Solar Cork Boats

Time Required
2-3 class periods
Students will design and construct small boats that are powered by solar PV.


Students will engineer custom paddles and propellers and use solar power to create a boat that can move in the sun. Students will learn about buoyancy, balance, and drag as they design their boat. They will explore in depth how solar power turns radiant energy into electrical energy, then into mechanical energy. Students will learn the variables that affect solar panels and the factors that influence the performance of paddles and propellers, ultimately building a solar boat that can transport the most weight.

Next Generation Science Standards

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • PS2.A Forces and Motion
  • PS3.A Definitions of Energy
  • PS3.B Conservation of Energy and Energy Transfer
  • ETS1.A Defining and Delimiting an Engineering Problem
  • ETS1.B Developing Possible Solutions
  • ETS1.C Optimizing the Design Solution

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect
  • Energy and Matter

Learning Objectives

At the end of the lesson students will be able to

  • Understand and be comfortable with basic electrical concepts and terminology
  • Know the fundamental aspects of a solar panel and understand how placement and orientation affect its power output
  • Be able to design a propulsion system of propellers or paddles
  • Design functional solar boats that can carry the most weight


  • Screw hubs with acorn nuts
  • Corks with holes
  • Waterproof Solar Motors
  • 48:1 double shaft motor
  • Bunch of toothpicks
  • Solar panel (2V 400mA)
  • Propellers (2 and 3 blades)
  • Motor Key Adapters
  • 1/4"x6"x6" cork sheets
  • 1/2"x3"x6" cork board
  • Towels or rags for water spills
  • Water
  • Paper and pencils
  • Scissors
  • Weights of similar size and weight for example: marbles, pennies, or washers. If marbles are the only readily available weight, have some sealable sandwich bags handy to put them in.
  • If doing project indoors, you'll need an adjustable table lamp rated for 150 watt or higher incandescent bulb and a 150 watt or higher incandescent bulb.
  • Water container to float the boats for example: outside pool, wash tub, or under bed storage container, at least one foot deep and two feet across. If using a container, fill with at least 8" of water and make sure it is placed outdoors in full sun. If using a pool. choose a location without shadows. If indoors, ensure that water spills will not cause slipping, touch wall power or any power cords, or result in property damage.
  • Print out the Solar Cork Boat worksheet (page 15).

Bonus materials to supply:

  • Recycled materials for boat making like paper or Styrofoam drinking cups, plastic cups, spoons, and packing Styrofoam.
  • Rubber bands of different sizes