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Center for

Environment & Society

Cardboard Boat Regatta

Float on… or swim to shore! The Cardboard Boat Race is a favorite part of Fall Family Weekend because whether you sink or make it to the finish line, you’re going to have a blast.

Participants (at least 2 people on a team, with a max of 6 people on a team) design and build a human-powered boat made of corrugated cardboard which is capable of completing a trip around a 300-meter course. All participants must be a resident of Kent or Queen Anne’s counties (at least 12 years of age) or a student, faculty, staff, or alumni member of the Washington College community. Friends and family are invited to cheer on their favorite teams. The race starts along the Chester River at the Lelia Hynson Pavilion on September 21, 2019 at 3:00 PM.

Registration Fee $15 – Mariners may register online. All pre-registered Captains and their boats must check-in at the Center for Environment & Society table at 12:45 PM. Late registrants will not be eligible for the People’s Choice Award and may not be allowed to race. Entry fee is $15 and must be submitted in advance. There will be no walk ins on the day of the event.

To Register and pay your entry fee please visit the event page here. 

Boat Building Rules

The first ingredient in cardboard boat-building is creativity. The second important ingredient is problem-solving. Then there is cardboard, which must be corrugated. There is no one way to build a cardboard boat. There are some requirements about the use of certain substances and materials for boat construction. But other than those, people are encouraged to have fun.

Approved Construction Materials

  • Corrugated cardboard
  • tape
  • water-soluble caulk or silicone sealant
  • water-based wood glue
  • water-soluble outdoor latex-based primer/paint 

No foam, no plastic, and no wood allowed in building your boat! You may not wrap the hull in tape, plastic, shrink wrap or any other material. There are no restrictions placed on decorative materials as long as they do not aid in the flotation or propulsion of the boat and do not create a safety hazard. Stay away from stuff that is toxic, either for you or for the environment. Boats will be subject to a technical inspection before the race and must adhere to these guidelines. Any boat not following these guidelines will be disqualified. Exception: you may use wooden paddles or you may use wood to make paddles or oars.

Race Day Rules

Each boat must have a Captain and at least one crew member. That means a minimum of 2 people per boat, but the Captain may have up to 5 crew members (for a total of 6 people per boat). Captains must have their boats on the premises and check-in at the Center for Environment & Society Table at 12:30 PM. A Captains’ meeting will be held at 2:45 and a boat parade will take place right before the start of the race. The official race start is 3:00 PM. All regatta participants agree to abide by Washington College waterfront policies, safety precautions, and other rules that govern this event. No pushing, no punting, no poling. Judges make the final decisions on all awards.


The event is free to watch and open to the public. 

Safety Precautions

All boating participants must be at least 12 years of age and wear a life jacket and closed toe shoes (no bare feet or flip flops). Each occupant must be visible while the boat is in the water. Alcohol is prohibited.

What types of boats are involved?

We’ve heard of cardboard kayaks, barges, freighters, pirate ships, riverboats, rafts, beds, and other floating vessels in the shape of a bratwurst, a giant Tootsie Roll, cars, trucks, airplanes, space shuttles, aircraft carriers, dragons, sea monsters, sharks, dolphins, sea turtles and other marine animals — all made of cardboard, of course.

Before Building

Building a person-powered cardboard boat, capable of completing a trip around a 300-meter course, is a lot of fun. First, start with some objective in mind. Do you want to build the fastest boat at the regatta, or are you more interested in one of the awards for best theme or best team spirit? Perhaps you want to get on television or be featured in the Washington College Magazine

Next, envision what you want your cardboard creation to look like and come up with a design idea. Build a model using a manila folder or other heavy paper or lightweight cardboard. That way, you can fold, re-fold, and fold again to your heart’s delight. You can cut it up, glue or tape it together, and try out your design idea in small scale before working on a full-sized creation. Or you can throw out an idea that sounded great, but just doesn’t work, and then try something else before you waste any cardboard.

Most teams utilize engineering and design principles. Consider the science involved. There’s a simple principle in physics which says that the total buoyant force is equal to the weight of the water displaced by the object. This buoyant force is distributed evenly across the area of the object. Otherwise the boat bends in half when you get into it and water pours in. Calculate the displacement of your idea so that you will have some idea about the buoyancy of your design. 

Here’s the basic number: a cubic foot of water weighs about 62 pounds. That means that a 180-pound person will float in a boat that is 1 foot by 1 foot by 3 feet. Sounds uncomfortable, but at least you would know how much boat you and your crew will need at a bare minimum to displace enough water to stay afloat, without taking into account things like splashing or wobbling. Last minute modifications and frantic problem solving, however, are often required. Creative problem-solving adds to the fun. Whether you get your insights from methodical effort or from wide-ranging trial-and-error, building a cardboard boat can be very rewarding.

Be sure your boat will be able to get out the door of wherever you build it. There are woeful tales about creations that had to be dismantled — or even trashed and rebuilt — just because no one thought about the size of the boat and the size of the doorway.

Where to get materials?

You might obtain corrugated cardboard from appliance stores. The shipping boxes for refrigerators and big freezers can be good possibilities. Maybe you can get boxes for TVs, bedding, bookcases, or other furniture.