Wind Up Plastic Bottle Submarine




About: I studied Maths and Computing, worked in an Operation Research department, retrained as a civil engineer, worked on site for some major projects. I'm learning to be a structural engineer at the moment! I've ...

This is an oldie, and I guess probably originated as a variation on the wind up elastic planes.

It's fairly simple, and a great one to do with kids.

Date made: June 2013
Approx Cost: £0 (recycled materials)
Approx Time: 0.5 to 1hr
Difficulty: Easy

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: What You Need

Materials you will need are:

*2no bottles (I used one 500ml for the propeller, and one 600ml for the body, but you could experiment with different sizes and shapes)
*3no elastic bands
*2no paper clips
*1no piece of wood about 150mm long (maybe an old broken ruler? I ended up using 2 plant markers)
*1no bead

Tools you will need:

*knife or scissors (I used a combination of both)
*drill or some sort of punch (I used a 2mm drill bit)
*long piece of hooked wire (coat hanger?)
*random tools for bending the body paper clip (you'll see!)

Step 2: Propeller

Take one bottle (ideally with big ridges on the bottom) and cut the bottom off.

Cut holes in one side of each ridge (the same side on each). This will give you a propeller shape as per the photos.

Then drill a hole in the middle of the propeller and the other bottles cap, just big enough for a paper clip. Drill an offset hole in the propeller to lock off the paper clip too.

Next bend the paper clip and feed it through the cap and the propellor as shown in the photos. I ended up using a bead between the propeller and the cap to reduce the friction.

Step 3: Sub Body

Next prepare the body of the sub by drilling two holes in the end of the bottle. One in the center and one off center.

Bend and feed a paper clip through the center hole, locking it off with the other off center hole.

Bend a hook in to the paperclip that is inside the bottle! This requires a bit of patience, a bit of jiggerypokery, and use of some random tools you have to try and bend in to shape inside the bottle!

Or if you had some long nosed pliers you could bend outside the bottle and then feed the paper clip through the inside of the hole!?! You'll find a way!

Step 4: Fit Propellor to Body

Attach the elastic band between both paper clips, you will need to use the long hooked wire to do this - using it to 'fish' inside the bottle.

Once connected between the two, screw on the cap.

Step 5: Add Stabilisers

Use two elastic bands around the bottle to secure the piece of wood as a stabilizer.

This wood will act as 'fins' to ensure that the body remains still, whilst the propeller spins. Without it, the body would spin as well as the propeller.

Step 6: Find Buoyancy and Play

To use just wind up, as you would an elastic band plane, and launch in water!
Really you want the propeller to turn so that it pushes the water backwards. If you are unsure which way that is, just try both!

If the bottle is full of air, the propeller will sit above the water where it won't do much.
If the bottle is full of water, it will sink and will be too heavy to move.
Experiment with different amounts of water in the bottle to try and get the propeller to sit just right in the water.

Experiment with the position of the stabilizers.

Here are some links to a couple of videos:

My elastic band wasn't very strong, it was quite thin. Use the thickest, strongest elastic band you can, so that you can wind it up loads, that way you will get some reasonable power. 

If you get enough power, and get the sub neutrally buoyant by getting the amount of water right, you should be able to get it to move underwater. 

Launch It! Contest

Participated in the
Launch It! Contest

Toy Contest

Participated in the
Toy Contest

Be the First to Share


    • Instrument Contest

      Instrument Contest
    • Make it Glow Contest

      Make it Glow Contest
    • STEM Contest

      STEM Contest

    9 Discussions


    Question 7 months ago

    I made a very similar model however i am having trouble making it stay under water without touching the bottom..I fill it with a lot of water but it doesn't balance because it has an air bubble. how can I fix this


    6 years ago

    I did this for my two year old son to play with in the bathtub. I used six rubber bands between the nose and the prop, but it spun the bottle because my "wings" were too short and I used a very buoyant wood. I work in a metal fab shop, so I'm going to try making him a longer wing from a thin ga. metal tomorrow. Overall a fun idea, mine just needs a few tweaks.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Multiple elastic bands is a good idea. Making the wings wider should help as well as making them longer.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    I couldn't find a drill so I used some kind of geometry tool heated on a candle.
    Anyways it's cool so I voted for it in the toy contest

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Good idea. A heated wire might be a good way to cut the propeller as well. Would make nice neat cuts through the thick plastic.

    Obviously without burning yourself!!!


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Neat stuff!
    (You can use the YouTube share>embed tool to get the iframe code and paste it into the Instructables editor under . That way your videos show up here!)

    2 replies