What's it Going to Cost?
Like most pursuits, getting started in R/C submarines entails
the investment of funds. A wise modeler assesses
the damage to his pocketbook before embarking on a
project. There are essentially three tiers of
hobby participation with increasing
levels of financial commitment:
RTR subs, model sub kits, and scratch build projects.
Note: all costs provided are estimates based on 2013 prices. Upgrades and deals can swing prices higher or lower. Diligently compare products and pricing prior to purchase. The SubCommittee Vendor List is the perfect place to begin your research.
RTR (ready to run)
To get in the water quickly, many modelers begin
with an RTR boat. These subs come almost fully assembled
and include electronics and a radio.
A popular example of this type of kit is the Thunder
Tiger Neptune. It contains everything needed
for the submarine model to operate. The modeler only
supplies the tools necessary for hooking up the control
linkages and other minor assembly work (Note: boats
purchased outside North America may require full assembly).
Current retail cost for this large R/C sub is $650-750.
Smaller RTR boats can be had to further reduce costs. These range in size from a foot in length down to several inches and are normally suitable for swimming pool use only. Originally introduced by the retail giant Wal-Mart, these diminutive boats garnered the nickname Wally Subs. Total package price is $100-200.
Pre-owned submarines are another means to get in the water fast. Look for deals on completed boats on eBay and the SubSwap Forum.
A sub kit is a project that normally does not include a WTC or electronics. It usually renders a fiberglass hulled submarine in a standard scale, contains all the major parts to complete the project, and was designed with radio controlled operations in mind. Kits of this type run from $350-$500 on average. Larger scale kits can send the cost much higher.
To get the boat diving, a watertight
cylinder (WTC) is necessary. While component
parts can be purchased for the do-it-yourselfer, several
vendors make turnkey units based around the standard
ballast system types (see
systems tutorial). In some instances these WTCs can cost as much
as, or more than, the submarine kit. Typical
turnkey WTCs cost from $400 - $600 depending on the
Most WTCs do not include the basic mission critical
electronics such as receiver, failsafe, electronic
speed control (ESC), and pitch controller. These
must be purchased separately, along with a battery
to power the boat. A basic four channel electronics
setup for a static diving boat runs on average:
Pitch Control: $50-$85
Battery: $25 (NiCad)
Battery charger: $45+
Total electronics package: $220-$325
A radio transmitter puts the “R” in R/C. With name brand vendors abandoning
the 75MHz surface frequency,
supply has dwindled. As a result, many modelers have
turned to the used market where prices vary. However,
there are still a few submarine hobby vendors carrying
new 75 MHz units. Average price for a 4 channel radio
Finally, there are costs incurred during the construction
and operation of the boat. These include
adhesives, primer, finish paint, dry transfers,
connectors, soldering supplies, wire, etc. and pressurized
gas for gas ballast systems. Don't forget tax and
shipping for purchases. A factor of 10% of
the total is a good baseline to use for these expenses.
When all is said and done, a typical submarine kit, such as a
1/96 scale SSN with 4 channel radio and static ballast
system, will require an investment of approximately $1200
For those who have a passion for unusual subjects or
scales, scratch building is an alternative path.
However, it is not for the financially timid. Scratch
building usually entails specialized, labor
intensive skills that can require expensive tools and
raw materials. While some novice modelers are tempted
by the initially low monetary investment,
the total sum can accumulate greatly over time
and is always more expensive in the long run. Furthermore,
mistakes due to inexperience are costly as the learning
curve can result in work being rendered unusable.
The SubCommittee offers an excellent e-book introduction to the
scratch building process by master builder Steve Neill
it for free here). Even with this resource, it is wise
to consult with an experienced scratch builder before
embarking on your own one-off project.
For those who persevere to the end and produce a unique new submarine model, development costs can be recouped by selling copies of your boat as kits. Many submarine vendors started out this way. Again, it is very prudent to pick the brain of those who have gone before you to have a clear picture of what will be required to succeed in the kit production business.
Got questions? Join the conversation on our message boards.