UVic, Camosun students off to the races with one-person sub they built

Mention submarine races to an aging baby boomer and they might smile coyly, thinking back to parking with a friend near a scenic ocean lookout.

Ask a UVic engineering student, and they may tell you their team has a good chance in an international competition this summer.

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With a firm focus on a submarine race in England, a group of UVic and Camosun College students took their homemade, human-powered submarine for an inaugural lap around McKinnon Pool on Saturday.

This is not a submarine in a conventional sense. To begin with, it is not airtight. It’s just big enough for one person to squeeze into. The pilot is strapped in, wears a face mask and breathes from an air tank and regulator. The sub is steered by handle bars and is pedal powered. The goal is to expose students to the field of marine systems engineering.

“It’s not airtight, which is kind of a big thing for submarines, but everything else is pretty much like modern technology,” said Dan Snyder, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student who was lead for the development of the steering system.

The UVic Submarine Racing Club was formed last August and the sub design completed in December. Since then, club members have been turning their design into a working, single-person sub.

“Most other clubs give themselves about two years to design and build a submarine. So the fact we got this done and built in eight months was a pretty big feat,” Snyder said.

“And a lot of teams get their stuff manufactured in other machine shops. Everything you see here, or 90 per cent of it, is made by the students. We’ve got a machine shop at the school that we use and we did this whole fibreglass lay-up ourselves.”

The propeller duct was fabricated by with fibreglass using a 3D printer, he said

The race team has a number of sponsors. The lead is Babcock Canada, which has the in-service support contract for Canada’s Royal Navy submarines.

The submarine club is scheduled to attend its first competition in Gosport, England, from July 3 to 12. The race will be at a depth of four or five metres and includes a slalom course at a maritime testing facility.

Club president Manuel Dussault decided to form the club while interning at Babcock Canada.

“UVic didn’t really have a marine systems engineering program so I found the opportunity to promote the field of marine systems engineering here at UVic. During one of our meetings, one of the co-ops from UBC made a presentation about these submarine races and, I was like, ‘That’s it. UVic needs one of those,’ ” Dussault said.

With support of staff, the club grew quickly.

“By the end of December, we had 92 people,” he said.

Race requirements call for a number of safety features including a buoy tied to a dead man’s switch that will be released if the pilot needs help.

“We’ve put some brakes off a bike that the pilot has to hold all the time so that if they were to go unconscious, that releases and trips a safety mechanism. That puts out an orange safety balloon that will float to the surface,” said club member Ry Henderson.

“When someone sees that, there’s a button outside the hull they can press. It’s spring-loaded, shoots the hatch off and you can get people out pretty quick,” he said.

bcleverley@timescolonist.com

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