ASCE concrete canoe competition: what we learned

Every year the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) sponsors a concrete canoe competition. Winners of the regional competitions, along with a few wildcard teams, are eligible for the national competition. In 2019 the University of Minnesota Twin Cities was one of 24 teams in the national competition. It’s not at all like the regional competition, described in a previous blog. In the national competition, you’re up against the best of the best. And you get the chance to meet engineering students from around the world while having fun. Here are some of the things we learned.

Project management

For the regional competition, you’re mainly concerned about getting everything done in time. You need a team of dedicated members who are willing to put in the time. And you need to set your priorities. Make use of your resources and network contacts to get it all done.

For the national ASCE concrete canoe competition, your project is already largely complete, but money becomes your primary concern. Travel for the team members, transport of the canoe, and registration fees can really add up, so budget carefully. Start fundraising sooner rather than later. Also, make use of your faculty members’ contacts when seeking donations.

Technical presentation

You have only five minutes for your presentation, along with a seven-minute question period. (The specifics may change from year to year.) Even so, don’t rush the presentation. In the regional competition you want to summarize the main points and then emphasize a few key design features.

In the national competition, you want more of an overall view of the design and construction of your canoe. Using your project plan as a guide, briefly describe everything from conceptual design to final product. Discuss why your team chose its theme. Then highlight a few key features.

Racing

ASCE concrete canoe
University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ four-person sprint team.

Racing rules and conditions can change from year to year. For example, in 2017 the race was an obstacle course; in 2018 it was 10 m sprint and slalom races. Crews can vary from two to four people.

In the regional competition, the racing venue may be very different from where you practiced. The main thing is just not to sink or capsize.

At nationals, the racing rules are the same as at regionals, but many of the competing teams live in places where they can practice all year. So your team needs to practice, practice, practice. And don’t hold back during the race!

Display

University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ entry in the 2019 ASCE concrete canoe competition.

For the regional competition, make sure you have everything that’s required. You can find the 2020 requirements for the ASCE concrete canoe competition here. Then add some character that fits with the theme of your canoe.

At the nationals, the display session is an all-day event, and you’ll need to do more than just meet all the requirements. Often teams use props to show unique aesthetic features or emphasize their theme. For example, they may use mirrors to make it easier for viewers to see the design on the bottom of the hull. Add fresh, creative ideas consistent with your theme. Remember, the other teams will be very creative, so go big.

Paper

Your paper at the regional competition must meet all of ASCE’s requirements. To make sure it does, have a peer review the paper carefully. Also, have someone review it for grammar and spelling. Be sure to start writing the paper early on, as it’s due before the competition.

At the national competition, take the extra step of having a professor or a professional review your paper.

Here’s a video about the 2019 ASCE concrete canoe national competition. Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne, FL