Helpful Hints for Concrete Canoe Mix Design from 2018 Minnesota team

The American Society of Civil Engineers has hosted the National Concrete Canoe Competition since 1988. The University of Minnesota Twin Cities has participated in the event for over 30 years. The teams typically formulate their own concrete canoe mix design using a baseline template.ASCE concrete canoe

In June 2018, the team created an 18-foot canoe named Aurora Borealis. The team was led by captains Joey Hynes, Anna Dourgarian, and Samantha Prince. 

(Here are 2018 contest final results.)

This contest initially seems absurd. Doesn’t concrete sink? How do we get it to float? Well, our team knew that according to Archimedes’ principle, the weight of the displaced water is equal to or less than the weight of the canoe, which allows a concrete canoe to float. In addition, we used lightweight aggregates in our concrete canoe mix design to reduce the weight of the boat. 

Here are some of the lessons we learned about concrete by participating in the competition, including the following:

  • Choose your concrete tools wisely. Our 3‑yd3 mixer generated a slight electric charge in the materials used, causing clumps when mixing.
  • Don’t choose quantity over quality. Mixing in five-gallon buckets with a hand-held paddle mixer provided more control over the mix and resulted in better concrete. 
  • Learn how to make samples that are good representatives of your mixture. We ended up with more than 15 cylinders from different batches and ended up testing all of them.
  • Trial and error is beneficial; all decisions for your projects don’t need to happen at once. As a team we made trial batches and a practice canoe to develop mixture proportions and methods that works. 

Check out our video of Aurora Borealis, our concrete canoe, below.

Civil Engineering Project Management Skills A Competition Benefit

Overseeing a project from start to finish is something every young engineer should experience. Civil engineering project management skills are not always covered in our classes, so this is a great opportunity to develop them without serious consequences. Some of the lessons learned about project management were: 

  • Projects can have hidden costs; materials, labor costs, and unforeseen expenses can add up fast. Be aware of your budget and be realistic about expenditures. 
  • Build a team with dedicated members. Without this, it is hard to get work done and can affect the time spent on the project.
  • Time is precious. There is not enough time to be perfect, so consider what is realistic in the time provided and prioritize what needs to be done. Lists can help, and communication is key.
  • Networking is GOLD, both with professionals and university advisors. Networking can lead to opportunities, advice, and potentially jobs and recommendations for young engineers. Managers and senior engineers are interested in what the next generation of engineers are working on and interested in, so don’t be afraid to talk to them. 

The University of Minnesota Twin Cities team competed in the Midwest Student Conference where the concrete canoe competition consisted of eight other universities. Due to weather, a virtual competition took place and there was no racing. Our team placed second overall and won first in the final product category.

The National Concrete Canoe Competition is a great experience for any undergraduate student interested in civil engineering or concrete.  Read about what we learned in the 2019 national competition here.

Many thanks to Samantha Prince, Beton’s 2018 summer intern, for writing this article. Check out the specialty concrete mixes that Beton can create for you.