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High School Contest Participants Will Rock (Chalk) the Boat

Monday, October 5, 2009

Update: Important rules clarifications below

High school students will get the chance to Rock (Chalk) the Boat at the 2009 High School Design Competition on Tuesday, Oct. 27, at the University of Kansas School of Engineering. Check-in for the competition begins at 8:30 a.m., with a welcome beginning at 9 a.m.

Rock Chalk
The annual competition will let teams of students in ninth through 12th grades test their creative and technical talents as they create a self-propelled boat that will be tested on its speed and distance capabilities and rewarded for its use of recycled materials.

Working in teams of two to four students at their schools, participants must design, construct and test their boats to complete a straight course and a circular course. The boats must be no larger than 20 inches long and 10 inches wide including all attachments. There is no height limitation. Boats must be self-propelled and must begin each challenge in a free-floating position. The use of recycled materials (previously used materials) is encouraged. Boats cannot consist of a prefabricated boat shell, but premade propellers may be used. Store bought batteries, motors, and CO2 canisters will not be allowed. Controlled reactions can be used as long as all byproducts stay contained within the boat.

The competitors will be judged on the speed of their entry on a straight course and the longest distance traveled on a circular course. There also will be awards for the best use of recycled materials and the best visual aid presentation.

Teams must register at the KU School of Engineering Web site by Oct. 9. All activities take place at Eaton Hall on the KU Lawrence campus. Lunch will be provided for all participants and parking passes will be available for registering schools. All high schools, virtual high schools and home-school programs at the high school level are welcome to participate.

Rules are available below, and a schedule of activities will be available at the KU School of Engineering Web site and will be clarified as questions arise. Teachers, mentors and students are encouraged to check back often. Questions on the competition, including rule clarifications, should be directed to Lucy McGilley at




Online registration form

Complete rules (Word)

Complete rules (PDF)


Basic Rules

1. The boats must be no larger than 20 inches long and 10 inches wide including all attachments. There is no height limitation.

2. Boats cannot consist of a prefabricated boat shell, but premade propellers may be used.

3. Store bought batteries, motors, and CO2 canisters will not be allowed. Controlled reactions can be used as long as all byproducts stay contained within the boat.

4. A recycled material is defined as a previously used material whose purpose on the boat is different than the purpose it was originally meant for, i.e. using an old coat hanger for the boat frame.

5. if a controlled reaction is used, the team must notify the KU School of Engineering to seek design approval by Monday, Oct. 12

6. Team members may not aid the propulsion of the boat.

7. Each team will be asked to give a visual aid presentation to document their boat’s design, cost and construction.

8. Visual aid presentations will be contained on one standard size “science fair” presentation board.

9. Anyone violating “the spirit of the competition” will be disqualified.

10. Rules will be modified/clarified as questions arise and posted below. Participants are advised to check back frequently.

Important Notice about Rules

We have had a number of questions that have led to some major decisions regarding the parameters for the boats. These decisions are final.

1. Safety is our No. 1 concern. Teachers must ensure that teams making home-made batteries or home-made pressure vessels are doing so in the safest possible manner. Officials at the School of Engineering reserve the right to require an outside test of any pressure vessel to 1.5 times the rated psi of the vessel. For the safety of those in and around the competition at Eaton Hall, School of Engineering officials also reserve the right to disqualify any team at their discretion deemed to have an unsafe vessel. 

2. The rules state that chemical reactions may not emit a substance into the water. However, if a vessel emits clean water into the trough, that will be allowed. Officials will re-measure the trough to ensure the proper depth after that vessel’s run. Other liquids are not allowed.

3. Because breathable air is allowed to be emitted from the boats, other non-noxious gasses also are allowed. If any gas other than breathable air will be emitted (i.e. CO2), officials must be notified ahead of time, and the discretionary safety rules apply. 

FAQs and Clarifications

Q: Can a student modify a kitchen timer to be used as an on/off switch?


 Yes, if the timer is being recycled from a previous use, then it is allowed. 


Q: Are students able to make chemical reactions to power their boats?


 Yes, as long as all by-products remain on the boat and do not contaminate the water.


However, we cannot allow for combustion reactions due to safety hazards. 


Q: May we purchase and use a rocket kit for propulsion?


No, we will not allow pre-made or pre-fabricated kits for motors, rockets, etc.


Can we make a homemade battery?


Yes, we would love for you to make a battery.


To clarify, we will not allow store bought batteries.


What time does the competition typically begin and end?


The check-in will begin at 8:30 a.m. and the competition should conclude around 2 or 3 p.m., depending on how many entries we have.


What is the cost of the High School Design Competition?


There is no cost to participate in our contest outside of travel to and from your high schools. 

Q: May a group use a hampster?


 Unfortunately, we are unable to allow live animals in the competition. Points for creativity, though.

Q: Are students allowed to use candles inside of their boats?


 Due to safety regulations, we are unable to allow fire or flames in our building.

Q: Is it possible to buy a kit to build a motor and then build it yourself? Or do we have to build it from scratch?

 A: No, you may not buy a motor kit. Yes, it needs to be built from scratch.

 Q: The rules state that teams are not allowed to modify the boats in between runs/competitions. Is this referring to adding or subtracting things from the boat, and are we allowed to change rudder position in between competitions?

 A: Teams are not allowed to add or subtract items from the boat in between competitions. However, they are allowed to change rudder position as long as the rudder is always attached to the boat.

 Q: Are gases/air considered byproducts that must remain within the confines of the boat?

 A: Reaction byproducts are not allowed. If a balloon is used and the air did not participate in a reaction it doesn’t need to be contained. If you are creating a true “reaction” such as mentos and diet coke, then yes, the byproduct must remain in the confines of the boat.

 Q: Will there be any penalties on either track?  (ex. bumping the side of the track or pool)

 A: No penalties for bumping the sides of the track.

 Q: If a fan has a motor to push air, is it considered a store bought motor and not allowed?

 A: Yes, if a store bought fan is used it is considered a motor and not allowed in the competition.

Q: How will you award points based upon the use of recycled materials?

A: Judges will award points at their discretion based upon what they perceive the value of the component to the boat.

Q: On the straight racecourse, does the clock stop when the boat reaches the finish line or completely crosses over it?

A: When the boat reaches the finish line.

Q: No part of the propulsion system can leave the 20 in x 10 in at any time. Or can it go in and out?

A: No part of the boat, including the propulsion system, can exceed the dimensions of the box (20 x10). Additionally, everything that starts on the boat must end on the boat when crossing the finish line. For example, teams may not throw items off the boat for propulsion.

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