Startup: Triton Submarines, with Aston Martin, Readies Luxury Personal Sub That’s Surprisingly Capable

Triton’s deep-diving submersibles already play a crucial role in marine research

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If you’re looking for the perfect add-on to your megayacht, how about a personal submarine? Triton Submarines can set you up. The company, based in Vero Beach, Fla., specializes in high-end submersibles that can dive as far as 1,000 meters deep. Now, Triton has partnered with luxury carmaker Aston Martin, based in England, to build a limited-edition model. Due in early 2019, it combines ultimate style with hydrodynamic performance.

Over the past 12 years, Triton’s subs have earned a reputation for safety, maneuverability, and comfort. But back in 2008, when the company was founded, the idea of a personal submersible was a tough sell. Too many potential buyers had seen too many Hollywood action movies featuring doomed submarines, recalls Triton’s president, Patrick Lahey, who cofounded the company with CEO L. Bruce Jones.

“People thought [submarines] must be massively complicated and dangerous,” Lahey says. “I’ll forever be grateful to our first customer. Putting our sub on his vessel and having it displayed at boat shows really got the conversation started.” Today, Triton’s preorders and word-of-mouth recommendations continue to propel the firm’s growth.

Triton subs all feature spherical transparent cabins, which provide the widest possible window on ocean flora, fauna, and landforms while resisting the deep’s crushing pressures. Figuring out how to build the cabins took some doing. In 2011, production of Triton’s most popular model—the US $3.8 million three-person 3300/3—hit a wall when suppliers were unable to cast the 2.1-meter-diameter, 2.2-metric-ton acrylic bulb. “It actually threatened to take us out of business because we had a couple of orders that we couldn’t fill,” says Lahey. Triton turned to German acrylics pioneer Evonik Industries, which developed a more uniform thermal-forming process.

To shrink the profile of its subs, Triton engineers shifted from lead-acid batteries to fire-resistant lithium iron magnesium phosphate batteries. The lithium iron batteries pack 90 watt-hours per kilogram, more than double the energy density of lead batteries. The slimmed-down subs can be tucked inside a yacht’s hangar, rather than sitting on deck. The batteries’ fire-safe chemistry eased acceptance from international ship certification firms such as Norway’s DNV GL. Triton subjects all of its subs to rigorous independent certification, comparable to what commercial aircraft go through. “We don’t build experimental subs,” says Lahey.

Codeveloping a sub with Aston Martin is about maxing out styling, creature comforts, and performance. The new sub features a more powerful quartet of thrusters and streamlined hydrodynamics, which will propel the vessel at a relatively snappy 6 knots (11 kilometers per hour). The thrusters also offer greater control when navigating through coral reefs and other tricky terrain, and for holding steady in strong currents.

“Jacques Cousteau had a great saying: Speed is the enemy of observation,” says Lahey. “You don’t pull up to the Louvre and put on your running shoes and sprint through the place. You stop and take the time to drink it in.”

Bioluminescence expert Edith Widder says the maneuverability of Triton subs is already top-notch, likening it to flying a helicopter. In 2012 Widder, who’s CEO of the Florida-based Ocean Research & Conservation Association, was on a dive campaign in Japan that used a Triton 3300/3 and scored the first-ever sighting of a giant squid in its habitat.

Widder says privately owned subs fill a need when government funding isn’t forthcoming. “We’re back to the time of the Medicis, where scientists get access through wealthy people,” she says. These days, governments prefer to fund cheaper, deeper-diving unmanned underwater vehicles, but Widder says crewed submersibles remain unbeatable for venturing into the unknown. “When you know what you want to do, you can build a robot to do it. But when you’re exploring, there’s nothing more adaptable than a human.”

Soon Triton may be taking yachters and scientists deeper. Lahey says a new design will push well beyond Triton’s current 1,000-meter limit, with details to be revealed as early as mid-October.

This article appears in the October 2018 print issue as “Triton Submarines’ Dive Into Luxury.”

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