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How to Find the Right Underwater Connectors for Your Project

Posted by Evan Freemon on March 30, 2022 | Updated on April 19, 2024

How To Find The Right Underwater Connectors For Your Project

iCONN Systems is the creator of the NiobiCONN underwater connector, a solution that is self-insulating and corrosion-resistant. It does not require additional sealing, O-rings, gaskets, or oil bladders, so it’s designed to provide optimal quality and performance in any application. This connector is a frontrunner in the industry, but our capabilities do not stop here.

Contact us today to learn more about our other abilities in creating underwater connectors for a variety of industries.

The Importance of Underwater Connectors

Wet-mate connectors are the linchpin of a successful underwater application. Unless you identify the right subsea connectors for your project, it could be dead in the water, or, at the very least, require frequent, expensive repairs.

To prevent unnecessary repairs, let’s review the typical options available for underwater cable connectors, the benefits and shortcomings of each, and what considerations should be key to your decision-making process.

Types of Underwater Cable Connectors

Underwater connectors, also known as wet-mate connectors, subsea (electrical) connectors, or marine connectors, are designed to be mated or unmated in wet environments and are capable of withstanding the most extreme environments, from corrosive seawater and pressure to vibration and shock.

A traditional underwater connector relies on a watertight seal. Several variations have been developed over time to achieve this, including the following.

Rubber-Molded Wet-Mate Connectors

A wet-mate connector is created between a female connector end and a glass-reinforced, epoxy bulkhead connector through a locking sleeve as well as neoprene or polyurethane overmolding.

Rigid Shell Wet-Mate Connectors

Rigid shell wet-mate connectors are molded into a rigid body to offer greater stability, strength, and lockability. Two connector halves are screwed together, sealing the junction with an O-ring.

Fluid-Filled Wet-Mate Connectors

For this component, a chamber is filled with oil or another dielectric fluid to isolate the contacts from water. As the ends are mated, the contact pins are wiped clean by the diaphragm in the face of the receptacle. 

Inductive Couplings

These pinless, subsea connectors attach magnetically without exposing any conductive parts to the outside environment.

How do you determine which type of standard wet-mate connector is best for your needs? Let’s take a deeper dive into the specs for each.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Subsea Electrical Connectors

The industry’s long-standing underwater interconnect solutions vary in application, material, and design. A typical underwater cable connector often features O-rings, gasket seals or oil bladders, and copper contacts. 

Before settling on the right waterproof assembly for your implementation, be sure to evaluate the following key criteria.


The metal used for your subsea connector must be strong enough to withstand its intended marine environment. Depending on a project’s needs, such as extreme corrosion resistance, tensile strength, minimal electrical conductivity, or high melting point, 316 stainless steel, Inconel, and titanium are considered three materials of choice. 

Typically, 316 stainless steel is preferable for subsea electrical connectors because it’s well-equipped to resist corrosion after undergoing design and manufacturing processes that involve welding. The resulting underwater cable connectors can also withstand high-corrosion environments and boast considerable resistance to heat.

A variation of stainless steel and Inconel is considered a superalloy due to its mechanical strength, surface stability, and corrosion resistance. Though that is the case, few pure metals have more strength than titanium. This is because it has an extremely high corrosion resistance and a tensile strength that’s at least double that of aluminum.

Cost of Subsea Connectors

From a cost perspective, stainless steel is a reasonable choice for wet-mate connectors and will stand up to the elements quite well. However, for applications that require truly exceptional corrosion and heat resistance, titanium is the preferred option. 


Peak performance in the field is where it matters. Some subsea connectors boast guarantees of remaining operational underwater for up to 25 years with long-term water resistance. On the other hand, certain underwater cable connectors are considered difficult to implement in the field due to a tendency to leak or become compromised at a certain pressure rating.


