people participating in the Cardboard Boat Regatta

One of the races in the 2010 Great Cardboard Boat Regatta - the first year that Alpha Chi Sigma, the campus professional chemistry fraternity, took over as race coordinators.

April 12, 2022

Join the fun at SIU’s 47th Great Cardboard Boat Regatta on April 23

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Will the cardboard watercraft navigate the course to the finish line across the lake or will it sink, perhaps in dramatic fashion? There’s only one way to find out and that’s by attending the 47th Great Cardboard Boat Regatta at Southern Illinois University Carbondale on April 23.

After a two-year hiatus, the ever-popular tradition returns to Campus Lake with races starting at 1 p.m., and everyone is welcome to enjoy the fun, either as a participant or a spectator.

Open to all

The contest is open to all ages. Create a boat using corrugated cardboard of any thickness. You can use your own or purchase 7-by-8-foot sheets for $3 each in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Sciences at the Neckers Building on campus. It typically takes about four sheets of cardboard to make a boat. Call Mary Kinsel, director of the Mass Spectrometry Facility and associate scientist for the Office of Sponsored Projects Administration, at 618-453-6428 to make arrangements to pick up cardboard.

Assemble a boat using glue, caulk, tape, staples or similar materials. Then, you can apply one-part waterproofing products such as latex paint; no fiberglass or flex seal are allowed.

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

Several categories

Competition categories are:

  • 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. Previous events have drawn entries from schools, Scouting organizations, youth groups, families, work groups and much more.

Win prizes

Contestants will vie for a variety of prizes, and in this distinctive competition, you don’t even have to complete the race to win! Indeed, some of the most impressive, memorable and celebrated prizewinners barely left the starting line but took the coveted “Titanic” trophy, given for the most spectacular sinking.

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

Decades of splashes

The regatta is a family friendly event and has been a tradition on the SIU campus for decades. Food will also be available on the grounds. Sidney and Solomon’s Catering food truck will be near the registration tent this year.

The first boat challenge on campus was 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. But a tradition had begun, and it became an annual event that by 1976 anyone could enter. Soon, other universities were invited to submit entries as well.

In no time at all, SIU’s Great Cardboard Boat Regatta had become a worldwide phenomenon, replicated around the world and viewed by at least 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 Mary Kinsel, faculty adviser, stepped in to keep the tradition going.

With the exception of 2016 and 2017 when the races were moved to Cedar Lake due to the refurbishment of Campus Lake, and the cancellation in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event has been held every year since 1974 on SIU’s Campus Lake. Enjoy an online retrospective of the regatta featuring a video and photos.

Sign up now

Early registration for the 2022 Great Cardboard Boat Regatta ends April 14. You can still sign up the day of the event for $20. All participants who sign up will receive a commemorative T-shirt.

There will also be 2022 T-shirts available for purchase at the event for $10 along with some vintage T-shirts from previous regattas for $5.

For more information, visit the Great Cardboard Boat Regatta Facebook page or the registration website, contact Kinsel at or 618-453-6428.