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07 Aug 2017
A Great Team Building Event: A Cardboard Canoe Regatta

Team building events can be tricky.  Finding the right combination of team members, finding something that is challenging and engaging, finding something that can bind all the teams together but instill a healthy sense of competition, something that allows people to use their various skill sets, and, most importantly is fun, can be a daunting task.  So when a client recently contacted me and asked me to help organize a team building event for her company, I inwardly cringed.  That is, until I found out what her idea was. I’ve always said that my best ideas come from my clients, and this one definitely proves this point!

When my client explained that she wanted to hold a cardboard canoe regatta I was flummoxed. I’d never heard of such a thing.   However, one quick pass through Google and Youtube and I knew exactly what I was going to do to make this the best team building event ever!

Basically the premise is this - You break your group into teams of 6 or less.  Each team is given the same materials and a set amount of time.  In that time period they must construct a mannable boat that can cross a set distance in a body of water using only the rider’s propulsion. There are a few other rules, but those are the basics.  Everything, from the boat to the paddles, must be constructed from the provided materials.


So what, you might ask, are the building materials?  2 sheets of 4 x 8 double walled, corrugated cardboard and 3 rolls of duct tape.  That’s it.  Bon Voyage fun seekers!

How we ran the event:

A few weeks before the event, employees received an e-mail explaining the nature of the event, and that they would be required to submit their team members and boat name by a certain date. They were told the basic premise, to build a boat and race it against other participants.  That was it.

On the day of the event each team signed in, and at the appointed time was given the following items:

1 table 

2 sheets of 4 x 8 cardboard

3 rolls of 3M super strong duct tape

X-acto knives



Cutting boards

Sharpie pens

At 10:30 sharp the construction began.  At 12:30 sharp everyone needed to step away from their constructions.

Contestants were allowed to add embellishments to their boats, as long as they did not add to the actual floatation of the boat.  Many of the teams came with their own supplies, which ranged from photos of famous basketball players


to dollar bills

to dragons.

The Race

At 1:00 we held the races.  The race consisted of 1 lap in a standard lap pool.  The race was for the best personal time, although unbeknownst to the teams we were also looking for the fastest sinker.  To ensure we could record the times accurately we limited the race to 4 racers at at time.  Each lane was assigned a timer.  That timer recorded their sink time (if applicable) and their lap time.  We held 4 races, choosing the top 4 recorded times for the finals.

I’m including a PDF of our rules - there aren’t too many, other than you and your boat must make it to the end and out onto the pool deck for the timer to stop.  Teammates were able to help the boat in and out of the water, but the boater must propel the boat by hand.  Most teams chose to go with one boater, however, there were a few that chose to send 2 into the brine.


What would a regatta be without prizes!  Each of the placing teams won a special event with the company's management team: a day surfing, a catered lunch, or a trip to the movies. They also won some fabulous swag for their offices.

1st Place - giant “we’re number one” foam fingers

2nd Place - personalized wooden paddle and #2 pinata filled with treats

3rd Place - giant rubber duck and duckie necklaces for each member

We also included two additional team prizes:

Fastest Sinkers - a personalized life preserver and a roll of personalized lifesavers each

Best Dressed Crew - captain hats for each member.

The Regatta was an amazing success.  The teams really got into it, and the level of friendly competition was off the hook.  One team adopted the "pirate way", and played it out to it’s fullest, including shooting racers from the sidelines with water guns. Teams went all out in their design and decor - which led us all to think if we do this again next year, we really need to add a “best boat design” to the list of prizes.

The races themselves were hysterical.  As to be expected, some boats sank right away, and had to be dragged manually by their waterlogged owners. Some had rocky starts, or mishaps midway. Some zipped across like they were competing in the Henley Royal Regatta.  The sense of camaraderie was palpable.  People laughed and cheered and egged each other on.  The failures were given as much praise, if not more, than the winners, and everyone kicked in to help clean up at the end.

All in all it was an amazing event I’ll never forget.  However, I do have one note, for those of you who are thinking about giving the regatta a try….make sure you rent yourself a cardboard recycling dumpster for the end of the day.