Human Powered Submarine

About HPS

Human Powered Submarine team designs and builds a fast, safe, and reliable fiberglass submarine that competes at international submarine races, which take place in Bethesda, Maryland and Gossport, UK. Scuba-certified students control the submerged and flooded submarine with human powered propulsion. Students working on this project learn essential CAD, machining, and programming skills and gain a deeper understanding of the concepts that they learn in their classes.

2017-18: Vaquita

Our most recent submarine is Vaquita, which competed in the European international Submarine Races as a one-man non-propeller boat. Improved from STR, Vaquita's drivetrain comprised a six-bar linkage, optimized using a genetic algorithm to determine the linkages' lengths, that converted the pilot's pedaling to an up-down oscillation. Unlike previous years, this submarine featured a carbon fiber hull, pneumatically controlled main hatch and deadman buoy releases, and internal rails that would allow the team to reuse the hull for future submarines.

2016-17: Spicy Tuna Roll

The most recent submarine, completed in 2017, is "Spicy Tuna Roll," or STR. Competing in the one-person non-propellor division, Spicy Tuna Roll moves through the water similarly to the bluefin tuna, one of the fastest fish in the ocean. The pilot operates the submarine by pedaling the drivetrain, which uses a crank mechanism to swing the tail back and forth throughout the water. Steering fins are located on the sides, top, and bottom of the submarine and are operated with a console by the pilot. In case of emergencies, the pilot can release the deadman buoy, which floats to the surface and allows the divers to rescue the pilot via the submarine hatch. Students also designed controls to assist the pilot with navigation.


Moving the Submarine Forward

Looky here! This is a change!!!!!! YAY! The propulsion team creates a drivetrain - the system that translates the pilot’s pedalling force into an oscillating motion that propels the submarine forward. Focusing on ergonomics and efficienty, this team is spatially oriented, interfacing various mechanical components, including shafts, gears, sprockets, chains, and bearings. Many components are custom made, so team members spend plenty of time in the computer lab designing parts as well as in the machine shop making those parts, learning valuable skills like milling, lathing, and cutting. 


Putting the Submarine on the Right Path

The steering subteam will be responsible for the design and control of the submarine’s steering fins. This year we are planning to implement a fully electronic system for the first time in the team’s history. At first this will be accomplished by providing the pilot with an electronic joystick to control the steering fins, but we plan on using various sensors for autonomous control of the submarine. This will help to optimize efficiency and allow the pilot to focus solely on propulsion.

Human-Submarine Interface

The pilot's main support team

Human Submarine Interface, or HSI, is responsible for every aspect of the submarine that comes into contact with the pilot. This includes, but is not limited to, the hatch locking and opening mechanisms, pilot restraints and safety systems. In addition, HSI will act as a central hub for new members, providing them with ample assembly experience. New members will have the opportunity to work on the variety of HSI projects as well as provide additional manpower for other project teams


Building Submarines with Integrity

During the start of the year the team runs simulations for hull fluid analysis and stress analysis of all mechanical parts. This allows for optimization of the drag of the submarine to maximize the efficiency of the submarine. The team also verifies that there will be no failure of our mechanical systems while also optimizing material choices taking into account strength and weight. During the second half of the build season the team will be responsible for creating autonomous steering so that the pilot can focus on pedaling the submarine.  

Submarine Races

The Human-Powered Submarine team at UCSD competes in two international submarine races - one in Maryland (ISR) on odd-numbered years, and one in England (EISR) on even-numbered years. At both races, teams compete in four divisions depending on number of pilots (one-man or two-man) and propulsion mechanism (propellor or non-propellor) to see who can cross the finish line fastest. The European International Submarine Race course also features a slalom course, so steering and navigation become especially important for the submarine. After months of hard work on a tight deadline, the team loves attending competitions together over the summer.



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For questions, comments, or requests, contact Tobin Gutermuth at

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