupid name for an ocean planet”
“We're throwing billions of dollars into the void and ignoring a rich frontier much closer to home: Earth's oceans. They're awash with unknown life, unclaimed territory, and immense natural resources. Perhaps the future of mankind isn't out in space but in our sea.”
— Graham Hawkes, WIRED
71% of our planet is ocean.
95% of our oceans remain unexplored to date.
That means 2/3 of our planet remains unexplored. Without exploring the depths of our planet, how can humans ever hope to understand, care for, or manage its resources?
With just a single manned submersible, Alvin, researchers achieved some of the greatest scientific breakthroughs and discoveries about our planet in the past 50 years. In 1977, the discovery of hydrothermal vents in the Galapagos Rift and East Pacific Rise mobilized an entire field of oceanography and countless discoveries. 
An unknown and still unexplored expanse lies before us.
What could we discover and learn with more explorers in our deep?
We want to grow a Society of Wonderers by equipping people with the skills and vehicles to chart their own course of exploring our own deep blue inner space!
Access to the Extraordinary
Entering the deep expanse is a surreal experience.
A submersible dive is like going gently into space, if space was completely saturated with magical life. Nothing prepares you for the dazzling vertical parade of strange and marvelous life forms that come into frame as you descend. The impossible hues, shapes, textures and movements of never-before-seen creatures and landscapes astound the senses.
The up-close encounter is a sensory spectacle of life forms so gorgeous and so bizarre. Rainbow bells cast nets of glowing dots into a perfect spiral and then collapse and shoot off in a blur. Tiny eels so thin that their bodies ribbon through the water. Weird blobs and glowing things of unimaginable diversity spin towards you, zoom around, shoot things out of their bodies, change colors and disappear.
Confronted with such extreme novelty on your own planet, you experience a total and profound awe. A submersible dive embodies the expansive experience of exploring our deep inner and outer worlds.
We believe everyone, not just navies and researchers, should get to experience peering into the secret corners of our own planet!
CALL TO ACTION: REVOLUTIONIZE OCEAN ACCESS FOR ALL!
The Submersible Diving Academy will provide formal submersible education and training to enable more people to safely pilot submersibles and personally explore the deep.
The Community Submersibles Project provides a model local node for people to train with and access submersibles in their own area for hands-on experience.
The Sea Rocket is one in a series of low-cost technologies that anyone can build and use to explore our ocean and share in the learning.
Our overarching objectives are to expand and increase the cultural emphasis on wonder, show people the thrill of exploration and discovery, and encourage people to seek out and value awe as a fundamental human experience. We use the submersibles to show what we can learn about life on earth, and what audacious feats we are capable of when we are driven by deep curiosity.
JOIN US on this journey to create an open ocean platform for ocean exploration and awe!
- Grow a movement for open ocean access to all
- Help create pathways for safe and thoughtful ocean exploration.
- Empower a new generation of DIY ocean explorers, scientists and stewards
- Restore the power of human capacity to the act of exploring
- Mobilize the fundamental human experience of awe to raise awareness of our planet
We hope to see you in the deep!
Community Submersibles Project Budget
Our initial needs to kickstart our set of projects is $25,000, which will be allocated in the following breakdown:
We estimate the total cost of our proposed vision to be around 500k for five years of operation, and that means we have a lot of uses for stretch goals!
As the project matures, we expect funds to be distributed amongs repairs/retrofitting, program expenses, and the cost of operations and maintenance. After we pass the 25k goal until the 150k mark, funds will go exclusively to those categories with an estimated 50% going to repairs/retrofitting, 25% going towards program expenses, and 25% going towards operations and maintenance. Between 150k and 500k of fundraising, the funds will be primarily allocated to operations and maintenance costs (70%), with some ongoing program expenses (20%) and minor repair expenses (10%).
Building an education and experience platform takes a lot of work and resources. We will provide ongoing updates as we progress so that backers know exactly what their funding goes to creating in the world.
