Low cost underwater drop camera with lights, temp, pressure, and conductivity sensor

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A CTD (conductivity temp depth) and a BRUV (baited remote underwater video) are basic oceanography equipment. I'm combining them using Raspberry Pi Zero W and PVC pipe housing to do deep underwater videos for < $200 w/o conductivity sensor ($215 by itself). It also writes a CTD.csv file with all the sensor data. This will allow citizen scientists to add to basic info. If can get enough interest I'd like to setup a repository for files to share with researchers. PiCTDCL is still a work in progress. Current deepest I've dropped it to is 178m (584'). Working out a few glitches in software but getting close. Videos from my PiCTDCL are on my YouTube(link below).

PiCTDCL records 1640x922 video at 30fps with an overlay at top of date, time, temp, depth, salt, and specific gravity. I control Pi with my phone using VNC to start and stop python program.

Current version has:

   Raspberry Pi Zero W

   Raspberry Pi Camera

  25000 mah li ion battery

   8 - 3watt LED

   SI7051 temp sensor

   30 bar pressure sensor

   Atlas Scientific Conductivity sensor

   1 1/2" sch40 PVC

   1/16" LEXAN

What I'd Change if I was building another:

   Make the lights self contained with wireless charging

   Use 1 1/2" sch80 PVC

   3/8" or 1/2" LEXAN (do have some 3/8" going use)


mount to hold Pi Zero and camera in 1 1/2' pvc pipe.

Standard Tesselated Geometry - 204.99 kB - 06/05/2018 at 21:48



copy of the csv file from monday in Hood Canal. file naming is year month day time latitude and longitude

Comma-Separated Values - 414.89 kB - 04/11/2018 at 18:39


latest version of my program. adds input for latitude and longitude. compresses the video file a little more. and converts h264 file to mp4 automatically when it finish recording time or ctr-c is press.

x-python-script - 5.96 kB - 04/11/2018 at 18:34


python 2.7 file for PiCTDCL. Creates a folder based on date and time. Writes a CTD.csv file with all sensor readings. Writes 23 15min video files. Uses following sensors: SI7051 temp sensor. MS5803-30BA pressure sensor. EZO-EC conductivity sensor from Atlas Scientific.

x-python-script - 4.60 kB - 03/25/2018 at 20:59


  • 1 × Raspberry Pi Zero W
  • 1 × Raspberry Pi Camera
  • 2 × 10000 mah Li ion phone battery pack need to find ones that controller board will fit in 1 1/2" PVC pipe
  • 2 × L293D Interface and IO ICs / Peripheral Drivers and Actuators
  • 1 × SI7051 i2c temp sensor

View all 7 components

  • Lower cost conductivity prob hack

    Steve Haan04/11/2018 at 19:07 1 comment

    okay saw a paper on using a hacked USB cable for conductivity prob. Going to try this see if I can get it to work. This would drop cost of adding conductivity to your camera from $215 to $60. Hopefully this works...

  • Test 178m

    Steve Haan04/10/2018 at 19:22 0 comments

    did final do a test in Hood Canal by Triton at 178m (584') and it all worked fine. I did upgrade the Lexan from 1/16" to 3/8" just incase. Videos are up on YouTube. Did have a problem with wiring a couple days ago I'm using solid core wires and with pulling this out and putting it in the housing had a wire break from fatigue. 

  • Question how detailed

    Steve Haan03/30/2018 at 21:46 0 comments

    Okay this is my first project. just started writing instructions. How detailed should these be? I'm assuming anyone building this has some experience doing this kind of stuff or should I be more detailed?

  • Another test

    Steve Haan03/22/2018 at 19:48 0 comments

    Well on 03/20/18 did a test in Case Inlet (80m) for 4hrs all went okay. I'm uploading videos to YouTube now. 17 segments. Once I finish uploading going to go back and add name for all animals. Lots of fish, crabs as well as a 8" nudibranch and a Harbor Seal. Tried to do a test 03/19/18 on Hood Canal but to much wind 

View all 4 project logs

  • 1

    My battery pack for PiCTDCL is made from 2 phone battery charger packs. Batteries reconfigured to fit in PVC pipe. 

    This is where you'll have to decide what size PVC you're going to use. Batteries side by side for 1 1/2" pipe and double stacked that if 2". There are trade offs to both. 2" easier to fit things but a little more expensive fittings and can't go as deep (500') . 1 1/2" tighter have to find battery packs with skinny charger boards to reuse but should go deeper (testing at 570' tomorrow if weather good will update) think it will do 650'. Future version 1 1/2" sch80 1200' maybe or pop.

    My battery pack is 25,000 mah. I'm running every thing off this one pack. It should run for 6+ hrs. I need to test this next rainy week when I can run it till it dies.

  • 2
    Temperature Sensor

    I'm using a Si7051 very small I2C calibrated sensor +- 0.1-0.2C 

    I temporarily siliconed it to scrape PVC to make it easier to hold while soldering. once it was tested on bread board. then I embed it in light amount of marine epoxy to help stabilize the wires (pain when you have to resolder when one falls off).

    You can use a different sensor if you chose just need to modify software to work with it.

  • 3
    Pressure Sensor

    I'm using MS5803-30BA pressure sensor with I2C interface good to 30 Bar (300M, 985'). Another tiny sensor to solder.

    Check make sure it's working on bread board.

View all 4 instructions

Enjoy this project?



Fred Fourie wrote 07/02/2018 at 06:07 point

This is a really cool project! I'm doing something vaguely similar. 

178m is impressive! What is your total battery endurance at the moment? How did you handle the mounting of the pressure sensor?

  Are you sure? yes | no

Steve Haan wrote 07/02/2018 at 21:20 point

up to 189m now but that is as deep as I can get to around here without being in the shipping channel or driving a long way. Battery pack with 25000mah would do about 5 1/2 hrs. Just upgraded it to 35000mah going to go test it soon see how long now. As to pressure found that needed a strap wrench to tighten union joint. Tightening by hand I found had slow leak anything over 100'. Also I was using 1/16" Lexan that worked at 500' but was thinking that had to be close to limit so got some 3/8" Lexan now. Used marine epoxy to encapsulate bottom of pressure sensor and wire connections then ran the wires into PVC and sealed it with more epoxy.

  Are you sure? yes | no

ActualDragon wrote 03/17/2018 at 22:06 point

XD pretty cool, i'd love to use one of these to scope out some fishing holes. There's one i go to that is at least 100ft deep

  Are you sure? yes | no

Steve Haan wrote 03/18/2018 at 01:49 point

It should do that easily. The CTD.csv file will let you see temp layers should help find fish too.

  Are you sure? yes | no

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