Diving under the surface of UVic’s submarine clubs

Lifestyle Sports | Lifestyle

Despite being the newest and oldest engineering clubs at UVic, the Submarine Racing Club [SRC] and Autonomous Underwater Vehicle [AUVIC], UVic’s two submarine teams have less in common than you might think. Most students outside of engineering might be surprised to learn that there are two separate competitive submarine teams on campus, so here’s a look at what’s going on beneath the surface of UVic’s submarine culture.


Founded this past summer by Manuel Dussault Gomez, club president and fourth year mechanical engineering student, the SRC already has around 76 members. The team is divided up into five subsections, each with 10 to 20 members: Hull Design, Steering Control, Stability and Buoyancy, Propulsion, and Safety Release. Currently, eight members are also qualified participants on the dive team.

“There’s a lot of people interested, which is awesome,” Dussault Gomez said.

Leading up to July 2018, the SRC will be constructing an individual human-powered submarine to compete in London for the European International Submarine Races. The flooded submarine (instead of a typical submarine, this machine has water on the inside) will be operated by a diver who must pedal and steer through the underwater course, all while holding down the emergency dead-man’s switch.

“This semester is going to be all design, so next semester should be building it and testing it,” said Ashley Elias, a fourth year in Mechanical Engineering and section leader of the Stability and Buoyancy team.

Since submarines are largely used for military operations, many of the existing designs are confidential, which makes it difficult for the SRC to reverse-engineer their structure with minimal design experience.

“There’s no experts in submarine building at the school; everything that we do, we’re doing for the first time now,” said Jaryd Middleton, a second year in mechanical engineering and SRC’s master diver. “That’s what appealed to me about the club, and I think a lot of other people as well — every single thing you do, you have a lot more creativity in the way you can approach the problems, so that’s kinda cool.”

The SRC has partnered with Camosun to help manufacture the sub, and has recently recruited six students from Camosun’s Mechanical Engineering program to join the team, including the new section leader of Steering Control. Dussault Gomez cited that it made “more sense, logistically” to include Camosun students in the club, especially with the bridge program that gives engineers the opportunity to transfer to UVic after two years. “I want to promote that, like hardcore,” said Dussault Gomez. “So that’s why I’m pairing up with [Camosun].”

Dussault Gomez — who did a sailing campaign for Mexico in the 2012 Olympics and has since been deployed to Guatemala and the arctic with the Canadian Navy — started the SRC with the goal of promoting Marine Systems Engineering. “No one knows what marine system engineers do, right?” he said. “There’s a lot of innovation going on in the marine industry, and I just want to expose engineers to that.”

SRC have been developing two innovations: one is a dynamic stability system to keep the submarine from rising over the course of the race, and the second is a hull that will split into four components instead of two so it can be mailed to London in oversized Air Canada boxes and reduce shipping costs from $3000 to $400.

“My goal is to develop a club that will continue forever, until I die. I want to come [back in] 10, 20 years and see engineers being exposed to marine systems engineering, to design and manufacturing,” said Dussault Gomez. “I want members of the club to be the best, and have the best jobs ever.”


As the oldest engineering club on campus, AUVIC “has a really cool story,” said Andy Bates, fourth year electrical engineering student and AUVIC president.

Although there are no club records explicitly stating the exact year when AUVIC was started, their most prominent documentation is also their greatest achievement: a massive $4 000 cheque from the 2008 RoboSub competition, when AUVIC came in second out of 12 teams. RoboSub is an international competition held in San Diego the last week of July, where autonomous underwater vehicles navigate through an obstacle course relying on their artificial intelligence.

“There’ll be a gate, and [the sub has] to recognize the gate, drive straight through the middle, we get points for that,” explained Bates. “We’ll go and pick up objects, drop off objects, shoot torpedoes and stuff. We can’t always do them all, but we try and do most of them, and we try and perfect the ones that maximize our score.”

For the next competition, AUVIC’s submarine will have three cameras that it will use to construct a coordinate system for navigation in the pool. “When it thinks for itself . . . it’s more like we’ve hardcoded things; ‘like if you see this, then you know you’re at the gate,’” Bates said. “Usually, [it looks for] patterns of color, and then it can tell where it is, or patterns of size.”

“The coolest thing about our club [is] you can build a submarine . . . and you could theoretically swim with that submarine, and I think you have a different level of interaction,” said Bates.

AUVIC suffered from a decrease in active membership after their “glory period” in 2008, but students have been rebuilding the team since 2014. Between the three subsections of Mechanical, Electrical, Software, there are currently 41 members. “This is the highest [membership] we’ve had in a long time,” said Bates. “We probably have like 20 members who [have been working for] less than a year with us, but they’re all doing a lot of passionate work.”

AUVIC members have to pay for their own flights to the competitions. In the past, only 20 per cent of the AUVIC team has attended, but Bates is hopeful that will increase to 40 per cent this year. “Once you go to the contest, there’s no leaving AUVIC,” he said. “It’s too exciting.”

Although the boxy aluminum robot isn’t what one would picture a submarine to look like, it’s actually ideal for the competition. “[AUVIC decided to] just make it a box, and we’ll put a big computer in there — ’cause that’s what’s gonna limit you: the rate at which your computer can recognize objects and do things, not the rate that you can travel through the water,” said Bates.

Through a partnership with Ocean Networks Canada, AUVIC also spends time volunteering at events for kids and teachers. Bates cited this as a valuable component for the team, as it “brings out a good sense of community.” It’s even encouraged them to create a secondary submarine.

“We’re like ‘oh look, we made this housing that can go down to fifty feet’ — kids don’t find that very cool,” explained Bates. “So we’re finishing this little mini-submarine and we’re hoping that will be more interesting where they could drive it around like an RV.”

Members of AUVIC and the SRC share common challenges: high expenses for supplies and airplane tickets to competitions, team members struggling under the burden of a full engineering course load, and most of all, the issue of space. All engineering clubs are typically given a room in the Engineering Lab Wing by the Engineering Students Society, although there are currently no rooms available for new groups like the SRC.

“Without the room, AUVIC would struggle,” Bates said. Dussault Gomez has approached AUVIC with a request to share their room, as the SRC has been operating unofficially out of the corner of a computer lab, but AUVIC expressed reluctance.

“[Our] club is really tight on space and we need all the room that we can get,” Bates said. “Also, we have a lot of personal tools that belong to members who lend them to the club. Sharing [our] room would mean we limit ourselves on space [and couldn’t] vet everyone who enters our room. Therefore, we would have to return some of the tools we borrow so that we could [guarantee] their safety.”

While Bates argued that “the only similarity we have is water,” SRC and AUVIC also share a common goal — the promoted awareness of marine engineering.

“Most kids don’t dream [of being] submariners, instead they think of more lucrative positions like astronauts,” said Bates. “We at AUVIC want to make [the] ocean cool and exciting for young kids.”

“I want to let everyone know that it is a cool job, and that you can get jobs anywhere in the world — along the coastline, of course,” said Dussault Gomez.