There’s nothing like having the least explored frontier on the planet—the undersea world—as your personal playground. This pleasure is reserved for documentary film crews and billionaires. In both cases, the subs are used to explore reefs, wrecks, and odd wildlife that lurks where the sun doesn’t shine. Some, such as Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, use their subs as escape pods in case of emergencies (It’s not known what brand he keeps onboard his 530-foot megayacht, the Eclipse). Vendors of submersibles don’t generally advertise their prices. It’s like the menu at an upscale restaurant, if you have to ask how much it costs, you can’t afford it. Suffice to say, they are cheaper than the yachts they are typically mounted on.
The stretch Hummer of the submersible world, the $2.7 million C-Explorer 5 can ferry five people to 656 feet below sea level. The 360-degree, 3 ¼-inch-thick acrylic pressure dome lets passengers interact with each other without radios—oohing and ahhing over the wildlife, reefs and wrecks outside, or passing each other drinks inside the dome. In perhaps the biggest endorsement of the product, Russian President Vladimir Putin dove to the bottom of the world’s deepest lake in a C-Explorer 5 in 2013. If it’s good enough for Vlad, it’s probably good enough for you.
SEAimagine Hydrospace Corp.
The large viewing dome is the most obvious selling point of the Aurora 3, which can bring a pilot and two pieces of human ballast from a yacht to 3,000 feet below. The designers moved the access hatch from the top of the window to behind the main cabin, giving the craft a cool, spacecraft-like look from the outside and great visibility from within. Those sightlines are also free of stabilizing pontoons that ruin peripheral vision; the sub tilts at the surface to create a platform stable enough for a passenger to board without spilling his Mai Tai.
DEEPFLIGHT SUPER FALCON II
Hawkes Ocean Technologies
This submarine has wings. Yeah, wings. These nine-foot fin-like structures enable those inside to frolic like dolphins, performing barrel rolls, straight vertical dives, and sharp turns that make other subs seem like puttering buoys. In 2008 venture capitalist Tom Perkins commissioned Hawkes Ocean Technologies to build an underwater flying machine for his yacht, the Maltese Falcon. He thus became the first owner of a Super Falcon submersible, and uses it to dive from his new ship, the Dr. No, in the South Pacific. The 21-foot-long DeepFlight Super Falcon Mark II is always positively buoyant—it doesn’t need ballast—so it will auto-return to the surface during an emergency. The sticking point? It can only go about 350 feet down.
Triton Submarines LLC
To go deep, fast, consider the Triton 3300. This submersible ascends and descends in a vertical position, a major advantage for exploring mysterious depths. A pilot and crew of two can reach the deepest spot in the ocean—35,800 feet down—in about two hours. That means you can visit the Titanic (just 12,500 feet down), smoke a joint, and return to the yacht for snacks before the high wears off. (Smoking in subs won’t ignite the air or anything; the Navy didn’t ban cigarette smoking in submarines until 2011.) Fun fact: Riders in a Triton 3300 made weird history when they became the first to encounter a giant squid underwater.
Most submersibles cost tens of millions of dollars. The Seabird costs $290,000, about the same as a luxury automobile. Of course for that kind of money, you’re going to get a stripped-down version of a sub. In this case, there’s no engine or motor. The manufacturers note that most subs require a mothership to ferry it to the dive site, so why not just stay tethered and dive as you get towed? When buying a submarine, it’s best to think practically, right? SeaBird replenishes air like a whale, returning every 10 minutes to purge used air and replenish with fresh. This cut-rate sub won’t impress anyone at the yacht club with its limited dive time and 150-foot depth limit, but what the hell. At least you won’t feel that bad when it sits unused on the stern of your yacht collecting seagull crap.
Joe Pappalardo is a contributing editor at Popular Mechanics and American Way magazines. He is also the author of the nonfiction book, Sunflowers: The Secret History.