There are currently around 200 manned submersibles worldwide, according to Charles Kohnen, co-founder of submersible manufacturer SEAmagine Hydrospace. While some of these vessels are used by scientific institutions or for tourism, an increasing number are owned by wealthy yacht owners. However, owning a submersible requires a significant level of wealth and appropriate boating infrastructure. Only large yachts, at least 120 feet in length, have the capacity to hold a submersible, which typically costs between $2 million and $7 million. Additionally, the cost of a crane to lower the sub, a speedboat for boarding, and services like mapmaking and guides can add up to about $15,000 per day.
Owning a submersible is becoming a popular trend among the wealthy, similar to how having a helicopter and launchpad on a yacht was fashionable in the 1980s. Ofer Ketter, whose company, SubMerge, caters to personal sub owners, has noticed this trend as well. Deep-sea exploration is increasingly becoming popular among the elite, with individuals like filmmaker James Cameron and billionaire investor Ray Dalio donating vessels to scientific institutions and investing in submersible manufacturers like Triton Submarines. Dalio believes that the ocean is a vast and underexplored resource.
Some submersible owners lend out their vessels for documentaries and scientific research, while others are interested in discovering new species or exploring shipwrecks. There is also a mixed-use model that allows for various activities, such as underwater weddings, cocktails on the reef, and even poker games. The personal submersibles industry has grown alongside the increasing size of yachts. In the past, robots were primarily used for deep-sea scientific work due to the challenges of lowering submersibles into the ocean with people on board. However, SEAmagine introduced a model that could be boarded from the water, which led to a resurgence of manned submersibles for science and tourism. Submersible manufacturers like U-Boat Worx and Triton Submarines soon followed suit.
Planning an underwater expedition can take months of scouting, mapping, and preparation. A typical day involves multiple dives lasting about an hour or two, with breaks for meals. Despite the risks associated with deep-sea adventures, such as the recent tragedy involving the OceanGate tour to the Titanic shipwreck, demand for private submersibles remains strong. Companies like SubMerge and Triton Submarines have not experienced any cancellations and are building new submersibles to meet the remarkable demand from private owners and tourism companies.
While private submersibles are gaining momentum, the number of scientific institutions using them is still relatively low. However, investment and exploration in this area are increasing. The growing market for disability services is also attracting attention. K. Ventures, a venture capital firm focusing on disability services, has made three investments so far. The firm is backed by the Kennedy family and aims to provide viable business models for the disabled community. Major investment firms such as Andreessen Horowitz, Y Combinator, and Pear VC have also recognized the opportunity in this sector.
In conclusion, owning a submersible is a luxury reserved for the wealthy few. While the cost of owning and maintaining a submersible is high, it has become a trend among yacht owners who seek unique experiences and exploration opportunities. The industry has grown alongside the increasing size of yachts, and demand for private submersibles remains strong despite recent accidents. Furthermore, there is a growing market for disability services, which presents opportunities for start-ups focused on this sector. K. Ventures, backed by the Kennedy family, aims to tap into this market and provide sustainable and profitable business models for the disabled community.