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UC Engineering Students Race Concrete Canoe in National Competition in Alabama

UC civil engineering students participate in concrete canoe competition and commencement simultaneously, proving that hardships are nothing new to this rock-solid team.

Date: 6/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
By: Wendy Beckman
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photos By: Katie Hageman

UC ingot   At the 2009 American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Ohio Valley Regional Conference in April, student teams from about a dozen universities competed in the ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition. The civil engineering team from the University of Cincinnati took top honors and will now go on to compete in the 22nd Annual ASCE National Concrete Canoe Competition to be held June 11–13, at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

There’s only one problem.

University of Cincinnati, 2009 Regional Champs


That’s the same weekend as UC’s All-University Commencement — and there are several graduating seniors on the civil engineering concrete canoe team.

No problem! The concrete canoe team has a “can do” attitude. While co-captains and graduating seniors Breana Roth and Josh Trauger fly back to Cincinnati to participate in commencement, they leave their underclassmen teammates behind in Alabama to do the yeoman’s share of the physical work at racing the concrete canoe.

Did Josh tell Jesse to be enthusiastic? It probably comes naturally.
Jesse Limbert adds 'cheerleading' to his other assigned duties on the team.

One of those left behind to paddle the canoe is Jesse Limbert, a sophomore from Wapakoneta, Ohio. He was attracted to UC’s civil engineering program for its co-op program and its laboratories. So what was his role on the team?

“Whatever Josh told me to do,” he said, laughing. “Write the design paper, paddle, construct the canoe….”

Dane Brown, from Fredericktown, Ohio, is another senior on the team who will be flying back to Cincinnati to walk in commencement the afternoon of June 13.

“We’ll fly back down on Sunday to help the rest of the team drive the canoe home,” Dane says. “The underclassmen will have to do the actual racing.”

Dan Cuffman, a third-year student from Bucyrus, Ohio, was a little nervous about missing the seniors on Saturday.

“It takes about six to seven people to set up the canoe safely without dropping it,” he said. “It’s a tough job.” Along with the seniors, who will return in time to transport the canoe back to Cincinnati, there will be plenty of hands ready to get the canoe back safely.

Luckily, the team has about 20 students altogether, including nine women. They are also trying to encourage more freshmen to get involved. The only requirement is that team members have to be undergraduate engineering majors in good standing with the ASCE.

In any case, the racing is only 25 percent of the overall score. The team is also rated on the technical report, oral presentation and the display and cutaway section of their canoe.

At the regional competition, UC’s team was awarded first place in the technical paper and presentation, and third place in the final product.

Assistant Professor Gian Andrea (“G.A.”) Rassati feels that one of the reasons the UC team excels at the technical and presentation portions of the competition is because of the co-op experiences of the team members. Rassati and Professor Mike Baseheart are the advisors of the team.

“I came for the co-op,” Breana said. She chose to study engineering at UC, but not a specific department at first. Rassati pointed out that when there was a question about the rules during the regional competition, the UC students approached the officials in a calm, logical and businesslike manner.

“Their maturity in talking to the judges helped the handling of the appeal process,” he added.

They placed fourth overall in the racing portion of the regional competition.

“We’re still having troubles going straight,” said Rassati. “I closed my eyes during one of the races.” (Good thing he is not in the boat with the team!)

Maybe that was one of the reasons that UC was not expected to win the regional competition.

“We’re competing against all levels of colleges at regional,” said Josh, from Mason, Ohio. “Their budgets are gigantic. We’re kind of an underdog story.”

“We snuck up on people,” Rassati pointed out.

“And then people were asking us questions about how we did things,” Breana added.

Each team has to pass a “swamp test” to make sure that the canoe is buoyant. Two colleges in the regional competition failed at this stage and were allowed to add foam.

Rassati says that they try to keep the competition challenging each year. Many of the rules changed this year, some of which made the competition truer to an actual civil engineering challenge.

“This year the specific dimensions were given to us and we had to replicate it,” Jesse explained.

“They leveled the playing field this year and dictated the shape also,” Josh said. “It’s more accurate to civil engineering work where you have to meet a design, and not nautical engineering work where you come up with your own shape to make it seaworthy. And this is a civil engineering competition.”

Breana noted that another change was what type of substance the exterior of the boat could be covered with: paint vs. a stain vs. a dye.

“Painting is not allowed,” she explained. In 2008 the team tried to dye the boat but they decided that it didn’t look very good. This year the reigning consensus of the UC team was to leave the canoe grey “like concrete,” Breana added. Students from DAAP also helped the team with designs for the canoe. Another university in Ohio made theirs look like fake wood, but it didn’t assist them in the water.

So besides the color, what else is different between this and a Fiberglas canoe?

“They don’t turn the same,” Dane said.

“It’s hard to turn a large mass that weighs 250 pounds,” said Dan.

