2022 DENIM Challenge

The Harwell Boat Race


Many thanks to all those who took part in the “Harwell Boat Race” DENIM challenge, there were some interesting boats produced, and the event was great fun.

After some very close heats (and one false start…) team SURF were the overall winners, so congratulations to Daniel Leber, Stan Lee, Clara Lopez, Aritz Marañón, Bill McHargue, Simon Cooper, and Erik Johnson.

A worthy mention also goes to team MARI, who earned a place in the final for building the most highly decorated entry. It was a beautiful effort, and they even built an accompanying model cheerleader to wave their team flag from the sidelines.

Check out the Event Photo Gallery for more photos!

Introduction, Instructions, & Rules


In honour of the University boat Race, where teams of eight rowers from Oxford & Cambridge universities have competed for victory since 1829, the 2022 challenge will be for teams to build boats which will then be raced to determine the winner.

Here on Harwell Campus we are unfortunately lacking a suitable stretch of river, and the DENIM schedule does not allow time for construction of full size boats. So, the “Harwell Boat Race” will involve teams of (up to) eight engineers, building model boats which they will then race to determine a winner.

Teams have been randomly generated, and your team mates can be found by matching the colour / instrument name on you conference badges. Please take the opportunity to introduce yourselves to your teams other members at coffee breaks etc, and start discussing designs.

The Format

  • 12 teams will take part, with three qualifying heats being run to determine the finalists. The final race will have four competitors, the winners of the three heats, and a special place awarded (entirely subjectively) to the most innovative / unusual / best looking boat.
  • Each team will be given a standard kit of parts / materials, nothing else may be used to construct the boats.
  • The maximum dimensions of the boats will be specified, and compliance checked using the go / no go gauges provided.
  • The time allotted to design & build the boats is 45 minutes.
  • Rather than racing in a pond / pool, the boats will run in individual lengths of guttering filled with water (see image below). This ensures that they stay on course, and do not collide with each other. 

Boat Race Track

  • All teams will be allowed access to the race course, to try their boats in the water during the 45 minute build time.
  • Following completion, all boats must be placed on the quarantine table, to prevent extra “adjustments” being made.
  • Following the last qualifying heat, all teams competing in the final will be given 15 minutes “tinkering time” before the final.

The Boats 

  • Any style of boat which can be built using the supplied materials is allowed, but it must float, and travel on / in the water (rather than running along the bottom or edge of the gutter). 

Boat 1     Boat 2    Boat 3

Boat 4    Boat 5

Boat 6

  • No pushing, fanning, blowing, or any other external assistance allowed during the race. 
  • Boats may not exceed a maximum length of 300mm, and will need to be approximately 100mm or less in width to fit within a guttering “lane” (as detailed in the image below).

Cross-section of the Track

Materials & Tools Provided

Structural Materials

  • Foam board. 
  • Wooden tongue depressors / lolly sticks.
  • Stiff wire
  • Hot glue


  • A motor, switch, & battery, supplied pre-soldered
  • Air and water propellers
  • Driveshaft & universal joint


  • Hot glue gun
  • Saw
  • Pliers
  • Sharpie pen for marking out
  • An allen key (for universal joint)