As your waterproof assembly is submerged deeper underwater, the equipment is subjected to increasing amounts of pressure reaching up to and often greater than 10,000 psi. Without the right subsea electrical connector for your application, this amount of force can negatively impact any number of components, increase system failures, or jeopardize operations.

Cable Assembly

Typical subsea connectors come in a wide range of cable assemblies, including electrical, fiber optic, or pressure-balanced, oil-filled. 


Wet-mate connectors are rated for an application’s specific depth and pressure. For example, a subsea connector may have a mated pressure rating of up to 20,000 psi but is tested in an even more rigorous marine environment.

Lead Time of Subsea Electrical Connectors

A long lead time generally is required as traditional wet-mate connectors take 18 weeks, or more than 4 months, from the time an order is placed until delivery (and that’s without any disruptions in the supply chain). 

Overall, researching each of these seven key criteria relative to the specifications needed for your project will help in identifying the best traditional wet-mate connectors for your application.

It’s important to note that regardless of the advancements made over the years, underwater connectors still mix electricity with water. Traditional underwater connectors attempt to exclude water from their contacts by using rubber seals, oil, or moving parts.

Despite the industry’s best efforts, these wet-mate connectors are expensive, run the risk of high failure rates due to corrosion and other environmental factors, and can pose a potential safety risk.

About the Durable Wet-Mate Connectors from iCONN Systems

While engineers have made improvements in electrical wet-mate connector technology over the past 150 years, there are still disadvantages to tried-and-true traditional electrical connector interconnect solutions.

Imagine a connectivity solution that works with an underwater environment, utilizing the water to achieve optimal performance, instead of working against it. Thanks to the transition metal called niobium, known for its corrosion resistance and hypoallergenicity, a new waterproof assembly can achieve just that.

The first of its kind, iCONN’s wet-mate connectors utilize Northrop Grumman’s patented NiobiCon technology, which allows the connectors to intentionally let water in and can be mated and demated while fully exposed to water. The contacts will not corrode, the current will not continue to flow through the water when mated and unmated, and the electronics will not short out.

This new evolution of underwater cable connector technology significantly improves the industry’s longstanding design. It can be used on the surface, underwater while submerged at any depth, or wherever there is a wet, corrosive environment, such as in chemical processing plants, agriculture, automotive applications, and undersea operations.

Why We're Your Choice for Subsea Connectors

Unlike its counterparts on the market, iCONN’s wet-mate connector combines technology with the material’s natural ability to produce an insulating film when the connector’s contacts are exposed to water.

Many traditional underwater cable connectors have a stainless-steel construction and use gold-plated copper contacts. Instead of copper contacts, iCONN utilizes niobium, which delivers the same level of corrosion resistance as titanium, which is considered the premier material for corrosion resistance.

When niobiCONN contacts are energized and exposed to water, the contacts create their own passive, insulating film around the niobium contacts to protect the users and environment from electricity. This insulating film – 99.79% thinner than a strand of human hair – provides electrical connectivity and scrapes off as the connectors are mated. When the contacts are demated, the insulating film forms again within milliseconds.

The niobium contacts are also self-healing and safe from direct contact with power applied, up to 60VDC applications.

While traditional subsea electrical connectors can begin to corrode when exposed to water, the insulating film on iCONN’s wet-mate interconnects offers a more robust solution for subsea or wet location applications, and electronics.

iCONN’s aptly named niobiCONN™ wet-mate connectors can be mated and disconnected wet or fully submerged without the standard risk of corrosion or safety hazards, ultimately delivering safe and reliable electrical connectivity in water.

Also, niobiCONN™ connectors can be customized to meet the parameters of your project. This includes a reduced lead time by more than half compared to traditional underwater connectors – 18 weeks down to an average of six to eight weeks from order to delivery.

Contact iCONN Systems for Subsea Connectors

Ready to see how the niobiCONN™ wet-mate connectors will enhance your project? Contact an iCONN Systems sales representative to learn more about our line of underwater cable connectors.


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