Underwater Mateable Connector History: The Agony and Euphoria of Their Development

May 29, 2020

A Virtual Symposium with Dr. James Cairns – Physicist, Oceanographer, and Lifelong Inventor

Wednesday, June 3 from 12:00 Noon – 1:00 PM (EST)

Register here!

Prior to the 1960’s there was no way to connect and disconnect electrical cables underwater. Subsea cable junctions had to be made in a dry environment and then lowered into the sea. To disconnect, they had to be retrieved into a dry space. In the early part of that decade, the first products to make and break cable junctions underwater were introduced.

This discussion relates the history of underwater connectors from those early days to the present as experienced by one of their inventors. The development has been a rocky road of disappointing failures punctuated here and there by great successes. The euphoria of success has made it all worthwhile. There’s practically nothing more satisfying than identifying a difficult problem, developing an invention to solve it, and then seeing people use it to do things they could never do before. The history of underwater mateable connectors has been like that. They have changed our world in important ways.

Panelist: James L. Cairns
Ph.D., Owner, Abyssal Systems; Executive Director, Cairns Foundation, Inc.; Founder, inventor, Ocean Design, Inc.

Dr. James Cairns

Dr. Cairns is a physicist, oceanographer, and lifelong inventor with more than sixty issued and pending U.S. patents. His most successful inventions have been components for subsea fiber-optic and electrical communications networks. He licensed his early inventions, and later co-founded two significant companies. The first company sold to Lockheed Corporation in 1985, and the second, Daytona Beach based Ocean Design, Inc., sold in 2009 to Teledyne Instruments, Inc. In 2003 he started The Cairns Foundation, a charitable organization supporting and encouraging innovation by creative students. He has received several prestigious awards for his contributions to marine science and technology, including:

  • The Marine Technology Society’s Compass Distinguished Achievement Award (2003)
  • The Marine Technology Society’s Lockheed Martin Award for Excellence in Marine Science and Engineering (2005)
  •  Induction into The Offshore Energy Center Hall of Fame for his pioneering work in subsea technology (2017)

His advances in subsea interconnect technology have allowed offshore systems to be constructed in profound ocean depths, greatly expanding the global area and capacity to work in that hostile environment.

Moderator: Andrew (Andy) Clark
Vice President of Research, Industry & Technology, Past President (1998) MTS and Explorers Club Fellow

Dr. Andy Clark

Dr. Clark’s (Ph.D.,) Ocean Engineering, University of Hawaii) professional life has spanned leadership positions in industry, academia and government beginning 1974 in the offshore oilfields, before joining Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) in 1979.

At HBOI, he led redesign of the famed JSL manned submersibles, increasing their design depths, equipping them with state-of-the art robotics and laser systems and logging many hours in these subs. He also led designs of purpose built ROVs for science and the specialized tools and systems needed to conduct undersea research and exploration. In 1998, Clark founded HARRIS Corporation’s Maritime Communications subsidiary and served as its first President and CEO. Appointed by NOAA in 2005 as Industry Liaison for the National Office of Ocean Observation, he led their effort to engage the Maritime Industry with the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS). In 2008 he founded and served as CEO of CSnet International, designing and deploying broadband seafloor sensor and Tsunami Early Warning Networks.

Trustee of Florida Institute of Technology (FIT), The Link Foundation, and Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans, he is also on the Ocean faculty of Florida Atlantic University (FAU). Dr. Clark has been awarded U.S. and international patents for unique underwater systems, the Lockheed-Martin Award for Science and Technology, Compass Distinguished Achievement Award, the John Craven Award for Mentorship, and now serves on the U.S. National Committee to the United Nations (UNESCO) Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).  

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