Enjoyment Factor: 7/10

Teamwork Rating: 7/10

Leadership Opportunity: 7/10

Age Range: 12+

Activity Time: 2-3 Hours

Set Up Time: 30 Minutes

Equipment Requirements: High

Indoor/Outdoor (Requires access to water)


Cardboard regattas have been around for as long as there has been excess cardboard and groups of people looking to have fun. The idea is very simple: Create a boat out of cardboard that can carry you and your friends; preferably faster than boats made by your competitors, but that is more importantly watertight! While the premise of the idea is simple there is an almost infinite list of ways to customise and reenergise the activity for the more experienced sailors. What I have included here are two options for organising a cardboard regatta. This is the first standard version and is a fairly easy to run activity that requires less organisational oversight but still packs a lot of fun, especially for younger teens. Their is also a second (Advanced) variation outlined in a separate page which is the result of a few years tweaking and experimenting and is my favourite variation - one which requires at least one person to be in constant attention running the activity and more material but is a great way to incorporate team based problem solving into the competition.

This section gives a detailed description of everything you need to know to plan and operate a standard regatta. Finally at the end there are learning outcomes or teaching points that we would discuss as a group after the activity was complete.


Standard Regatta

The Idea

For this version of a cardboard regatta the idea is very simple: build a boat out of cardboard that can take a specified number of people from one side of a swimming pool or over a marked distance on a lake. 

What You Need to Know

Ideally teams are made up of around 6-10 people. If you are using teams of ten people it is important to structure the build time and the make up of the teams to make sure all of the participants are continually getting the opportunity to be involved. For teams of more than eight I would recommend using the advanced version. When planning this activity it is also important to take into account the make up of the teams. For participants younger than say 14 it is a good idea to have an older group leader leading the build as the game is much more fun if the boats work (at least to begin with!). For older groups I have found it is better for the leader to take a back seat and let the participants work through the various challenges themselves.

What You Need

  • Cardboard and lots of it!
    • Using this activity at a summer camp we were fortunate to have access to large amounts of cardboard boxes produced by the kitchens.
    • If you don't have access to cardboard on site then large supermarkets and hardware stores go through a huge number of boxes that you can usually ask to take away.
    • Failing that you can buy large sheets of cardboard but these can be expensive and I would always advocate trying to use recycled material first.
  • Duck Tape.
    • Again this is available in all hardware stores and large supermarkets (i.e. Walmart).
    • It comes at an additional cost but I would strongly recommend using good quality duck tape as the whole activity can struggle if the tape is not strong enough to hold the boats together during the build phase.
  • Waterproofing.
    • Large bin liners were what I always used as they were at hand.
    • Any kind of polythene sheeting which is available in hardware stores at a cheap price for large roles.
  • Decorating Supplies
    • A good way to keep everyone involved is to have a design element to the competition.
    • Pens, paints, papers, figurines you name it anything goes.
      • If using a swimming pool be careful using paint.

Running the Game

When it comes time to run the game divide the supplies evenly between the teams. What I found was the easiest way to do this was to make a pile of all of the cardboard in the middle of the field, mark out a build area for each team and then shout go and let the teams collect as much cardboard as possible from the middle. It usually produced a fairly even distribution of cardboard and got everyone excited and involved in the process right from the beginning. The build time was always stipulated between 90-120 minutes depending on available time as this gives enough to get creative but so much that people have the chance to finish early. Typically I would give two 50m roles of tape to each team. It is a lot but ensures they have enough to make strong boat that has a chance of surviving more than one race.

The Competition

  • Design Award.
    • There is always the opportunity to set a theme for the boats i.e. pirate ships, sailing boats, battleships etc.
    • Points awarded for creativity, ingenuity and originality. If you want to get technical I like having a category for engineering.
  • Float test.
    • The first opportunity to try out the boats in the water.
    • Depending on the age range of the groups you are working with and the amount of cardboard that has been sourced.
    • Teams must get two members into their boat and stay afloat for 60s.
    • This test often proves the end for many boats before racing even happens!
  • Racing.
    • After the float test comes the main event.
    • For a chosen distance the teams must have a member race their boat from one side tot he other - simple as that!
    • Fortunately it is very hard to sink a cardboard boat so even the boats that are not even close to water tight can still be used as a ferry in someway for the team.
    • There are loads of racing variations to try out as well:
      • Relay Race.
      • Multiple people in the boat race.
      • Start facing the wrong way.
      • Heats and a final.

General Tips

  • Having more cardboard than you need allows for bigger boats and a greater chance of the boats staying afloat when they are loaded with people
  • Be ready to clean the pool after from all the debris that comes off the boats!
    • A good idea is to have a competition at the end for which team can collect the most boat parts from the water - Saves your grounds manager from becoming upset with you!


If you have tried and loved Cardboard Regatta then any feedback that would make running the activity easier for other program leaders would be greatly appreciated.