so you Want to get your feet wet?
So, you've decided that you want to take part in the wondrous world of R/C Submarines, but you have no idea where to start.
It can be a daunting process, for sure. Fortunately, there are resources out there to help get you started. The following are my suggestions for how to get started, based on my experience in building submarines.
Research, research, research.
Check out the massive amount of resources available online including sites like the Nautilus Drydocks and many others listed in the LINKS section of my site. Pay particular attention to the forums, as they have more information there than anything you could hope to digest in a straight year's worth of reading. Check out YouTube. There are great instructional videos there put out by many talented builders.
Yes, there are submarine kits out there that shoot missiles, auto-navigate, and are as large as a school bus. Just remember, every feature you implement on your boat has an exponential impact on the difficulty of the build. Every piece of electronics adds hours of implementation, testing and troubleshooting. Every operational feature will add hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars to the build. Here are some questions to ask yourself before you get started:
1. Do I have the electronics and R/C background needed to build a basic R/C craft? No? Learn first, then come back.
2. Am I capable of budgeting at least $1000 for the parts needed to build a submarine?
3. Do I have anyone that I can lean on for advice when (not if) I get hung up on something?
find a trusted vendor.
Yes, there are cheap kits out there. Bear in mind, however, that the universal rule still applies in that "If it's too good to be true, it is,". Cheap subs are filled with cheap parts. Cheap vendors need to cut corners to save costs and lower overhead. Check the forums for reviews. Ask questions. Find a good supplier with an excellent reputation and purchase from them. Not only will you get good parts and great service, but you'll be supporting the hobby as a whole.
pick a good starter kit.
As I said above, there are huge, complicated kits with all of the bells and whistles out there. They are also exceptionally complicated and difficult to build. You don't know how many partially started kits I've picked up over the years for pennies on the dollar from people who got in way over their heads, lost their enthusiasm, and sold off everything to pursue other interests. Don't be like them! Start small. Start realistic. Get your feet wet and enjoy the process. Once you get a good understanding of things, step up your next project by one level. Build your experience as you build your boats, one step at a time.
I've put together some packages that will help you to get started by bundling most of the things that you'll need to get started. Check out that section of my site, pick one, and get to work!
You will get frustrated. You will encounter problems. Don't fret it! There are people out there who would love to help you. If you have a specific question, feel free to hit me up by email. Post up your questions on the forums. Be patient. It will get finished.
What is an RC Submarine?
An RC sub is basically a surface ship that has the added ability to dive under the water and return to the surface again. These models may have static (ballast system) or dynamic (no ballast system) diving capabilities, although many sub-humans will say that dynamically diving subs are really just waterproof surface craft and not true submarines.
What's the point? You can't see them anyway.
Well, no. Not when they're under four feet of water. It's the challenge of diving a submarine and then bringing her back up safely that's the ultimate reward. There's also a sense of satisfaction watching the surface craft skippers on shore jump in surprise when your sub pops up just behind them, ready for a torpedo shot! When ballasted negatively (not recommended, but real fun), you can actually "park" your sub on the bottom and wait for unsuspecting prey to pass by.
What's the best place to get a sub for a beginner?
This is probably the number one question that I get! Its an exciting hobby, but it can be a daunting thing to get into. There is lots to learn, and "getting your feet wet" properly is important in order to eliminate the possibility of getting frustrated, losing a valuable submarine, or hurting yourself! There are a few different kits that I'd recommend:
ThunderTiger Neptune: This yellow sub is a fully-fledged RC submarine with functional pump-based ballast system. Now out of production, you can still nab a good deal in the $600 range for these robust boats. Sold RTR. Just charge up the batteries and head out to sea!
Revel or Trumpeter plastic conversions: Converting a plastic model kit to R/C operation is a great way to get started economically. While not huge in size, these typically have superb detail (though fragile). Check out the SHOP section of this site for products you'd need for the conversion. Budget around $800 by the time you get your materials together.
How do they work?
Very basically, the static diving submarines will take on water to the point that they will easily dive under the water with a little bit of help from the control surfaces (dive planes). When surfacing, water is forced out of the ballast tank either by a pump or by compressed gas of some kind. Dynamic divers use their control surfaces only to force them under the water. When speed drops, their buoyancy forces them to the surface.
How does the signal go underwater?
