Gran Canaria Invitational 2024

Open-ocean, head-to-head human-powered submarine racing Arinaga, Gran Canaria, Spain, 16 - 22 September 2024 Hosted by Rhine Waal University and Submarine Racing Series

The Gran Canaria Invitational (GCI) is a new kind of human-powered submarine racing. To maintain compatibility with other races around the world, the submarines will still be flooded and propelled by muscle power alone, but in the GCI they will go head to head in salt water. Ocean submarine racing is very much a team sport. The team’s engineers will have to get their submarine through the exacting scrutineering round. Then the pilots will have to power and guide their craft around a grueling 400m around-the-square course in 5m of water in sheltered Arinaga Bay off the east coast of Isla Gran Canaria, Spain. Accompanied by a team of safety divers on waterproof scooters, they will chase each other from marker to marker, accelerating on the straights, curling through the turns, dodging fish and battling tidal currents to a video finish off the end of the historic pier called the Muelle de Arinaga.

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The GCI racecourse is 400m long, shaped in a square with four 100m sides. The course will be marked with a dashed line of flagging tape anchored periodically on the sea floor. The submarines will race head-to-head in two lanes spaced two metres apart.


Submarines will be moored mid-water on buoys anchored 2m above the sea floor. The pits are designated areas away from the starting line where teams will be able to prepare their submarines without silting up the racecourse itself.

Start Box

The start boxes are marked areas on the sea floor where the submarine racing safety team (SRST) will be assembled and the pilot given the command to start. Submarines will start at an altitude of approximately 2m above the bottom. The start boxes will be staggered by 12m to compensate for the additional length of the outside track.


Before the submarines are allowed into the water, their engineering teams must first convince the judges that all safety requirements have been met. The teams will also have to demonstrate all hatch, latch, pedal and other constraint releases to the safety and rescue divers at the beginning of each day. Detailed scrutineering activities will take place at the teams' shore bases. Short safety checks will take place at the top of the ramp before the submarine heads into the water.


Launch and recovery of submarines will take place on the concrete ramp alongside the lee side of the pier. The ramp extends smoothly into the water at high tide, but at low tide, there is a significant step. The breaking waves can pose some challenges during water entry and exit, so teams will need to devise strategies to overcome the challenge safely.


An essential element of human-powered submarine racing are the repair and upgrade activities undertaken during the week-long event by the team's engineers. The teams will each have a rental van and a parking place on the cul-de-sac of Calle Alcala Galiano where they will be able to hide out of the sun and work on their machines. A well-equipped central workshop will be set up in a small building (the "casita") at the base of the pier. A technician will be available to assist with more challenging manufacturing requirements.

Concept image of sub racer


Head to head racing is a new form of submarine racing and therefore requires some additional steps to ensure safety and fairness. For safety purposes, each submarine on the course will be part of a three-player dive team consisting of the pilot, the safety diver alongside, and the rescue diver at the surface.

In the Pits

The teams will go through their pilot loading checklists in the pits and will be called over to the starting boxes by the maintenance or safety divers when the racecourse is clear of the previous heat. There should only be a brief final check left to do at the starting line before the hatch is closed and the vessel is ready to race.

Start Procedure

The starting line protocol is as follows:

  • Team support divers complete the final checklist step, close hatch
  • Pilot signals ok, ready to race
  • Support diver signals safety diver ok
  • Safety diver signals rescue diver ok
  • Rescue diver signals dive control ok
  • When both teams ready, dive control signals rescue divers
  • Rescue diver signals safety diver "start"
  • Safety diver signals start marshal "start"
  • Start marshal signals pilots "start"
  • Pilot starts pedalling
  • Safety and rescue divers follow

On the Racecourse

The starting lines will be staggered, so the pilot in the inside lane will be catching up to his or her opponent over the full length of the course. The pilots will be required to keep to their own lane. In the GCI with its head-to-head format, that will mean that each pilot will have to keep to his or her own side of the centre line. This will be especially important in the corners. Submarines will not be allowed to contact each other. The safety divers will work with the judges to determine penalty points for any breach of this rule. Submarines will be required to remain submerged for the full duration of the race. Broaches of the surface will result in penalty points. They will also not be allowed to disturb any of the course markers or camera installations. Further penalty points will be applied for collisions, in particular if the collisions require repair or delay the races.

Over the Finish Line

At the end of the 400m race the submarines will cross a finish line monitored with an underwater video camera. The winner of a heat should obviously be the first over the line, but a set of rules is still being developed to ensure that penalty points are applied fairly for transgressions of the race rules during the heat. After the boats have crossed the line, they will settle to the bottom in the landing area and their pilots will be recovered to the surface. The team's support divers will recover the submrine to the pits and moor it, so that it can be prepared for the next heat.