Some teams build two boats: one to use as a practice boat and one to use for competing. Due to budget and time constraints, UC’s crew built one canoe for everything.

“Some universities do the competition as a credited course and some offer it to the students as their senior design project,” said Josh. “We don’t. It’s all extracurricular on top of our classes.”

“Our students do this and also have to do a senior design project,” Rassati explained.

“It brings more of a passion to it,” Breana added. “You’re more likely to get the students who want to be there — not just because they can get credit for it.”

“The team set a goal to make the national competition this year and they did just that,” says Rassati. “It has been 18 years since a UC team has qualified for the national competition. But this team worked hard. They set their goals and achieved them.”

Rassati sums it up. “It’s a great leadership exercise.”

About Concrete Canoes
ASCE student chapters and clubs have been involved in constructing and racing concrete canoes on the local and regional level since the early 1970s. The first National Competition came to fruition in the summer of 1988. The Concrete Canoe Competition provides students with a practical application of the engineering principles they learn in the classroom, along with important team and project management skills they’ll need in their careers. The event will challenge the knowledge, creativity and stamina of the students, while showcasing the versatility and durability of concrete as a building material.

UC’s ASCE chapter has meetings where industry professionals make presentations about the numerous disciplines of civil engineering (such as structural, construction, transportation, geotechnical and environmental engineering).

Students from UC worked for approximately eight months designing, testing, building and racing their concrete canoe. UC’s team starts around August each year planning the construction of the canoe for four paddlers. The canoe is approximately 20 feet long. Next, the team experiments with different concrete mixes that weigh approximately 60 pounds per cubic foot, which is far less than the typical weight of concrete (which is approximately 145 pounds per cubic foot).

The concrete used for the canoe weighs less because of the addition of Extendospheres, a by-product of coal-burning power plants, and Poraver, recycled glass that are used as aggregate instead of gravel.

After choosing the strongest concrete mix, the team shapes a canoe-shaped Styrofoam form. The concrete is poured over the form in January to allow it to cure for months before the regional competition. The Styrofoam form of the canoe is then removed. The team practices racing for a month before the competition.

Each school’s canoe is judged on four equally weighted categories: technical/design paper, oral presentation, quality of canoe construction and racing results. Every year UC works to build a concrete canoe that is innovative, fast and user friendly in order to win the competition.

Competition awards are distributed as follows:

  • First place overall winner — $5,000 scholarship & trophy
  • Second place overall winner — $2,500 scholarship & trophy
  • Third place overall winner — $1,500 scholarship & trophy
  • Fourth place overall winner — commemorative plaque
  • Fifth place overall winner — commemorative plaque

Special plaques are also awarded to the top team in the following individual categories:

  • Best design paper
  • Best oral presentation
  • Best final product
  • Men’s slalom/endurance race
  • Women’s slalom/endurance race
  • Men’s sprint race
  • Women’s sprint race
  • Spirit of Competition

Special plaques are also given to the team that has the fastest time in the coed race in honor of R. John Craig, a former member of the ASCE Committee on Student Services who was a driving force behind organization of the National Concrete Canoe Competition.

Appropriate awards are also presented to teams finishing second through fifth in each individual competition event. Each team receives a commemorative plaque for its participation in the National Concrete Canoe Competition, and all 10 official team members receive a certificate of participation.

More about UC's Civil Concrete Canoe Team: 

Heavy Winds and Rain Proved Too Much for UC’s Entry in the Concrete Canoe Competition
UC’s Student Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers hosted the 2005 Ohio Valley Regional Conference from March 31 through April 2.

Whatever Floats Your Boat: 12 Regional Colleges Sink or Skim in Concrete Canoe Competition at UC
The University of Cincinnati’s department of civil and environmental engineering hosts the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2005 Ohio Valley Regional Conference.

UC Civil Engineering Students Prepare to Float Their Boats for Annual Concrete Canoe Competition
UC’s civil engineering “Concrete Canoe Team” is currently designing its canoe for the regional American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) competition. The team plans to pour the concrete for the canoe on Saturday, Jan. 15.

For more information, contact professor and advisor Gian Rassati at (513) 556-3696 or

Here’s a quick quiz — which of the following will float?
(a) pumice rock
(b) a concrete canoe
(c) petrified wood

Well, under certain circumstances, they all float. But how can a concrete canoe float?

Archimedes’ Principle explains how a concrete canoe can float in water. The principle states that a body immersed in a fluid is pushed up by a force equal to the weight of the displaced fluid. The shape and position of the body affects the strength of the force pushing up on the body. For example, a concrete canoe placed on end in water will sink because the weight of concrete is much greater than that of the displaced water. However, in its normal position, the weight of the canoe depends on the total volume of the canoe because it includes all the air inside it. Therefore, the average weight is then less than that of water displaced, when the concrete and air are included for the total unit weight. The total weight of the canoe, paddlers and air inside the canoe’s volume must be less than the total weight of water that the canoe displaces.