Make your raingutter regatta a ‘recycle regatta’

Short on supplies? No problem! Use these tips for hosting a raingutter regatta using recycled materials. 


WHEN PACK 722’s Bear den leader was called out of town on business last spring, Committee Chairman Jeff Crump had to find a substitute activity. Fast. He didn’t need to look any farther than the pack’s supply closet and his own recycling bin. Using an idea he’d read about online, the Wakefield, Mass., Scouter ran his first recycle regatta.

What’s a recycle regatta? It’s much like a raingutter regatta — the sailing equivalent of the pinewood derby — except boys make their boats from recycled materials instead of kits. “We didn’t want to have to rely on prefabricated kits,” Crump says. “Those are fun to build, but they don’t get you engaged. Boys like to build stuff and tinker and play.”

In a den email, Crump asked families to bring along building materials from their recycling bins, which he supplemented with additional supplies, including some leftover foam insulation, duct tape, and glue. The pack already had two sections of 10-foot gutter designed for use in regattas. “It took about 15 minutes to put together the whole plan,” he says.

A big believer in fun that matters, Crump began the meeting with some quick lessons about trash. He asked the boys to guess how long products like plastic water bottles take to biodegrade — one boy guessed a couple of weeks, but the real answer is 450 years — and then had them sort recyclables by their symbols.

Once the learning ended, the real fun began. The boys made their boats on one side of the room and then carried them to the gutters to compete in informal two-man heats. After that, they could race again, go back and tweak their boats, or (like Crump’s son) start over. “I thought that they would want to make these boats and race them to see who was the fastest,” Crump says. “It turned out that they had the most fun just making them.”

Tony Hooker, Cubmaster of Pack 704 in Concord, N.C., had much the same experience when he ran a pack-wide recycle regatta at a local park last spring. “We didn’t keep score, and we didn’t have any trophies or prizes,” he says. “It was all for fun.”

Hooker did slip in a little learning, though. A few minutes into the race, he stopped the boys to point out how much fun they were having — not with new toys or expensive videogames, but with trash. “I encouraged them to think outside the box about ways they could do fun stuff with things that are already around,” he says.

Unlike Crump, Hooker didn’t have any gutters, so he had to purchase them. Two 10-foot-sections plus end caps cost the pack less than $25 at Lowe’s. “In comparison to a pinewood derby track, that’s very inexpensive,” he says.

Hooker encouraged his Cub Scouts to make their boats at home if they chose, although he brought along plenty of materials for those who didn’t or those whose boats weren’t seaworthy. One lesson he learned: Thick slabs of foam packing material tend to stick to the gutters when wet. “It essentially acts as a brake,” he says. “We had a couple of Tigers almost hyperventilate trying to blow their boats forward.”

The other lesson Hooker learned was to recruit a few extra parents to help with construction and repairs, especially when scissors and glue guns are involved. “Some of that construction can be tough for them to do when they’re very anxious to run back and race again,” he says.

Crump, who held the splash-filled event indoors, learned a more fundamental lesson: “Next time, I would bring a mop.”


Hulls: juice boxes, slabs of foam insulation, 8-ounce water bottles, 20-ounce soda bottles, Capri Sun pouches, Popsicle sticks (to create a raft design)

Masts: straws, skewers, small dowels, pencils

Sails: construction paper, index cards, cut-up cereal boxes, small chip bags, Capri Sun pouches

But not so much with these: newsprint and other materials that can get waterlogged, and thick pieces of foam, which stick to the gutters and make a mess when broken.


  1. What a GREAT idea! I love this! I don’t know if I can wait until the summer. I think we’ll have to do this in April to help celebrate Earth Day.

    BIG KUDOS for the creativity and resourceful thinking!

  2. We do that here in Anchorage Alaska, but we do it in winter. Tonight is our “ice gutter regatta” for my son’s scout pack. Weather has been below zero, they freeze the water solid in the gutters, the boys all build their racers from trash. It’s going to be a very cold one again, but the kids have a blast!

  3. Thanks for sharing this idea! I shared it with my son & now he’s planning one to recruit cubs into our scout troop.

    • I’m hoping to do this at our Fair in July. The Cubs will both build and race that day, but any kid that wants to play can both race and take their boat home.
      Can we say recruiting???

  4. Smoothie straws work well to help the scouts blow their boats down the track. Helps with the hyperventilating. We cut them in 1/2.

  5. The inflatable raceway from BSA supply is only $27. We considered building something until we realized the cost was the same as something already available that is much easier to store and transport.

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