US Navy hosts International Submarine Races

Participants of the 14th International Human-Powered Submarine Races (ISR) prepare for races in the David Taylor Model Basin. Photo: US Navy

The U.S. Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division in West Bethesda, Maryland, hosted students of engineering from around the world for the 14th biennial International Submarine Races (ISR), June 25-30.

Human-powered submarines in the shape of everything from a shark to an ice cream cone with all the fixings were raced by 21 participating teams in the 1,886-foot Deep Water Basin, which is just one of the three sections that make up the 3,200-foot-long David Taylor Model Basin building at Carderock.

The ISR has been a premier science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) event for 28 years; it is sponsored by the Foundation for Underwater Research and Education (FURE) and hosted by Carderock, the Office of Naval Research and Program Executive Office Submarines.

ISR challenges students to design, build and race a one- or two-person human-powered submarine on an underwater course. Former Carderock commanding officer and current president of FURE, retired Navy Capt. Charles Behrle, said the David Taylor Model Basin has proven to be the perfect environment for the races over the years.

“The first races were held off the coast of Florida in the surf,” Behrle said. “One of our biggest concerns with ISR is the safety for the participants, so when you’re in the surf and the winds pick up and the seas pick up, it makes it more challenging. One of the final races they had down in Florida was almost completely all blacked out because of weather. The Basin came up in planning discussions and the Navy agreed to host the event, which is great because it provides us with a safer indoor facility that can accommodate up to 25 or 30 teams.”

The inaugural race was held in June 1989 at Riviera Beach, Florida, born from a concept developed by the H.A. Perry Foundation and Florida Atlantic University’s Department of Ocean Engineering, before coming to the David Taylor Model Basin in 1994. According to Behrle, the first race in Florida proved very successful, with 19 teams from academic institutions, corporations and independent groups gathered to race their submarines and test their designs.

Participating teams come from Germany, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Canada and the Netherlands.

While getting through the underwater obstacle course as quickly as possible might seem like the goal, the fastest time is far from the only facet of ISR. There are 16 judges throughout the week assessing and inspecting the work of the teams including the design, safety and overall process for making improvements on the submarines.

A trophy and $1,000 award sponsored by Booz Allen Hamilton is given to the submarine team from any design category that displays the best overall performance, determined by a figure of merit which takes into account the team’s attitude, persistence and resourcefulness. Other award categories include Absolute Speed, Fastest Speed by Category, Innovation, Best Design Outline, Smooth Operator and Best Spirit of the Races.


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