Before the sunscreened bodies slipped into the cool water, robots roamed a pool at Adventure Island.
Six student teams from across Florida raced Saturday to make their homemade marine robots grab toy crabs, take temperature readings and pull small rocks off a pipe placed at the bottom of a 10-foot pool.
The winner gets to compete in international competition in San Diego.
The two local teams — King High School and Hillsborough Community College — faced off first.
The high school students had been scrambling minutes earlier, to fix a remote-controlled claw on their robot.
"It was pretty frantic," team captain Tyler Owens, 17, said.
They fixed it with spare parts and lowered "Lionfish" into the water.
On the other side of the pool, the HCC students had some trouble too. Their more complicated robot, "Fish Hawk," wasn't working.
Team captain Siva Beharry made the call to pull the robot out of the water. The compressor drew too much power. They should have had another outlet, he said.
Sometimes a simpler robot is better, HCC computer science instructor Richard Senker said.
"Keep it simple because fewer components can break," he said.
That seemed to be the driving philosophy behind King's robot, which was made of PVC pipes, water noodles, a baking rack and propeller. Owens controlled it with a joystick on a black control box.
The college students' robot was bigger, connected with a thick bundle of cords in a rainbow of colors. Beharry controlled it with a computer.
Beharry's brother and teammate, Ary Beharry, said that while the complicated machine gave them trouble, it had taught them about the potential of remotely operated vehicles.
"It was definitely a learning experience," he said.
That's the goal of the Marine Advanced Technology Education Center's competition, judges said. Coordinator Erica Moulton encouraged the students to network with judges and officials, who work with robots.
"Ask him how you can get his job," she told the students, pointing to an Odyssey Marine Exploration employee.
The King High team placed third in the competition, while Edgewater High School from Orlando won.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.