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Join the fun at SIU’s 48th Great Cardboard Regatta on April 22

Great Cardboard Boat Regatta bike-powered boat.
Yenitza Melgoza
University Communications and Marketing
Great Cardboard Boat Regatta

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Can a boat made from sheets of cardboard really float? That’s what contestants at Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s 48th Great Cardboard Boat Regatta will find out, much to the joy and amusement of bystanders.

The ever-popular tradition that launched a global celebration returns to Campus Lake on April 22, with races starting at 1 p.m. Everyone is welcome at the family friendly event, either as a participant or a spectator.

For nearly half a century, competitors have been using their ingenuity to create unique cardboard watercraft that not just float but by peoplepower somehow circumnavigate a watery course. Not all succeed in the challenge, and watching the watercraft sink, some in ‘titanic’ fashion, adds to the entertainment.

“SIU students and families from far and wide have been enjoying the Great Cardboard Boat Regatta for decades,” said Mary Kinsel, director of the Mass Spectrometry Facility, associate scientist for the Office of Vice-Chancellor of Research and regatta organizer. “Through the years, we’ve had banana boats, Viking ships, dragons, cars, guitars, cruise ships, canoes and pretty much anything someone can imagine as a boat design. The regatta is such a fun day for all ages, and there’s no cost to watch.”

All can participate

The contest is open to all ages. Participants create a boat using corrugated cardboard of any thickness. You can use your own cardboard or purchase 7-by-8-foot sheets for $4 each at the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Science, Room 110A in the Neckers Building on campus. It typically takes about four sheets of cardboard to make a boat. Call Kinsel at 618-453-6428 to make arrangements to pick up cardboard.

Then, craft a boat using the cardboard with glue, caulk, tape, staples or similar materials to hold it together. Contestants can apply one-part waterproofing products such as latex paint, but no fiberglass or flex seal is allowed.

Participants can compete individually or in teams of up to 10 people.

Not into advance planning? You can still join the fun as there will be instant boat kits available for purchase the day of the regatta, including everything you need to construct a cardboard boat.

Several categories

Competition categories include:

  • Class I – human powered boats that move via paddles or similar means.
  • Class II – mechanically propelled boats that use paddlewheels, propellers or similar methods to transport riders across the water.
  • Class III – instant boats, built at the event using kits available that day on site. The kits will include one large cardboard sheet, a box knife, a plastic sheet, a nail and a roll of duct tape.
  • Class IV – youth division, for children ages 13 and younger.

The race organizers will furnish kayak paddles, oars and life jackets. Scouting organizations, schools, youth groups, families, work groups and assorted other entities have worked together to build boats for previous contests.
Prizes for winners

Contestants will vie for a variety of prizes as the race begins at Becker Pavilion and Campus Lake Beach. In this unique regatta, you don’t even have to complete the race to win! In fact, some of the most noteworthy and celebrated prizewinners barely leave the starting line or make it just part of the way through the course as they claim the coveted “Titanic” trophy, given for the most spectacular sinking.

There will be trophies for the top three finishers in each division as well as for the best team spirit and the “best use of cardboard.”

 Great Cardboard Boat Regatta Saluki boat
Yenitza Melgoza
University Communications and Marketing
Great Cardboard Boat Regatta Saluki boat

Longtime tradition

The regatta has been a tradition on the SIU campus for decades.

The first cardboard boat challenge on campus actually took place in 1962, but the annual regatta began as a final exam project in 1974 for the late Richard Archer’s freshman dimensional design class. The goal was to create a cardboard boat to traverse a 200-yard course, and 40% of the boats sank during the inaugural contest. But the tradition had begun, and by 1976 anyone could enter the annual spring competition. Community members and even other universities submitted entries.

Over the years, SIU’s Great Cardboard Boat Regatta became a worldwide phenomenon, replicated around the world and viewed by more than a half-million people. For many years, the late Larry “Skip” Briggs and W. Larry Busch, both emeritus professors from SIU’s School of Art and Design, coordinated the race. In 2010, Alpha Chi Sigma, the campus professional chemistry fraternity, and Kinsel, faculty adviser, stepped in to keep the tradition going.

In 2016 and 2017, the races were moved to Cedar Lake due to the refurbishment of Campus Lake. The COVID-19 pandemic forced cancellation in 2020 and 2021, but it returned to Campus Lake in 2022. And this year’s event promises to be bigger and better than ever.

Enjoy an online retrospective of the regatta featuring photos and a video spanning the decades.

Sign up now

Early registration for the 2023 Great Cardboard Boat Regatta ends at noon April 14; you can register online, by telephone (618-536-7751) or in person for $15. You can still sign up the day of the event for $20. All participants who sign up will receive a commemorative T-shirt for each registration.

Additional T-shirts can be ordered by emailing Kinsel at mkinsel@siu.edu; a limited number will be available for purchase at the event for $12. Registration and boat inspections begin at 10 a.m. on race day, and all participants must sign a risk waiver (or parents must sign for those under age 18).

For more information and complete rules and details, visit the regatta website or the Great Cardboard Boat Regatta Facebook page. Contact Kinsel at mkinsel@siu.edu or 618-453-6428 with questions.


Christi Mathis — student affairs; diversity, equity and inclusion; business and analytics; education; health and human sciences; psychological and behavioral sciences; innovation and economic development; international education.

SIU News is produced by University Communications and Marketing - 618-453-2589. Twitter: @SIUCNews
SIU News is produced by University Communications and Marketing - 618-453-2589. Twitter: @SIUCNews
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