Have These Billionaires Learned Nothing?

Photo: Balint Porneczi//Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ahoy, billionaires! When it comes to traveling the ocean for pleasure, there are a few lessons I thought would have crystallized into common sense by now: Cruise ships are giant floating petri dishes for viruses, megayachts of Bezosian scale run the risk of being pelted by rotten eggs if their passage requires the dismantling of historic structures, and, maybe clearest of all, after the implosion of the Titan this past June, homemade submarines can be claustrophobic death traps. For a certain subset of the seafaring wealthy, though, that last one doesn’t seem to be sticking; “personal submersibles” are gaining popularity among the superrich, according to a recent New York Times report. Have we really learned nothing from that dreadful oxygen countdown?

Charles Kohnen, co-founder of the submersible manufacturer Seamagine, told the Times that an estimated 200 of these vessels are currently in use around the world. While some are the property of scientific institutions and others are meant for tourism, a “growing number” of subs purportedly belong to a sect of yachters, specifically Very Big Boaters: Per the Times, only “sufficiently large yachts” can even hold submersibles, which cost anywhere from $2 to $7 million before you factor in the price of cranes, speedboats, and niche services ($15,000 a day for mapmaking and guides, as two examples) necessary to operate them. Small potatoes, really, when you’re jaded by the mounting scale of your possessions. “You have a mega yacht, a super yacht — a submersible has become the next thing to have,” Ofer Keffer, who runs the personal-submersible company SubMerge, told the Times. 

You may be wondering, What does one do on a personal submersible, anyway, aside from venturing too far into the depths to gawk at a century-old wreck decaying on the seafloor? Apparently, these private owners sometimes lend their vessels out for scientific research and documentaries; others use them to discover new species or explore. “Mixed-use model” submersibles are frequently used for standard yachting behavior: dinner, poker games, cocktails, and underwater weddings, according to the director of sales and marketing for Triton, a personal-submersible company with backing from underwater enthusiasts like Titanic director James Cameron and billionaire investor Ray Dalio.

An ideal submersible excursion, according to Kohnen, involves a “good spot” for one-to-two-hour dives with breaks for meals. For those of us wary of never surfacing and instead turning into ocean debris, Kohnen maintains the Titan was an “outlier,” telling the Times that the fact that it had not been built to specifications concerned the sub community for years. (True, though certain maritime experts may argue that regulations around submersible tourism are murky across the board.) Still, Triton and SubMerge say they haven’t had any cancellations since the accident with Triton adding that it’s experiencing “remarkable demand” from tourism companies as well as private owners. I’d like to remind all the billionaires out there that you can have dinner and cocktails safely aboveground, too, but alas. I dreadfully await the inevitable Instagram thirst traps from alive boy and alive girl — this time under the sea.

Have These Billionaires Learned Nothing?