My Nautilus Design

This description, by Benjamin Rinelli, explains his reasoning as he designed his Nautilus.


y intent in this design was to remain reasonably faithful to Verneís description, while acknowledging some practical concerns. These concerns mostly relate to the Nautilusís ability to withstand damage during its ram attacks. As Paul Kreutzer noted, ramming a ship will incur damage to both attacker and target.  Most of my 

departures from the text are intended to protect vulnerable components from the shock of impact. There are also a number of embellishments not described in the novel, but whose presence might be inferred from the necessities of operating a submarine (though Iím not an engineer). Of course, aesthetic judgments play a role in any design decision. I ultimately wanted something that would be recognizable both as the Nautilus of the book and as a product of 19th-century technology. Like many others, I turned to the Hunley and Winans reconstructions for inspiration.

The results are illustrated in the included figures. On to the tour!

The hull is spindle-shaped and of the dimensions given by Verne. The hull shape makes for a cramped interior, but is consistent with the illustrations and still fits the major rooms. The double hull is 30 centimeters thick. The hull plating, rather than the overlapping scales that Verne described, are of a conventional riveted plate construction. This arrangement would be easier to fabricate and possibly easier to repair (not to mention easier to draw!)

The ram is mounted on the center line and is shaped like a three-sided pyramid. While there are good arguments for mounting the ram high on the hull, my attempts at a raised mount appeared unwieldy for the given hull shape. So, a center line ram it is. The single anchor is deployed from a well behind the ram.  

The salon window is one of the most distinctive features on any Nautilus design. In this case, it is recessed into the hull and features a spotlight, as in several other designs. A metal cover slides vertically between the outer and inner hulls to cover the window. I decided to depart from the oblong window of the novel in favor of a circular one. As Jim Dutton pointed out, a circular window is stronger than an oval or rectangular one Ė certainly a worthwhile choice for a ship intended as a weapon. I briefly considered a three-part window, in which a circular frame is flanked by two crescent-shaped ones for an overall oval profile (see right).   I eventually decided against this shape, but found its appearance intriguing enough to be worth mentioning.  

The control surfaces are located behind fairings or cutwaters to prevent damage during an attack. The faired lower mount additionally protects the rudder from accidental impact with the seafloor. In another departure from Verne, the dive planes are mounted forward of amidships. This would provide greater control and perhaps could have been a modification added later in the Nautilusís career.

There are good arguments against a propeller guard, but I consider its presence vital. This guard is secured by three fairings, one on the top of the hull and one on either side. The propeller is four-bladed and based on that of USS Monitor. I imagine the propulsion system to be similar to the compact steam engine found on Monitor, but with electromagnets driving the pistons within the cylinders. The hull features port and starboard coolant water intakes just ahead of the engine compartment. The starboard intake is behind the lockout chamber (itself fitted with a spotlight,) and features a grille in order to prevent any unfortunate diver-ingestion incidents.


The platform and deck have the major features in the conventional layout, with two hatches. Retractable bollards and fixed cleats are a minor but useful change from the text. Forward of the platform is a wide groove cut into the upper hull Ė more on this later! Ė which is flanked by two openings for the waterspouts described in the novel. Aft of the platform are paired grilles for air intakes (providing a faster way to refill the air reservoir than simply opening the hatches.)

The longboat sits in the center of the deck. It is launched using the elegant rotating-frame arrangement proposed on this website. The longboat is held in its frame by two bolts, one on the prow and one above the rudder, and can rotate freely so that it remains upright during the entire launch sequence. I was quite pleased with my innovation until I saw that Greg Merkle had already described the exact same refinement to the system. Oh well, the setup is just too practical to ignore.

My largest departure from Verne is the use of cylindrical, not rectangular, shapes for the wheelhouse and lantern. Subject to an external force, a boxlike shape will concentrate stress along its edges and may be vulnerable to failure. A cylinder would absorb force more evenly and would be stronger for a given size. Both structures have four ports on their sides, the lanternís being offset by 45 degrees to prevent light shining directly into the wheelhouse. The lantern also has a fifth port on top, which is closed by internal shutters during normal operation and opened when the lantern retracts.

The wheelhouse itself is an opportunity to really make a distinctive design. It stands at the end of the groove cut into the upper hull. Immediately aft of it is a low structure containing the forward hatch, which descends directly into the chart room. A single cutwater, inspired by the Hunley, extends forward from the wheelhouse into the hull groove in order to protect the forward viewport. Giving the cutwater an archlike profile granted the happy accident of evoking Goffís raker arch.

Among the suggested solutions to the retraction problem was one offered by Don Finnerty: a groove in the upper part of the hull, which would allow some visibility for the helmsman when the Nautilus makes its attack. Oddly, no designs in the catalog have used this solution. The groove here is large enough that no part of the forward viewport will be obscured when the wheelhouse is retracted. Hinges on either end of the cutwater allow it to move with the wheelhouse. In its lowered position, the cutwater no longer projects above the hull, while not compromising protection to the vulnerable window. Itís the most unique part of this design, and the feature that Iím most proud of.

The result of all this is a Nautilus which to me appears sturdy, yet graceful, and keeps to the spirit of Verneís text. To me, the truly fascinating thing about this website is how it has become a venue for creative people to come together and debate the aspects of an icon of science fiction. The many, many designs exhibited here have each demonstrated great inventiveness and provoked rewarding thought. I would like in particular to thank Paul Kreutzer and Greg Merkle for their thoughtful analyses, and Michael Crisafulli for forming this community of creators. And of course, I wish to thank Jules Verne, for inspiring all of us.  


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