Wasub is aiming for the world speed record

A human-powered submarine filled with water. Claustrophobic? Not for the Wasub Team, who are aiming for the world speed record at the International Submarine Races.

Wasub, a Dream Team of 26, is building a human-powered submarine. “But our sub is not a normal sub,” says Chief Engineer Willis Houtman. “That’s mainly because of two things. First, race safety regulations state that the boat should be filled with water. And second, our sub is propelled by a human.”

To understand what that looks like, picture an adult man squeezed into a tiny water-filled capsule. We get claustrophobic just thinking of it but, according to pilot Thijs Haenen, it’s not that scary. “You just have to trust the people around you. If you don’t, you will get claustrophobic,” he explains. “Sometimes something does go wrong, but I know the people around me know what to do when it does.”

As the pilot, Haenen struggles to control all aspects of the boat simultaneously. “Right now we’re doing the first tests to see if we can actually control the roll, pitch, and yaw of the sub. But it’s difficult to control all these at the same time. As well as paddling and being in a confined space. And not being able to see where you’re going.”

By 24 June however, Haenen needs to be fully prepared, because the team is hoping to get the world speed record during the International Submarine Races in Washington, DC. “We started preparing six months ago, looking at the points that we needed to work on and we are now  building up to the level that we need for the world record. We have a very intense training schedule, made by the human power department from the Free University in Amsterdam.”

Haenen and Houtman both acknowledge that working up to the championship is an exhausting struggle. “You really have to push yourself for eight weeks in a row,” says Houtman. “But it’s also really fun and nice to have so many people around you who are putting all their efforts into the project.”

  • TU Delft TV shot a short documentary on the Wasub Team. Make sure to watch it below.