How to Choose Your Submarine Kit


So... you've decided the world of RC submarines is the one for you, did you? And why not... it's unique, the boats are exciting to look at and challenging to operate. Sure, they're expensive, but what in life that's worth doing isn't?

But... where to start?

There are a number of considerations that you should be thinking about before you pull the trigger. I'll run through a few of them below. Take what I say to heart and your first experience with RC submarines will be fun, educational, and enjoyable.

Questions you need to ask yourself:

1.) Do I have enough experience to tackle this?

RC submarines are not for the beginner. I've said it before, and I'll keep on saying it. If you don't have any idea what a servo is, what voltage they run at, how a transmitter works, or the basic principles behind making up linkages, you're in the wrong hobby. Save your money, buy an RC boat or car, and enjoy it. Once you're familiar with how they work, you may then revisit the idea of a sub.

What about buying a ready-made sub?

An alternative, albeit an expensive one. Expect to pay triple the price of the parts alone, if you're lucky enough to find a builder for the boat you want. Provided you do, it does not negate the need for an affirmative answer to the above question. If you can't build it, how do you expect to operate it, maintain it, repair it, and trouble-shoot it? Subs are not simple systems. They require intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the craft. Paying for the privilege gets you nothing but one or two short runs and then a load of headaches and heartaches when something breaks, goes wrong or needs fixing. But... by all means, buy the boat, run it once, then re-sell it to me at half what you paid. I've taken on a fleet of such boats, from just these kinds of owners over the years.

2.) What is my budget?

RC submarines are not cheap, mass produced, Chinese-manufactured garbage (well... some of them are, but for the most part they are hand-crafted by skilled artisans and people who genuinely love the hobby). As such, you will pay a lot for the hulls, cylinders, electronics and radios. Get used to the idea. If you can't comfortably scrape together $1000, again... you're in the wrong hobby. Starter subs will set you back around $1k just for the parts. You'll be donating your time. Want something bigger? Prices only go up from there. Most control systems packages will set you back at least $800 for the bare-bones versions. Add the cost of your hull to that and you'll be close.

What about scratch-building? The material isn't even a quarter of what you're saying it will cost me for a hull, you liar-head!

Well... yes. True. I've been down that road a few times. If you have the skill set to work with water-friendly materials (plastics, fiberglass, etc.) can scratch-build from plans, and have lots and lots (and lots) of free time, by all means, go for it. In my experience, particularly as a first-timer, the odds of you successfully completing a project is slim. Trust me, I've seen it dozens of times. You can scratch-build your internals as well, and many people have successfully done that, too. The odds of that working out for you? Even worse than successfully completing your hull.

I'm not being mean, I'm being realistic, and I'm speaking from experience, not some greedy desire to sell more stuff to you. My advice... buy first, get it wet, learn from your experiences, then tackle your own boat if and when you get your feet wet (ha, ha!)

3.) What excites me?

Now is the fun part. What sort of boat do you like? WWII-era fleet boats? Modern, sleek attack subs? Research subs? There are a number of kits out there, but bear in mind, your selection is limited to what you can build (see above), and what is available on the market. Popular boats sell, and anyone who makes money selling kits won't allocate months of hard work and effort and thousands of dollars into molding up a new boat to sell one or two a year. That's why you see tons of German uboats and US nuclear subs. If you want something unique, you may luck out, but odds are good that you'll be stuck scratch-building (see above... again!)

4.) What's my scale?

I find bigger boats easier to work on than small ones, but bear in mind that the bigger the boat, the harder it is to transport, launch and recover at the pond. Factor in storage space as well. A 32nd scale u-boat is great until you need to store a 8ft long model submarine somewhere. Of course, big boats are harder to manufacture and take more material to do so. They'll be more expensive to boot.

5.) Plastic or fiberglass?

Fortunately for our hobby, there are a number of sizeable submarine models on the market that are suitable for conversion to RC operation. The Trumpeter Type VII and Seawolf, the Revell Gato, Type VII, Type IX, the Bronco Type XXIII, and the Moebius Skipjack are all great examples. These kits are highly detailed and are inexpensive to purchase (relatively-speaking). The drawback is that they're somewhat less durable than the fiberglass models, and tend to be far less rigid. Fiberglass models are more expensive and harder to work with, but are far better suited to the rigors of RC operation, particularly when you get into the bigger sizes.

6.) What do I need it to do?

The hobby is full of kits, ranging from the simple to the most complicated you can imagine. For a first kit, DO NOT fork out $3000 on a top-of-the-line, all features imaginable, uber-complex boat. These are reserved for the experienced modeler with a high degree of aptitude and ability in the hobby. As a first-timer, you'll get dazzled by the features, and will likely fall victim to "feature-creep", where you add 'just one more' add-on to the package until it is beyond your ability to complete. Go simple. Get it built. Get it out. Have fun. Then, and only then, save up for the Cadillac version and give that a go.

7.) Who is offering the kit?

Whoever sells you your gear is going to be your new best friend, at least until you get more experience under your belt and make contacts in the RC sub world. If they don't reply to your emails, if they can't communicate efficiently and professionally with you in a reasonable amount of time, if they feel sketchy or have a bad rep on the forums, steer clear.

Well, there you go. Model selection 101.

If you're intent on playing in these waters, be honest. There is a product out there for you, though it may not be the one that you initially thought you wanted. Take it slow and steady and you'll end up with decades of fun in this challenging hobby. Cut corners or lie to yourself and you'll end up with a collection of half-built parts, short on cash and rich in frustration.

Again... I know what I'm talking about. I see it every day.

Best of luck out there!

Bob Martin

the RCSubGuy

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