High School Student Builds One-Man Submarine

If you ask us, this is the best DIY project to date.  Justin Beckerman, a high school student from Mendham High School in New Jersey has built a single person submarine that can plunge to a depth of 30 feet.  The fully-functional, one-man submarine is mostly make from lightweight, yet strong, grooved plastic typically used in piping.

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Beckerman has been engineering products out of various building materials since he was two years old.  He salvages every old or broken device he can find, along with donations from friends and neighbours, and occasional trips to electronic recycling facilities.  He’s built remote-controlled vacuums, miniature model jet engines, and headsets that can play DVDs.  The submarine is by far the teen’s biggest project to date.

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The design for his submarine developed based on the knowledge he acquired over the years.  Apart from the mechanical and electrical know-how, Justin included his interest in aeronautics; he modelled some of the components in the sub from things found on airplanes.  He named the sub, The Nautilus which took the high school inventor six months and $2000 to put together.

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“He has been building things since he was two years old,” says his mother.  “If we tried to help him we would just get in the way and mess things up.” Justin’s father says he learned to give his son space, support and freedom to tinker with things.  “Justin will tell me something is going to work, and to me it doesn’t make any sense or it’s not possible.  Instead of telling him that it can’t happen or it’s not real, I just let it sit….I’m supportive in letting him do his thing and letting him dream.”

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The submarine has ballast tanks to maintain its depth and equilibrium; air vents that bring oxygen down from the surface; a functioning PA and a range of emergency systems including back-up batteries, a siren, strobe lights, a breathing apparatus and a pump to fight leaks.  The vessel can remain submerged for up to two hours and travels beneath the waves at one and a half miles per hour.  The submarine’s circuitry requires 2,000 feet of wire, to power lights, sensors on the ballast tanks, the compressor, fan, motor pump, and many other pieces of equipment.

submarine6 Beckerman says he decided to build the submarine because “I wanted to see if I could do it.  It combined so many different aspects of things that I had worked on in the past.” The Nautilus has the most ambitious wiring system Beckmerman has installed since he constructed his tree fort – basically a tree castle that puts all other tree houses to shame.  When Justin was asked if there are any particular challenges of being a young inventor, he said “No, other than the budget issues and all of my school work and other obligations that get in the way.” We definitely see this young inventor getting into the top engineering universities of the country.


The Nautilus is not Beckerman’s first submarine. In fact, it is his fourth.  The previous model could dive to five feet, but had a less sturdy frame.  It was propelled by two motor scooter engines, connected to metal blades and two 12v batteries.  The new design improves on the previous models in almost every way.  If he had more time and money Beckerman says he would like to continue to add to the submarine.  “I would love to add a robotic claw to the front.  I would like to make this sub into a more useful thing with a basket that the claw could put stuff into to pick up garbage and clean the bottom of the lake.” Now that’s what we call innovation at its best.

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