Radio signals will penetrate water. Freshwater is the best for getting clear transmission to your model and there are many experienced sub drivers who have operated (properly constructed) submarine models in depths in excess of thirty feet. Once you start getting additions such as chlorine or salt in the water, you will see serious reduction to the maximum depth you will be able to control you model. When operating at the surface, the only limit is your radio system. Submarines can be operated in heavily chlorinated pools, or even in the ocean, but you depth will be limited to a few inches, at best. Operating any deeper will require an antenna addition, as you'll need to keep the antenna above the surface of the water in order to maintain control of your model.
How much do they cost?
Lots. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. You can get pool toys that will let you piddle around in your backyard pool for a few hundred dollars, but a complete RTR RC Sub in a decent scale will set you back a good $1500 to start with. Sub hulls go for around $400 to $500US, and a complete WTC (water tight compartment) with full electronics suite will add another $1000. Tack on a decent radio, and your pretty close to $2000US. You can do better or worse for price depending on what you're looking for, but that's a pretty good idea of what they're worth.
How fast to they go?
I guess that depends on the model and the drive system, but a good average is a fast walking pace at full throttle. Modern nuclear subs are more hydrodynamic than older submarine designs such as WWII fleetboats, and are therefore typically faster.
How deep do they go?
All they way to the bottom (all the RC sub sites say that, so I guess I might as well, too). My WTC should be good in excess of thirty feet or so, but I really do not want to go that deep. In practical terms, you should only go as deep as you can see, typically less than five feet, and that's plenty enough water to get into trouble with. Radio signals penetrate a lot of fresh water, but things like chlorine and salt water significantly reduce your radio range.
What are they made of?
Blood, sweat, and tears mostly. Hulls are generally made of fibreglass or GRP (glass reinforced plastic). High end hulls are manufactured with epoxy. Some smaller hulls are made from vacuum forrmed plastic. WTC (water tight compartments) are typically made from clear lexan so that the owner can easily check for leaks. Acrylic tubing works, but you need to be aware that it is very prone to cracking at the edges.
How do I get one?
There are two options: build it or buy it. Building is cheaper (though not by much), but is infinitely more time-consuming and you're end product will generally not be as high quality as the suppliers can put out. My Nautilus project has kept me busy for many years, and after a while it gets a bit frustrating. If I could do it all again, I'd buy my first kit, and then worry about building the next project while I can enjoy the first in the interim. But that's just my opinion. Some of the suppliers are listed on my Links page , but a full listing can be found on the Subcommittee website .
What about missiles and torpedoes?
You betcha! Both have been done before by many talented modelers. Dave Merriman of D&E Miniatures has actually built a six tube torpedo launcher for his 1:72 scale Alfa submarine! Most of these weapons systems are powered by compressed gas. Stay away from the Estes rocket engine idea. Apparently fire and water don't mix that well. Check out a great article on Dave's torpedo system in 1:72 scale here.
What kind of radio do I need?
Submarines with a ballast system require a minimum of four channels (throttle, dive planes, rudder, ballast). Make sure that your radio is operating on 75Mhz (surface frequency). Airplane frequencies technically work, but if you mess up someone's model airplane while running your sub, get ready for some unhappiness from the owner and from the government if they catch you. In terms of channels, if you're thinking of adding addtional features such as torpedoes, missiles, periscopes, etc..., then make sure you have some extra channels. I bought an Airtronics VG600 6-channel for my Nautilus (four standard channels plus working lights and a spare channel).
What kind of extra features can you add?
Anything that you can dream of, build or buy. Missiles, torpedoes, lighting, periscopes, working hatches, sound effects, diesel smoke (for WWII diesel-electrics, of course), bow thrusters, and much more. Just make sure that you have enough channels on your radio and space in your hull for all the goodies. Save room for working video and sound, and a new fish-finder on the market actually lets you add sonar to your model with the display sent back to you on shore!
What happens if it doesn't come back up again?
You cry. You curse. You pray. Then, you get wet. Your sub is probably mired in the mud or hung up on some weeds. Take a set of swim trunks and a mask to the pond with you in case something like this happens. When she doesn't come up, sight some landmarks or throw a marker where you last saw it. Then head out to sea and hope for the best. Be sure that you have a failsafe system installed that will automatically blow ballast if you lose radio signal. Another option is to build a buoy that gets released after a set amount of time. One exceptional idea is to use a tic tac candy to secure a float to the hull. After a period of time, the tic tac dissolves, and releases the buoy. It needs to be replaced at every run, but it makes sure that you get your model home every night.