2012-08-09 / Front Page

Yellow Submarines Dive Below Straits

By Aebra Coe


Brothers Doug (right) and Russell Canfield developed and built these single-pilot submarines about five years ago and are now exploring the depths of the Great Lakes with them and filming along the way. They stopped just west of Mackinaw City Monday, August 6, for a twohour excursion. Brothers Doug (right) and Russell Canfield developed and built these single-pilot submarines about five years ago and are now exploring the depths of the Great Lakes with them and filming along the way. They stopped just west of Mackinaw City Monday, August 6, for a twohour excursion. Brothers Russell and Doug Canfield built their first submarine together in 1983. This year, they are exploring the bottom of the Great Lakes using three bright yellow submarines they designed and built themselves.

On Monday, August 6, the underwater adventurers stopped just west of Mackinaw City and spent about two hours underneath the Straits of Mackinac examining the underwater ecosystem and filming along the way.

There are four high-resolution cameras mounted on each of the small vessels. The men plan to use the video from this summer and in past years to document what goes on beneath the Great Lakes.


Russell and Doug Canfield stopped west of Mackinaw City Monday, August 6, and spent about two hours underneath the Straits of Mackinac examining the underwater ecosystem in submarines they designed and built themselves. Visible in the background is the Mackinac Bridge. Russell and Doug Canfield stopped west of Mackinaw City Monday, August 6, and spent about two hours underneath the Straits of Mackinac examining the underwater ecosystem in submarines they designed and built themselves. Visible in the background is the Mackinac Bridge. Doug is a resident of Black Lake, near Cheboygan, and Russell lives in Sarasota, Florida, but has spent much of this summer in Michigan for the project.

“Michigan’s waters are largely unknown to people,” said Russell. Typically, scuba divers seek out shipwrecks or a specific destination and spend time just exploring the bottom of the lake.

Using the single-passenger, 7.5- foot by 3.5-foot subs, the Canfields are able to see sturgeon, salmon, whitefish, perch, and lake trout in their natural habitat.

“Often, fish hear the submarine coming and come over to see what it is,” said Russell. He remembered the time a three-foot-long lake trout stopped in front of his craft and stared him down.


The inside of a Fugusub submarine is big enough to fit one pilot and a lot of high tech equipment. This submarine spent Monday, August 6, underneath the Straits of Mackinac. The maximum speed of the submarines is three miles per hour and recommended operating depth is 100 feet. There are four oxygen tanks and a custom-made communications system inside the small interior of the yellow machine. The inside of a Fugusub submarine is big enough to fit one pilot and a lot of high tech equipment. This submarine spent Monday, August 6, underneath the Straits of Mackinac. The maximum speed of the submarines is three miles per hour and recommended operating depth is 100 feet. There are four oxygen tanks and a custom-made communications system inside the small interior of the yellow machine. They also hope to see oddities such as shipwrecks, the remnants of ancient hunting trails, and petrified forests underneath the water.

“We named our [submarines] after fugu fish, which is a Japanese word for puffer fish,” explained Russell. The brothers’ company is called Fugusub, LLC.

“Our thrusters act much as their pectoral fins do in an equivalent location,” he said, “making them highly maneuverable machines.”

Additionally, Fugusubs can be inflated internally with air, as puffer fish do.

Russell has backpacked around the world and had the opportunity to operate a submarine in the Sanai Peninsula, where he was working in 1982. That experience sparked his interest and he and his brother built their first submarine a year later.

They slowly learned more about how to improve the technology of the vessels and now have what they consider a streamlined machine.

“Fugusub diving takes on a fish or turtle-like dimension that is unique and extraordinary,” said Russell. “Cross-cutting currents, making tight or sweeping turns, and going up or downstream become second nature…

It is a true melding of man and machine to function as another creature altogether.”

The maximum speed of the submarines is three miles per hour and recommended operating depth is 100 feet or less. They are powered by a 12-volt battery and propelled forward by two electric thrusters with a combined thrust of 80 pounds.

The interior of the subs becomes half-filled with water before diving underneath the surface of the water. The water comes up to the waist of the pilot.

They are equipped with custommade communications systems. The brothers have headsets and can communicate with one another and a support diver or boat up to 3,000 feet away.

A pilot can get out of and back into their submarine underwater using scuba diving gear.

“This is really convenient for taking a closer look at something found, or for attending outside tasks,” said Russell. “The diver can swim back into the sub, close and lock down the hatch, purge air from any of the regulators to restore the cabin air pocket, and take off again to resume the adventure.”

The brothers have many ideas and goals for their submarines. They are not now produced on a large scale for resale, but Doug and Russell say they would like to see an opportunity for the submarines to be used in ecotourism, television, film, emergency response, archaeology, aquaculture, and surveying.

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