The Race

The European International Submarine Races challenges teams of university students to design, build and race human-powered submarines against the clock on an out-and-back course. The concept combines engineering design challenge with technical skill development and sets them in a unique and exciting sporting competition.

The basic rules of the sport are straightforward – teams must design, build and race flooded submarines piloted by a single scuba diver, who must be fully enclosed within the hull of the machine. All propulsion power must be provided by the diver during the race (i.e. no energy storage devices such as flywheels or batteries are allowed), but otherwise the design rules are open to whatever innovation teams decide to use.

One on the Surface and One Dived

The resultant designs are submarines in the fullest sense of the word, minus the one constraint of a watertight hull. The removal of that constraint ensures that the competition is about engineering innovation and sporting achievement, rather than just about waterproofing. Innovation comes in the design of the hulls to minimise drag while optimising transmission systems to make best advantage of the pilot’s limited power production to maximise the thrust produced. The importance of buoyancy, trim and directional control is highlighted, and innovation encouraged. One-man propeller-powered submarines achieved speeds of 7kts during the 2016 races, all on less than 600W input power.

The eISR is also about developing real, practical engineering skills. In the funding-constrained university environment, the practical elements of curricula have been replaced with theoretical calculation and computer modelling. A submarine big enough to contain a diver is a real, tangible machine, and the mechanisms have to produce and take real forces. At the same time, the challenge isn’t so great that the students can’t make the parts themselves - this provides an invaluable learning experience as they bring their CAD drawings to real life.

Finally, the competition is about working as a team in a time-critical, adrenaline-charged atmosphere. During the build-up to the race, the students learn to exploit each others’ strengths, and design into their machines what they think they will need to succeed at the races. In initial testing, they learn where the weaknesses are, and make considered adjustments to their designs. Then, once they arrive on the racecourse, and really put their machines to the test, they invariably find new challenges, and have to bring out their engineering knowledge to find solutions on-the-fly with limited facilities. Such experience is invaluable to them later in their careers, regardless of the direction they take.