Where would I buy an old military submarine? And are there guys who do?
February 18, 2015 10:01 AM   Subscribe

I need information on - forgive me - the subculture of private submarine enthusiasts. Specifically guys who own old military ones. Who buys and own old U571s and such? Where do they get them? Auctions? Is it legal to own one? What are the parameters on this sort of thing?
posted by rileyray3000 to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Military surplus auctions happen all the time, but you have to be eagle-eyed and be prepared with cash at time of purchase. You may need to complete a PQQ before bidding, but many items are available to the public to purchase. Private or vintage ex-mil subs... I have no idea!
posted by parmanparman at 10:23 AM on February 18, 2015

It appears the Russians had a lot of them for sale in the 00s, but they went to sovereign nations, not individuals.
posted by beagle at 10:26 AM on February 18, 2015

Here is an article on the issue. Here is a (now de-listed) listing. Most of what I've seen suggests military subs were often scrapped, rather than sold.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:30 AM on February 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

And given the (sensational) coverage about south/central american drug traffickers using/building subs to get drugs into the US, I'd imagine buying one might get you a close inspection from the feds.
posted by k5.user at 10:39 AM on February 18, 2015

You could probably have the U.S.S. Ling if you could figure out a way to move it, my old bosses at the Record desperately want to develop the site but the sub is basically stuck there.
posted by Oktober at 11:03 AM on February 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

I would expect any vessel not intended for sale to another nation would be in pretty poor shape at best. Assuming you were able to purchase one, you'd be responsible for getting out of wherever it's currently being berthed and moved to a suitable location. I'm sure you can hire a marine salvage company to tow it but I can't imagine it would be cheap.
posted by tommasz at 12:48 PM on February 18, 2015

You're definitely not getting a US nuclear boat, one of the SSNs or SSBNs built after about 1958: those are scrapped outside Bremerton, Washington as they age out of usefulness. (There's a burial trench in Idaho for the old nuc power compartments.) The US has sold some old diesel-powered subs to other countries in the past, but the Navy's diesel boats are pretty much all gone by now: the rest are either museums (like the Ling) or scrapped --- and that usually means chopped into bits and melted down. A few were either sunk as the basis for new reefs or used for target practice.

On the other hand, you might be able to find either a small experimental or exploration sub, something with no more than a 2-4 person capability, available for sale. I don't know if the Navy scraps those, but they do like to get the last little bit of use out of things, so even if you did manage to buy one it'd be pretty beat up. Then, of course, there's the transportation of that craft, as well as maintenance & upkeep costs to consider --- and parts: the Navy won't give you an operator's manual, and you're going to end up machining a lot of your own replacement parts, because they won't sell you any.

How about a civilian experimental craft? Maybe some place like Woods Hole would want to sell their old bathyspheres?
posted by easily confused at 1:20 PM on February 18, 2015

There's the great story of Holbrook, a NSW town a long way from the coast (and renamed from Germanton in 1914) buying the top section of a decommissioned Oberon class submarine from the scrappers and putting it in a park.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:25 PM on February 18, 2015

Oh, and to add to my comment above: anything 'sensitive' --- weapons systems, communications/sonar equipment, much of the propulsion systems, even the screws (propellers) are often still considered sensitive if not downright secret, and would be removed before any sale, so at best you'd be getting a non-seaworthy shell. (The USS Nautilus up at New London Submarine Base in Connecticut? The engines were entirely removed & the engine compartment sealed before it was opened as a museum.)

There are a number of places that have parts of the exterior (like the above-mentioned Holbrook) as displays; usually it's just the sail, the part of the submarine that sticks above the long cigar-shaped main body, or else the anchors. But those sails are empty shells; there's nothing in them, they're not attached to anything but the ground they're sitting on. If you're looking for a display for a municipality (say if a sub was named after that city or state or a local hero), then yes it's quite possible to get the sail or maybe even a whole sub for a public museum piece (again, with the sensitive chunks removed); but if you're looking for a sub for you to go to sea in, other than civilian stuff you're probably SOL.
posted by easily confused at 8:32 AM on February 19, 2015

The ex-Soviet diesel attack sub B-39 has had a succession of private owners -- perhaps one of them could offer insights?

I saw her when she was exhibited in Seattle over a decade ago. The then-owner was very enthusiastic about submarines. He learned Russian to read the tech manuals, reverse-engineered a bunch of the the boat's classified workings, and had new parts fabricated for her.

Here's a relevant story from San Diego copied wholesale onto a creepy website. Don't read the comments. http://www.ar15.com/archive/topic.html?b=8&f=15&t=220733
posted by Sauce Trough at 12:19 AM on February 20, 2015

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