Society Spotlight: The Southampton University Human Powered Submarine Society


The Greatest Engineering Challenge You’ve Yet to Hear of!

Imagine pedalling on a bicycle across the bottom of a swimming pool – seems slightly counter-intuitive, right? Now add a propeller, hull and fins and you’ve got yourself one of the most impractical, yet creative, products of engineering design. You’ve got yourself a human-powered submarine.

Our Submarine in action.

Building a human-powered submarine raises a unique set of challenges, and it is precisely these challenges that bring teams of students from around the world together to race against one another annually.

Who are the Southampton University Human Powered Submarine Society?

The Southampton University Human Powered Submarine Society, or SUHPS for short, are a group of students from the University of Southampton that design, build and test human-powered submarines to compete internationally.

The international races, held in Europe and America over alternating years, were created to encourage young people to fill the shortfall in marine engineers. Each team designs and builds a unique flooded submarine from scratch to compete in the races every year.  Each submarine has a pilot (a single scuba diver) who pedals and steers the sub around an obstacle course in a timed race. The only rule is that the submarine must be human powered – beyond that, it’s an open ocean.

Top: The team at the 2017 races, Washington. Bottom: The team at the 2015 races, Washington.

What Are Our Aims?

To date, SUHPS have competed in the 2015 and 2017 international races held in Washington. Our primary aim is to be better and faster with each successive competition; last year, our submarine clocked the 11th fastest speed out of all the competitors.  This year, our sights are set on the European races, held in Gosport.  The race involves a tight slalom and a submarine’s success is determined by both its speed and agility. This puts a huge demand on the control systems, so they must be top notch!

A short documentary of the build up and pay off of our first test of 2018 in the Jubilee pool on campus. With special thanks to Gabriel Gèque, Jack Barbolovici, Beth Sharp and Laila Al Azhary of Wessex Films for the filming and production of this footage.

We strongly believe that human-powered submarine races are a fantastic opportunity for students to develop not only their engineering experience but their problem-solving skills, teamwork, time management and creativity. Our society operates without a member of faculty on our committee, meaning every aspect of our submarine is curated by students, including design, fundraising, logistics, promotion, budgeting, building, and diving, to just scratch the surface.

SUHPS understands the importance of encouraging women in the engineering field and this year, 40% of our members are female. We have run outreach events to secondary school-age children to help inspire the next generation of engineers (and perhaps even the next generation of the SUHPS team!).

We need your help!

For SUHPS to run every year, we need groups of dedicated students to get involved with our project – which is where you come in! If you love problem-solving and getting your teeth stuck into a challenge, regardless of your background, we need your help! Contact us through our links at the bottom of this article for more information about how you can get involved.

A word from our president this year, Jo Forrester, about her experience in the society:

“When I joined this society in as a first-year student, I had no idea of the huge impact it would have on my university experience – I have met amazing people, traveled to a different continent and truly discovered so much about engineering and the world of submarine racing. My time in the society has really developed my leadership and team working skills as well as teaching me to think outside the box. It’s been an amazing experience and I would encourage anyone to get involved in such an interesting and diverse project.”

As an independently funded society, we rely on the kindness of sponsor donations to create our submarines each year. If you believe you can offer a service or product that may be useful to us, please get in touch through our email address below.

Want to get involved, or just dip your toes in the water?

Donate to our crowd funder here.

Email address:

Contact us/follow our journey via our Facebook page

or our twitter account: @SotonSubmarine.

Or simply share this article to help us spread the word!


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