Children put their design and building skills to the test in the first Big Boat Build, an initiative by Cranfield University to inspire future engineers to test their boats against a 30m wave machine. The aim is to encourage young people to engage with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths) activities and show how dynamic, exciting and hands on science can be.

The University’s wave tank facility is normally used to research marine structural concepts for things like wind turbines at sea and their behaviour while in the ocean. Professor Phil Hart, the Director of Energy and Power, saw the potential of the tank to engage with the local community and use the world-class facilities to inspire school children and help them learn, while they having fun.

Professor Hart, said: “It’s brilliant to see the thought and design that has gone into the children’s boats. The challenge has been full of drama, with some clear winners and some boats capsizing! It is great to encourage these budding engineers into what is a dynamic and exciting career.”

See how it works

The Big Boat Build starts with children designing and building their boats at school. On their arrival at Cranfield University, they learn about how the wave machine works and how it can change conditions such as wave height and frequency. Once they know how it works, their boats are lowered into the tank where the testing begins.

The older year 7 students were invited to create their boats with motors to test their skills and see what difference turning on the motor has on their boats success against the wave machine.

Commenting on the Big Boat Build, teacher Peter Salamon from Holywell School said: “It offers a fantastic opportunity to take students out of traditional lessons and focus on design and other elements of STEM, before putting their creations to the test.”

For the students, such as Adam, aged eleven, he learnt that “different boats suit different waters” and that despite thinking his boat would do well, the best part of the day was “watching all the boats capsize.” The enjoyment for Aubrey, aged 10, was “seeing how it all works and the massive tank.” When asked about her design, Aubrey shared her team’s ideas for their boat who “wanted it to be curved at the bottom so it wasn’t flat and we wanted the boat to be thick but not too thick. To know which one was ours we put a lightning bolt on it.”

With the success of the first Big Boat Build, the university hope to open the world of engineering to the next generation of engineers. Cranfield already has an established outreach programme, supporting International Women in Engineering Day (INWED) for the last two years. Cranfield is also a proud supporter of This Is Engineering campaign by the Royal Academy of Engineering.




About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.