Sub-Aquatic Endeavors: A Legacy of Engineering Excellence

Sub-Aquatic Endeavors: A Legacy of Engineering Excellence
(1a, b, or c) C-Researcher subs can dive to 3,000 meters and offer pilots and passengers a truly immersive experience. (Photo credit: U-Boat Worx)

The human urge to venture below the waterline is an ancient and enduring pursuit. Legend has it that Alexander the Great, in or around the year 333 B.C., attempted to explore the Aegean Sea from inside a glass barrel, after which he relayed his observations of whales and other creatures of the deep.

As we now know, the average depth of the ocean is over 3,600 meters (2.2 miles), the bottom of the Mariana Trench reaching an inhospitable 11,034 meters (6.9 miles), so there’s plenty to fathom. The challenge, as no doubt Alexander the Great would attest, is establishing the means do it safely and efficiently.

Cornelius J. Drebbel, a Dutch inventor and engineer born in 1572, was the first person to patent a design for a subsea craft, in 1598. His submarine was bound by waterproof leather, powered by underwater oars, and a system of tubes to supply oxygen to passengers. This was the pinnacle of 16th century innovation, and something that triggered a legacy of subsea engineering; today, some 400 years later, the Dutch are still the pioneers of submarine and submersible design and manufacturing.

The small city of Breda near the Belgian border is home to U-Boat Worx, an organization that since its inception in 2005 has grown to become the largest exploration submersible builder in the world. The company’s current portfolio includes 24 different models designed for a range of applications, but all were inspired by a common goal of establishing a new gold standard for the development of subs primed for deep-sea discovery.


U-Boat Worx launched its C-Researcher series of submersibles to directly address the growing need to equip scientists with a caliber of equipment needed to operate in the remote and harsh conditions found in the seabed—crushing pressures, extremely cold temperatures, and perfect darkness. C-Researcher subs can dive to 3,000 meters, and thanks to their operational efficiency, speed, and the panoramic view they afford passengers, make them perfectly suited to deep-sea research missions and seabed observation.

The C-Researcher submersibles are equipped with a U-Boat Worx pressure-Tolerant Lithium-ion battery system. The battery system, developed in-house by U-Boat Worx, results in a 350% increase of battery capacity when compared to traditional submersibles using lead-acid power sources. The technology has been tested to 4,000 meters and stores a total of 62 kWh in compact battery modules. This abundance of power makes it possible to utilize stronger electrical thrusters, extend mission time, install additional research equipment and lights, and reduce travel time between the surface and the ocean floor by up to 50%.


The C-Researcher subs were also designed and engineered to support significant payloads, whether in terms of outfitting the vehicle with additional tools, sensors, or recording devices, or with regards to its capacity to collect underwater objects. An extensive list of tried-and-tested optional extras is available to expand and enhance operational capabilities of the submersible to navigate, measure, record, collect, capture, and adapt deep-sea research activities. Custom add-ons can also be designed upon request and per client specification. Whatever the customer need, our in-house engineering team is prepared to develop the right tools for the mission at hand.

Bert Houtman, founder and chairman of U-Boat Worx, perhaps puts it best: “By combining the latest innovations with over 17 years of experience in designing, building and operating the world’s largest fleet of submersibles, our C-Researcher series offers deep ocean research communities the safest, best-performing and most luxurious submersibles to explore the underwater world.”


Just a few years ago, one of our diver teams came face-to-face with hidden cultural artefacts from the distant past. Unobserved for centuries and concealed 200 meters below the surface were three shipwrecks containing hundreds of amphorae. From aboard one of our C-Researcher subs we witnessed a truly historical sight and were able to piece together a story of these three vessels and their ill-fated cargoes of olive oil, wine and garum. It was a breath-taking moment when the first amphora appeared out of the shimmering darkness and into the light beams of the submersible.

The Roman era wrecks date back to over 2,000 years ago but were only ever identified following extensive side-scan sonar surveys conducted by the AURORA Trust in 2009 and 2010. Our dives were intended to further advance the world’s understanding of our collective marine cultural heritage. This is what motivated us to investigate these deep shipwrecks in more detail, using state-of-the-art submersibles. A joint expedition between U-Boat Worx, AURORA Trust Foundation, and the Superintendent of the Seas of Sicily allowed us to navigate these wrecks in the safety and comfort of a submarine.

“Thanks to the U-Boat Worx submersible and its skilled pilot, we were able to shed light on new seabed secrets that were previously inaccessible,” stated Ian Koblick, co-founder of the AURORA Trust Foundation. “Despite the demanding dive schedule, weather, and unchartered depths, we successfully achieved our objective of mapping each shipwreck and the surrounding areas.”

The submarine used during this operation was equipped with specialized cameras to enable the capture of both video and digital images of each wreck site, culminating in hundreds of high-resolution images as the submersible hovered with precision over the sunken vessels. After each dive the digital images were processed onsite using special software to produce detailed 2D and 3D photo mosaics, which were then passed on to the Italian authorities that accompanied the expedition.

The expedition crew were subject to the profoundly unique experience of coming face-to-face with these remains, cultural hallmarks that will continue to unlock the key to our collective maritime heritage.

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To read the full article, which was featured in ON&T August 2022, click here.


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