On a hot summer day, nothing beats a cool, breezy scientific adventure. The Drain Pipe Regatta is a great investment for a classroom or backyard exploring space, as it helps teach the basics of fluid dynamics, buoyancy, motion and transfer of power. Connections to the great sailing ages in history, from the Polynesians exploring the Pacific, to Columbus’s crossing of the Atlantic, to the great whalers and galleons of Napoleonic Europe abound. This project is the base for a great mix of artistic creativity and scientific inquiry.
Boats can be made with nearly any craft material. I have made origami boat challenges, foam board & skewer boats and water bottle boats. Tweaks can be made with each regatta to reflect learning goals, materials or kids interests. The Cub Scouts of America hold a raingutter regatta every year. Scouts design small sail boats and race them down a 10 foot section of rain gutter.
Pirate-themed get-togethers optional.
Drain Pipe Regatta
- 6” PVC Pipe. I used a scrap section about 5’ long, although they are available for purchase in 10 ft lengths.
- 2”x4” Stud, just under 8’ long
- #6 3/4” Wood Screws
- Silicone caulking
- Saw Horses. I used the Stanley model, but really, any type will do, including my 34 sawhorse.
- Miter saw
- Band saw with a resaw fence, or jig saw with a short blade.
- Circular Saw, or hand saw
- Jig saw with a long cutting blade, such as the Bosch Progressor brand.
- Measuring Tape
- Large Compass
- Cut your 2×4 Stud inn half at the miter saw. Cut two 32″ crossbeams from the 2×6 at the miter saw, flipping them around for a final cut if necessary.
- Mark out the notches on the crossbeams for your 2×4 stretchers. My notches were 1 1/2” wide, 2” deep and 21” apart from the outside marks. My stretchers fit in notches on the Stanley saw horses, but you can adjust the location to fit your table, floor, driveway, etc. as necessary.
- Cut out the notches with a hand saw and chisels, or notch out with a circular saw. Definitely clamp the two boards together and cut them at the same time. This self-aligns your notches, easing assembly later on. Clean up the notch with a chisel.
- Mark two channels for your drain pipe halves with a compass. Keeping the boards clamped together, load a long blade into your jigsaw and carefully cut out the semi-circles. Save the cut offs, as these become your end caps.
- Now, use the band saw with a resaw fence to cut the large pipe down the middle. If you don’t have access to a large band saw, carefully clamp the pipe to a work surface and cut with a jig saw loaded with a short blade. Make sure to mark your cut lines clearly and clamp in such a way the pipe does not roll. Cutting round stock can be very dangerous. If you feel unsafe, you are unsafe.
- Smear a heavy bead of caulk onto the end caps, then insert at the end of the pipe. Flip the pipe over so it won’t roll and use wood screws to attach the pipe to the end cap. Squeeze out means you have created a tight seal.
- Assemble the various parts on the saw horses as shown below, make some boats and enjoy!
Boat regattas can seem to be a small maker project, but there are plenty of bigger, more complex questions to ask: can rockets propel boats? How big can sails be? What shape creates the most push? How does buoyancy works? How do waves work? Lots of answers to be found in a simple drain pipe!
I’ve had a string of “parent-centered” construction projects lately, but this one is approachable for young makers. Replace the power tools with hand saws and you increase the time it takes to build, but not really the quality of the end product.
In this version, I utilized a scrap piece of 6” drainage pipe to form my raceway. Drainage pipe is far more expensive than rain gutters, but it increases the strength, rigidity and size of the boat a kid can design. A ten foot section of 6” PVC costs nearly $40 at my local home center. I can buy two 10 sections of gutter, with end caps for about half of that amount. Instead of making semi-circle cut outs in the crossbeams, you make the profile of a rain gutter.
Saw horses can be cheap or expensive, but you can use nearly anything to set this up. A relatively level stretch of ground works perfectly, as the stretchers and crossbeams keep everything square and rigid.