- Finish online course curriculum for the Submersible Diving Academy, launch our first cohort of student pilots
- Repairs, refitting, and sea trials of Noctiluca and Fangtooth initiated
- Develop educational programming for submersible history, mechanics and operations
July - August 2019:
- Continued repairs, refitting, and sea trials of Noctiluca and Fangtooth
- Educational programs for submersible history, mechanics and operations offered
- Launch practical portion of pilot training program with in-person training at our headquarters in Berkeley, CA
- Take the newly restored and refitted Noctiluca on her first public dive
- Continue to develop resources and educational offerings for CSP membership
- All certification levels of pilot training curriculum will be finalized and available to the public, from crew to pilot instructor
- Submersible Diving Academy grows and organizes the international community of private submersible owners who will conduct in-person training
From the Marine Technology Society’s Manned Underwater Vehicles 2017–2018 Global Industry Review: The industry maintains an impeccable safety record, with zero recorded fatal incidents in over 40 years with a total of 122+ vehicles operating privately and commercially in tourism, research or expedition work.
- In regions of “eternal darkness” where small volcanoes spew 400C water spiked with toxic chemicals thrive bizarre life forms that rely on chemosynthesis, converting sulfides and other chemicals from the earth’s core, via microorganisms, into food. No sunlight required. The discovery revealed complex ecosystems of animal-microbial symbiosis.
- In what was dubbed the “Dandelion Patch,” scientists discovered a swaying field of pale yellow “flowers” with diaphanous petals, attached to the sea bottom by delicate stalk-like threads. These ocean dandelions turned out to be a siphonophore, an animal composed of many animals conjoined! Each of the creature's “petals” performed a different function: capture microorganisms; digestion, reproduction, propulsion… They were sharing resources and services to make the super animal super system work better.
- In the “Garden of Eden,” a strange lush oasis along the vents, the dandelions planted themselves among limpets, anemones, pale white crabs, small pink fish—and vivid red worms that grew in spectacular hedges 2–3 meters in height—revealing the extraordinary life-supporting capacity in what are considered “inhospitable” environments.
- Black smokers, chimneys that erupted in black clouds of sulfides and polymetallic minerals, was a testament to ocean alchemy and the mineral richness of this subterranean broth.
Risks and challenges
Q. ISN'T IT REALLY DANGEROUS FOR AMATEURS TO WORK ON AND OPERATE SUBMERSIBLES?
A. Yes and no. The risks of working on and operating submersibles should be taken very seriously, but first and foremost, submersibles are currently the safest form of transportation in terms of numbers of accidents per numbers of trips. There are many things people who imagine submersible diving do not understand or are not aware of. Some of the most important points to address this question are:
: No civilian has ever died from a submersible implosion - the industry has figured out the technical specifications to keep submersibles from imploding
: For every failure point, submersibles are designed with multiple backup systems. There are multiple ways to regain buoyancy if an unintended descent occurs, breathe in the case of a life support system (oxygen and CO2 scrubber) failure, and communicate with the surface if comms go down. These redundancies are the reason why submersibles are so safe.
: Because there are so few submersibles in the world, there is no such thing as a manned submersible engineering degree. Most of the professionals in the field are general engineers who gained submersible experience with the small number of submersibles in the world, and that is how they came to possess their expertise. This path is not dissimilar to the vibrant DIY submersible community, many of whom are engineers. These serious builders have followed the specifications determined by engineers and documented in the literature on the subject. The DIY submersible community has an outstanding safety record, and the people who tend to build their own submersibles also tend to be extremely meticulous and safe individuals. Please visit the Personal Submersibles community here: psubs.org
You can also read the bible of submersible engineering here that is the basis for all submersible design, whether DIY or professionally manufactured, to get a sense for the technical requirements of a submersible: Manned Submersibles by R. Frank Busby
All of this said, safety ultimately comes down to the care of the individuals in the crew and the systems in place to make certain safety protocol is adhered to. We require that all of our crew get training on mechanics, operations, risk assessment and piloting before performing any tasks with the subs. The focus of this training is to learn the risks of their work, the potential failure points and their mitigation, and methods of identifying and correcting mistakes. We use extensive checklists during any maintenance work or operations so that mechanics and pilots are not reliant on their memory to conduct all of the safety protocol of their work correctly. Everyone who successfully completes the training has to demonstrate an exceptional attention to safety details, and everyone on our crew cares deeply about protecting others from harm. Our training program is modeled after higher risk industries like small craft aviation.
TLDR: submersibles are the safest method of travel if the proper protocol is followed, and we take safety extremely seriously.
Questions about this project? Check out the FAQ