Engineering students prepare for the annual Cardboard Boat Race


Onway sophomore Elaina Madison, left, Yale junior Chris Carabelli, middle, and Howell sophomore Brooke Friedman, right, work on their cardboard boat on Oct. 9 in the hallway of the Engineering and Technology building. 

A class of Central Michigan University engineering students is preparing to take part in one of the university’s most entertaining homecoming traditions. 

The 20th annual Cardboard Boat Race will take place at 1p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, at the Rose Ponds, located near the Student Activity Center.

The Cardboard Boat Race has been a homecoming tradition since the first event in 1998. During the week leading up to the race, engineering students at CMU have to calculate how to create a boat out of cardboard and keep it afloat while transporting three people across the Rose Pond.

Students have to use a specific engineering design process in order to keep their boat afloat, said Brian DeJong, engineering professor and race coordinator. 

“The students must figure out the buoyancy, where the water line is going to be, center of gravity, their drag versus their friction and how you can reduce the drag,” DeJong said. “(Students) must use calculations to figure out their time and distance to then figure out what their power was, so they have to incorporate engineering design and calculations.”

The students in the Engineering 120 class receive $100 to purchase their material, which include cardboard, duct tape and liquid nails. The items must only be obtained from the engineering department. 

Students have five days to design and build their boat. DeJong said this ensures every team has an equal opportunity to win.

During the race, students must race their boats from the north-end of the pond, across through the portage, through the second pond and all the way around the statue. The race is run in several intervals and is timed. Whoever has the best time wins.

Each group consists of four people and three must race in the boat.

The races are mandatory for the EGR 120 class, but are still open to other student groups. More than 200 participants and more than 40 boats will be involved this year – 35 boats are from EGR 120 and between five and eight from other student groups.

“Students who have participated still talk about it – it’s a rite of passage,” DeJong said. 

Howell sophomore Brooke Friedman, a student in EGR 120, is excited about her involvement in the event. 

“It’s a big deal, and it’s a big involvement for Central,” Friedman said. “A lot of former engineering students get excited about it and come support us.”