Mark Ragan In A Yellow Submarine

By Phil Scott

If you're living on the East Coast and have a hankering to earn your submarine license, then you can consider forking over $300 to lifelong submarine lover Mark Ragan and his Chesapeake Submarine Service. For that, you'll get three submersions and ascents in his little yellow submarine. Those dunks in the 12-foot Kittredge K-250, according to Ragan, make you a legitimate pilot for any small sub. The Coast Guard considers miniature submarines the equivalent of small boats in operating terms within the navigable rules of the road, like the 20-foot inboard/outboard that Ragan uses to putter around the Chesapeake Bay, so long as you don't take passengers for hire. To cart paying submarine passengers in U.S. coastal waters, Ragan had to pass the Coast Guard test on basic operations and procedures. To date, he's taught just over 200 people.

Photo of Mark Ragan in a yellow submarine... And he told us of his life, in the land of submarines.

"Everybody who's done it is cut from a different cloth," he says. "A guy came from Singapore, and I dove him for two days. The following day I got a call from the Department of Homeland Security, who had picked him up taking photos of the Pentagon. They wanted to know whom I'd taken down. But so far the guy's kept his nose clean."

Submarine instructor is not Ragan's only occupation. He's also an archaeologist, author, and project historian who worked on novelist Clive Cussler's quest to raise the Hunley, a 37-foot, hand-cranked Confederate submarine lost on the evening of February 17, 1864, with eight rebel volunteers. In April 1995, Cussler's crew located the sub, lying on her side in 27 feet of water, encased in silt. Today the Hunley sits in a freshwater tank at the Warren Lasch Conservation Center in South Carolina, preparing for its 150th anniversary in 2014. While compiling the complete history of the vessel, Ragan worked the night shift on the project as a hard-hat helmet diver. He's also written a book, The Hunley, on the subject.

As for the relatively slow traffic of students to his submarine business? "I think the problem is, humanity is not as adventure-oriented as I give them credit for," Ragan says. "But I don't want to totally condemn humanity for not taking submarine classes." 

— Published: October/November 2012


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