The Story of Atlantis Submarines

Dennis Hurd is the president of Atlantis Submarines International, Inc., the company responsible for taking more than 11 million passengers on undersea adventures aboard its 48 and 64 passenger submarines. A fleet larger than that of many national navies, Atlantis subs are now found in Grand Cayman, Barbados, St. Thomas, Aruba, Guam, Cozumel, and on the Hawaii Islands of Hawaii, Maui and Oahu.

The Atlantis XIV, which operates off Waikiki Beach, Hawaii, accommodates 64 passengers, spans more than 100 feet and is the world’s largest passenger submarine. Hurd launched his first battery-powered, nonpolluting Atlantis Submarine in December 1985 off the coast of the Cayman Islands. The high-tech nature of the vessel, the air-conditioned, pressure-controlled cabin, and the underwater beauty of the reef made the attraction an instant hit. A design engineer who once captained a 20-ton schooner from Nova Scotia to the Bahamas, Hurd came up with the idea of recreational submarines during his tenure at International Hydrodynamics (“Hyco”).

At the time, Hyco was the world leader in deep-sea manned submersibles and the developer of submersibles that could tend North Sea oil rigs to depths of 6,600 feet. In the 1970’s, Hurd would often take clients down in these submarines to inspect drilling sites. The thrill these executives got from subsea exploration was enough to make him think seriously about underwater tourism. During the slow winter months of 1977, Hurd studied the possibility of taking small submersibles into the Bahamas, but quickly discovered that a vehicle with capacity far more than one or two passengers would be a more financially viable option. From 1979-1983, Hurd ran his own worldwide service company, Offshore Engineering Corporation, which operated the small oil-industry subs. In 1983, he used the profits from that successful venture to start what is now the Atlantis Submarines organization.

Beginning with $250,000 in design and development money from friends and business acquaintances, Hurd completed preliminary drawings and market studies. He then went on to raise the millions necessary to build Atlantis I. Atlantis I was based on 15 years prior experience in the research and commercial submersible industry including extensive experience in both the design and operational aspects of the technology. Atlantis I was purpose built to carry 28 passenger on hour long trips to tour coral reefs in tropical resort locations — a way for all people to experience the underwater world previously the reserve of scuba divers. Atlantis I would dive to 150 feet in air conditioned comfort and with no pressure on the passengers. Precise maneuvering would tour guests close to the reefs, viewed from large windows which were customer designed, built and tested by Atlantis.

In 1986, Atlantis I began the world’s first tourist submarine operation in Grand Cayman. It was highly successful and attracted world wide attention. Essentially a prototype, improvements were made in the early stages and incorporated into Atlantis II, which was displayed at the world exposition, Expo86, in Vancouver. The Atlantis II journeyed directly from the expo and reached Barbados in 1986. The official opening was held on February 1987.

The design and operational experience gained with Atlantis I and II led to the development of Atlantis III, a much larger, 48 passenger sub, which was launched in 1987 in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. This was the first submarine to be certified by the US Coast Guard. Atlantis started the School Children’s Program; classroom work is followed by a dive, which provides children with real exposure to the ocean environment, and an awareness of its fragile nature.

Subsequent 48 passenger submarines were launched in Kona, Maui, and Oahu on the Hawaiian Islands, and in Guam, Aruba, and Mexico during this period. In 1994, a 64 passenger submarine was designed and built for Oahu in Hawaii. At the time, Oahu has two operating subs, but the large market demand led to this larger third submarine. Of particular interest in Oahu is the underwater submarine adventure. Atlantis built and deployed a series of reef structures aimed at attracting and protecting numerous different marine life into an area that was previously scoured by a hurricane many years ago, removing the protective coral cover for marine life.

In November 1998, Atlantis expanded its operations beyond the submarine tours into semi-submersible and island tours. Semi-subs provide passengers with a view of the ocean from large windows placed opposite seats located below the ocean surface — however, the semi-submarine does not submerge and dive. Excellent viewing is had in shallow water reefs. Today, semi-submarines (also know as Seaworld Explorer) are operated by Atlantis in Grand Cayman, St. Martin, Aruba, and Curacao. During this period Atlantis further expanded into other tours and currently provides catamaran sailing, snorkel and a variety of adventures in all its island operations.

Hurd has taken his idea through the whole spectrum of challenges that are involved in designing, financing, and building a unique vessel, having it approved by regulatory authorities and insured, moving it into production, developing operating systems, maintenance systems and training programs, and establishing operating sites around the globe.

Last year the organization employed approximately 450 people, operating 11 tourist submarines and several other tours at 11 locations around the world, and carried almost 1 million passengers. Among Atlantis’ passengers are over 40,000 local school children, whose classes participated in the company’s “Living Classroom” program.

Quite a story!

Dennis Hurd

President / CEO / Founder Atlantis Adventures

Dennis Hurd and a group of investors draw up plans for Atlantis I, the world’s first public-passenger submarine.

Atlantis I is put into service and entertains her first passengers off the coast of the Cayman Islands, British West Indies.

Atlantis II makes her public debut at EXPO 86 in Vancouver, British Columbia.

A larger Atlantis, the 48-passenger Atlantis III, goes into operation off the coast of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. This submarine would become the US Coast Guard’s benchmark for certifying public-passenger submarines in US territorial and coastal waters.

Operations are launched in Barbados featuring the 28-passenger Atlantis II submarine.

Atlantis Submarines gains worldwide media attention with National Geographic and “Good Morning America”. Operations are launched in Kona, Hawaii featuring the Atlantis IV and the Atlantis V on the island of Guam.

Operations in Oahu, Hawaii commence with the debut of the all new Atlantis VI.

Operations are launched in Aruba featuring the all new Atlantis VII.

Atlantis unveils the all new Atlantis IX and X vessels for use in the Hawaiian islands. Operations in Maui, Hawaii commence and operations in Honolulu become the first two-vessel operation at Atlantis Adventures.

The 20,000th child participates in the “Atlantis Living Classroom” experience.

Atlantis launches Mexico’s first passenger submarine (Atlantis XII) off the coast of Cancun. The state of the art, 64-passenger Atlantis XIV debuts off the coast of Oahu, Hawaii.

Atlantis purchases the Shorex operation featuring a fleet of semi-submersibles and acquires 100% full ownership of operations in Aruba.

Atlantis’ operations in Cancun, Mexico are relocated to the island of Cozumel.

Acquisition of Atlantis V.I. Adventures in St. Thomas and the expansion into the tour brokering business. Hawaii acquires Navatel I and launches the Atlantis Cruises tour.

Atlantis Adventures debuts new Rhino Rider Water Safari tours in Barbados.

Atlantis Adventures launches expanded website, unifying core operations and expanded online reservation capabilities.

Atlantis Adventures celebrates 15 years of operation on the Hawaiian Islands.

Atlantis Adventures reaches two milestones including 20 years of operation and more than 10 million passengers.

Atlantis Submarines St. Thomas closed, submarine moved to Barbados.

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