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Student Engineers Launch Concrete Canoes

Friday, June 16, 2017

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Traditionally, canoes have been made from materials like tree bark, reeds or canvas; more contemporary versions are often made from lightweight composites and plastics. Then, there’s the material of choice for a bunch of engineering students: concrete.

Concrete canoe championship 2016
Photos: Brandon Wade/AP Images for American Society of Civil Engineers

The vessels in ASCE's Concrete Canoe National Competition must float based on the buoyancy of the material itself, in the form of lightweight concrete, or because of solid flotation material that must be encased within the concrete.

No, concrete isn’t known for its buoyancy—think of the urban legend of the mafioso fitting a victim with a pair of “cement shoes” in order to ensure they sink. But therein lies the challenge of the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Concrete Canoe National Competition, being held this weekend (June 17-19) at the Colorado School of Mines, in Golden, Colorado.

Decades of Concrete Canoes

Concrete canoe competitions, according to ASCE, got started informally in the 1960s, when groups from some student chapters of the society began to compete to see who could design viable canoes made with the ubiquitous building material.

In 1988, ASCE introduced the national championship, giving concrete canoe-builders nationwide something to aspire to—the competition they call the “America’s Cup of Civil Engineering.” That year, Master Builders Inc. was the competition’s sole corporate sponsor; in 2017, the event has sponsorship from the American Concrete Institute and the National Precast Concrete Association, as well as corporations including Bank of America, Geico, Pearl Insurance and UPS.

Concrete canoe championship 2016

Last year’s winning team hailed from Montreal’s Ecole de Technologie Superieure.

A total of 205 teams competed in 18 regional competitions leading up to the 2017 national competition. ASCE says 20 teams have traveled to Colorado for this year’s competition from all over the United States, plus Canada and even China. Last year’s winning team hailed from Montreal’s Ecole de Technologie Superieure.

Competition Components

It’s not just a race, of course: Design and planning counts for just as much as speed and not-springing-a-leak. One quarter of each team’s score will be dependent on its craft’s engineering design and construction principles; one quarter will be based on a technical design report that explains the team’s process; one quarter will be based on a formal presentation, and one quarter will depend on the team’s performance in endurance and sprint races.

ASCE has strict rules about what constitutes a concrete canoe: The vessels must float based on the buoyancy of the material itself, in the form of lightweight concrete, or because of solid flotation material that must be encased within the concrete.

Concrete canoe championship 2016

Teams may use concrete coloring agents and pigments to put a logo or design in the concrete itself.

Teams put their school name and boat name on the vessel using decals, and may use concrete coloring agents and pigments to put a logo or design in the concrete itself. No concrete stains or paints are permitted, and only clear, nonpigmented concrete sealers are allowed.

The winning local chapters receive scholarship money for their civil engineering program—$5,000 for first place, $2,500 for second place and $1,500 for third. There are also recognitions for specific performances, like Best Design Paper and Best Oral Presentation, and the winners of each race.

   

Tagged categories: American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE); Colleges and Universities; concrete; Contests; Engineers; North America; Program/Project Management; Ships and vessels

Comment from Janet Mazeau, (6/16/2017, 7:07 AM)

Brings back great memories! My URI team came in 4th in regional competition in the late 70's but the best part was that we all bought red hats at the LL Bean store and during the race we could see the red hats coming around the bend in the river in first place. Thanks for the article.


Comment from M. Halliwell, (6/16/2017, 12:41 PM)

Hehehe...I still prefer the Great Northern Concrete Toboggan version....but for the warmer climates, I can see the appeal :)


Comment from Fred Salome, (6/16/2017, 9:51 PM)

I know this is meant to be a light-hearted challenge, but it recalls to me the use of "ferro-cement" hulls for boats and yachts some 40 plus years ago. I prefer to see challenges around use of concrete include at least some token acknowledgement of durability.


Comment from M. Halliwell, (6/19/2017, 10:50 AM)

Very true, Fred. There were also ships built in WWII that had concrete hulls. Most of them are now part of a breakwater at a logging facility at Kiptopeke, if memory serves, but it would be interesting if they could tie this into the competition.


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