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Justin Beckerman’s homemade submarine is powered by batteries and can stay underwater for up to two hours. (Courtesy of Ken Beckerman)

Teen Submarine

A New Jersey teen builds his own submarine for $2,000

By Tyrus Cukavac | June 7 , 2013
<p> TOP: The submarine is filled with 2,000 feet of electrical wiring rigged together by the 18-year-old. (Courtesy of Ken Beckerman)  </p><p> BOTTOM: The Nautilus is about 9 feet long and can cruise at speeds of about 1.5 miles per hour when underwater. (Courtesy of Ken Beckerman)</p>

TOP: The submarine is filled with 2,000 feet of electrical wiring rigged together by the 18-year-old. (Courtesy of Ken Beckerman)

BOTTOM: The Nautilus is about 9 feet long and can cruise at speeds of about 1.5 miles per hour when underwater. (Courtesy of Ken Beckerman)

Some teens are content just to read about exploring the depths of the ocean, in books like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne. But not Justin Beckerman. This 18-year-old from New Jersey actually built his own submarine! Justin calls the 9-foot-long craft the Nautilus.

Justin built the underwater marvel in six months for about $2,000. He used mostly parts found in hardware stores or online from sellers like Amazon.

“I spent about one or two weeks designing it and just kind of thinking through it,” Justin said in an interview with Scholastic. “I spent maybe two more weeks or so finding all the parts. I had to make sure all the . . . pieces and components could fit together and not be too expensive.”


The body of the machine is made from a large drainpipe. The sub moves around by means of a motor at the stern, or rear of the ship. Underwater, it cruises at speeds of about 1.5 miles per hour.

The submarine uses ballast tanks to stay underwater. A ballast tank is a part of a ship or submarine that holds water. It lets in water to dive and pumps out water to surface. Justin gets oxygen to breathe from an attached life-support raft. It uses two hoses to pump in air from the surface.

Additionally, Justin had to figure out how to power the small vessel. “I ended up actually having about 2,000 feet of wire in the submarine and . . . four battery systems—three main systems, and then one emergency system,” he tells Scholastic. The sub’s batteries allow it to operate underwater for about two hours.


Testing a machine this complicated underwater can be dangerous. So Justin’s parents keep a close watch on him every time he goes out.

Justin also developed an emergency plan to keep him safe in case something goes wrong. He uses a PA system to talk to people on the surface. He also has emergency backup systems to provide him with fresh air and battery power.


Justin has been building things since he was young. In fact, when he was in eighth grade, he built his own version of a Mars rover from a tripod, a camera, and some solar panels.

“Everything Justin does is progressive,” says Justin’s dad. “He starts out with a dream, and he basically focuses on it until he figures out how to do it.”

Justin has even built other, smaller submarines. But not every experiment has been successful. One of his previous attempts collapsed and sank because the material he made it from was not strong enough. But Justin kept trying and eventually built his working sub.

Justin wants to study engineering in college. However, he still hasn’t decided which specific area—electrical, mechanical, or naval engineering—to focus on.

What advice does Justin have for aspiring student inventors?

“Keep thinking, creating, and dreaming.”

To learn more about Justin and his projects, visit his website at

Interview by Mara Grunbaum

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