Labor Day Boat Race

By Stuart Fletcher
Veteran Landings Club Cardboard Boat Racer

“Are you the duct tape boat guy?” I get that sometimes, especially this time of year. If you ask me, it’s not a bad thing to be recognized for in your community. The reference is to the Landings Club’s Annual Cardboard Boat Race that is held every Labor Day. This year the race will be held at the Franklin Creek Pool on Monday, September 2 starting at 1:30 p.m. As it is every year, this event is a lot of fun. The one difference this year, at least from my perspective, is that I will not be entering a boat.

Building a Duct Tape Boat is fun, and putting it in the water for the race is even more fun. I may be known for constructing elaborate boats, but they don’t need to be museum-quality to be well worth the effort. You can make, literally, whatever floats your boat. All it takes is cardboard and duct tape. Just those two construction materials are needed, and only those two materials can be used…for the boat and for the paddles. But as anyone who has seen the races can tell you, it is remarkable how creative people can be in constructing their boats.

There are two age groups, adult and youth, and two categories, fastest and most creative. The boats race one at a time. Youth are timed for one length of the pool and adults must complete two lengths. The best time wins. Most people compete individually, even if family and friends help to build the boat, but team paddlers are allowed (just remember that paddles must be used and that they all must be made only of cardboard and duct tape). All the boats are judged for Most Creative before they go into the water, but they must complete the race to be considered for the prize. It is a fun race to compete in or to watch. Every year, more and more people compete and every year the boats get better and more creative.

If you have never made a boat allow me to share a few tips by means of encouraging you to build one to enter the race. In the end, I’m sure that you will agree that even if you don’t bring home a trophy, you will consider yourself a winner for all the fun you will have!

  • Tip 1: Simple is easy. Curves are difficult to make out of cardboard and edges are easier to tape. Keep that in mind as you design your boat.
  • Tip 2: Choose good cardboard. Size isn’t as important as strength. The water will support the bottom of your boat and most boats will only displace an inch or so of water, so they do not need to have high sides.
  • Tip 3: Tape in long, overlapping strips. Tape your boat together first. Then, overlapping the duct tape between 1/3 and ¼ of the tape’s width, tape the boat from stern to bow (back to front). Longer runs of tape look better and ensure water resistance. Make sure the tape adheres to the cardboard by running your hand firmly over each strip.
  • Tip 4: Choose tape wisely. Using the traditional gray duct tape is most cost effective. Colored duct tape is great for accents or to color your boat. Whatever tape you use just make sure it sticks well. Cutting, rather than ripping, the tape helps to avoid air pockets that let water in.
  • Tip 5: Paddles. Double up the heaviest cardboard you can find, alternating the direction of the corrugation (the ribs in the middle of the cardboard). This gives strength to the paddle. Just make sure that you duct tape them really, really well.
  • Tip 6: Water and Cardboard don’t mix. It is the duct tape that “waterproofs” your boat. Make sure that you tape the edges really well and that you tape where you sit (the inside of the boat to protect it from splashes). When cardboard gets wet, it loses its strength. If it gets too wet, then you will find yourself trying to paddle a wet noodle.
  • Tip 7: Have Fun! Need I say more?

Remember that the only two materials that you can use are cardboard and duct tape. No glue. No stickers. No paint. It is helpful to have a good box cutter or Xacto Knife to cut your cardboard.

You will be amazed at what you can make out of these two simple materials, and how much fun you can have doing it!