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Making a big splash

By Heidi Long
Photos courtesy of the UW Concrete Canoe Team

Members of the UW Concrete Canoe Team gain hands-on experience designing and constructing a canoe almost entirely from concrete.

Two students stand on either side of a canoe and fasten foam insulation to the sides

Members of the UW Concrete Canoe Team add conduit insulation to the 2022-2023 canoe “Smokechaser” in preparation for a race.

Ever wondered what the UW Concrete Canoe Team is all about? Strength, speed, teamwork and, of course, concrete.

These are the founding elements of the team’s activities. Throughout the year, more than 30 members meet weekly in More 225 to design and build a canoe — made almost entirely of concrete — from the ground up!

Canoes are in the water and lined up to race

Canoes are lined up as teams prepare to race during the 2022-2023 ASCE Symposium.

“We pride ourselves on the hands-on experiences that members gain. From building concrete formwork to hand-mixing specialty concrete designs, there is something for everyone,” says civil and environmental engineering undergraduate Maxwell Pearson, the team’s co-captain and lead construction manager. 

Since their first meeting this past fall, the team has been busy. With so many aspects of the design and construction process to cover, the members divide into sub teams. These include hull design, structural analysis, concrete mixture design, aesthetic design, construction management and project management.

Fun fact

Each year, the team picks a new theme for their canoe. The design painted onto the canoe reflects the theme, adding an element of flare to the finished canoe. In preparation for the 2022-2023 competition, the team dubbed their canoe “Smokechaser” in honor of wildland firefighters. Learn more about their 2022-2023 season.

A canoe is on display in a grassy area

Each week, members of the sub teams also have the opportunity to participate in workshops focused on hands-on learning of concepts relevant to their project scope. The workshops enable members to solve engineering challenges, deepening their understanding of engineering principles and problem solving abilities. For the project management and logistics sub teams, these workshops are an opportunity to learn the basics of project scheduling, project estimating and technical writing. This sub team prepares papers and presentations for the proposal segment of the competition. 

In April, members will have an opportunity to showcase their hard work in the annual Pacific Northwest American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Student Symposium. This year, the event will be held in Vancouver, British Columbia. During the symposium, concrete canoe members will not only provide a technical presentation and paper on their design and construction methods, but will also be tasked with racing their canoe against 18 other teams. In the lead up to the competition, members are provided with ample opportunity to practice for the racing component.

“Members have the opportunity to paddle with the paddling team on the lake every Sunday,” says Pearson. “They meet at the Waterfront Activities Center and use ‘normal’ practice canoes. Usually there are around 6-10 paddlers, most of whom are involved in the club in other ways as well.”

While the minimum time commitment to participate in concrete canoe is low, requiring only one hour per week, most members dedicate two to three hours on average. Members who consistently commit more than the minimum hours are typically given greater responsibility on the team. 

Holding canoe paddles, students stand near the water

With their paddles, members of the 2022-2023 UW Concrete Canoe Team at the ASCE Regionals.

Get involved

Since being founded in 1975, the team continues to provide a space for students from any major to enhance their skills and collaborate across multiple disciplines. Students interested in getting connected with the team and jumping right into the action should join the concrete canoe Discord server or contact the leaders at

Originally published February 8, 2024