Students design boats for swimming pool races

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 6, 2015

 Students Vanessa Vuljaj and Pietro Consiglio row a boat during the event.

Students Vanessa Vuljaj and Pietro Consiglio row a boat during the event.

Photo by Donna Agusti


Hundreds of Utica Community Schools students were recently all aboard an idea to build and race boats big enough to climb inside and use.

Eisenhower High School career and technical education students joined physics students to compete in the first-ever CTE/Physics Cardboard Boat Regatta on April 24 to test the construction and durability of their handcrafted vessels. The boat race was conducted in a high school swimming pool.

Eisenhower teacher Ryan deCardenas said the CTE students have backgrounds in construction, auto technology, design, engineering, woodworking and architecture. Physics students also came along for the ride.

Students put their skills to use by building the boats in the school’s auto shop with the help of some commonplace supplies.

“The kids all got to design their own boats,” deCardenas said. “We had several different designs. They were given four sheets of cardboard, a half-roll of tape. … Some kids used the pontoon idea. Other kids put ribs on the side of the boats to reinforce them.”

DeCardenas said the students built a total of around 65 boats, with each team containing five or six students. The boats were large — but no longer than 10 feet, no wider than 4 feet and no higher than 30 inches, he explained.

Students constructed the boats in hopes that they could float and race. The boats were large enough to fit two students, who had to row the vessels to the edge of the pool and back.

Boats were painted and judged according to which was the best looking in a separate competition, deCardenas said.

Keeping the cardboard from buckling or getting soggy was part of the challenge for the students to overcome, he explained.

“The students had to seal the cardboard,” he said. “Other kids just painted it with Flex Seal. We did see some caulk.”

During the races, deCardenas said, some boats ended up capsizing right away, while others were able to complete the full trips for multiple races. Students’ success often came from learning all the things that they shouldn’t do, he said.

Overall, he said, the event and its social elements were a hit with the students.

“I think one of the biggest things that I hear was teamwork (and) real-life experience of working with students who were outside of their classroom,” he said.

Eisenhower sophomore Owen Ross, 16, said the project was a lot of fun to do, even if his boat “sank pretty fast.” He said he would  change the design next time.

“I made a catamaran-style boat, so there were two pontoons,” he said. “I just wanted it to be fast, and I wanted to cut through the water.”

Learn more about Eisenhower High School, 6500 25 Mile Road in Shelby Township, by visiting or by calling (586) 797-1300.