What the Titanic Sub Disaster Means for CA’s Submarine Tour Companies

The tragic implosion of the Titan, a submarine transporting visitors to the wreck of the Titanic, and the deaths of its five crewmembers has captivated audiences worldwide. The experimental sub’s disappearance prompted a multi-day rescue mission that ultimately discovered only the shattered remains of the vessel.

The tragedy has captured peoples’ attention because of the strange and surprising circumstances of the sub’s demise.

But what does all that attention mean for something closer to home: California’s own submarine tour operators?

California’s Tourist Submarine

California has plenty of glass-bottomed boat operators. But it has only one true submersible tour operator that offers trips directly to the public. Catalina Adventure Tours operates the Nautilus, a semi-submersible vessel that provides tours of Catalina Island, off the coast near Los Angeles.

The Bay Area Telegraph reached out to Catalina Adventure Tours to see if the Titan tragedy was impacting their business, and what the tragedy means for California’s tourist submarine business.

Courtesy Viator

The Impact

Here’s the good news. According to Annette Phillips, a spokesperson for Catalina Adventure Tours, the Titan tragedy has not impacted their business substantially.

“I have only heard of 1 or 2 customers expressing any hesitation about going on our tour. There has been no negative impact to our business from the tragedy of the Titan,” Phillips told the Telegraph.

Courtesy Catalina Adventure Tours

Why the lack of concern from customers? As Phillips explains, the Nautilus is “nothing like the Titan.”

A Totally Different Vessel

“We are a SEMI submersible vessel,” Phillips says. “Our vessel submerges to 7.5 feet under water and passengers are free to exit the vessel at any time during the trip, our Captain is above in a crows nest and there is a standing, secure platform where customers can enjoy the view of the island. We have deckhands with the passengers to handle any emergencies that might arise.”

Courtesy Viator

The Titan reportedly submerged to 12,500 feet to visit the Titanic. That’s 1,666 times deeper than the Nautilus goes.

Unlike the Titan, which reportedly was cramped and claustrophobic, lacking seats, and was controlled by a video game controller, on the Nautilus “There is ample room for 48 people in the vessel and the large viewing windows offer a up-close look at the waters from safely inside the vessel,” Phillips says.

Courtesy Catalina Adventure Tours

Phillips also points out that “We do not lock our passengers inside the vessel” and the Nautilus stays in calm and predictible “coastal waters of Catalina Island.”

Different Regulations

Phillips also points out that tourist subs like the Nautilus are heavily regulated and licensed. The Titan operated in international waters, which meant it likely required few or any regulations or inspections.

In contrast, Phillips shares that “We are under USCG authority and follow all rules and regulations. We are inspected yearly and must pass in order to operate, we always pass. Our captains are licensed by the USCG and our deckhands are trained as well. Our hulls are inspected and we maintain our vessel and address any issues immediately if they were to arise.”

Courtesy Viator

In other words, operators that take tourists on vessels within America’s waters are subject to a great deal of regulatory oversight. That regulatory scrutiny ensures that tourist subs like the Nautilus remain safe, and any issues are spotted and fixed.

The Future of Tourist Subs

It’s unclear what impact, if any, the Titan tragedy will have on other submersible tour companies. The Bay Area Telegraph reached out to Hawaii’s Atlantic Submarines, which operates a fully submersible sub tour.

The company declined to comment, citing “the news currently unfolding in the North Atlantic right now.”

As for Catalina Island’s Catalina Adventure Tours, the future looks bright, despite the tragedy of the Titan.

“It was a very tragic incident that might have been avoided,” Phillips says. “I would hope the tragedy doesn’t stop people from enjoying our beautiful waters.”

Want to book a ride on the Catalina Aventure Tours’ semi-submersible and see those waters yourself? You can book a trip here, or via the company’s website.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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