Kids Learn about Solar - on a Boat!

3 min read
Nov 29, 2023 4:11:38 PM

It might seem a little cold to talk about being on a boat - but the timing is perfect for teachers to start a fun project with their students.

Some of you may know that the MN Dept of Commerce recently launched a new grant program - Solar for Schools. One of the requirements to grant funding is to teach students about solar photovoltaic energy. My job is to help the schools we install solar on meet this requirement and have fun doing it - so today I am introducing to you the Minnesota Solar Boat Regatta (SBR). This unique solar boat competition happens every Spring on a lake in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. And this isn’t just some wacky thing Minnesotans have made up to be on a lake, there are solar boat races across the United States and the World. One of those races is the Solar Splash in Ohio which is Collegiate level racing and in Toronto, you have the real serious and sexy boats where international level teams compete.

The Minnesota Regatta has given hundreds of younger students the valuable and unique experience of working with photovoltaic systems, boat design, and construction in a very practical way. Make it float, make it go fast. The MN Renewable Energy Society (MRES) has partnered with teachers to enhance the competitive nature of the event, expanding the number of schools participating and extending the solar education throughout the school year.

I interviewed some of the teachers who have been competing in the SBR for over a decade now to get some tips for new teachers. Some schools have teams that work as after-school programs and some schools have the teams work during school time.

Brad Jans is a Technology and Engineering Teacher at Orono Middle School but he runs his teams as an after-school program. “My teams have 5 to 8 students.  Normally we work on a boat for 5 to 6 months, depending if the project is a total new build or a retrofitted boat hull.”

City Academy is a school in St Paul that builds their own boats and uses the Regatta as an in-class project that starts in the Fall. “We start with a focus on the boat then add Solar later.  For example, we will start building the next boat{in October}.  We focus on craftsmanship, tool use, safety, and following directions.  Closer to the regatta and the boat finish, we talk about electricity, batteries, renewable energy, and solar panels.” Becky Kullman, Agricultural Education Teacher and Work-Based Learning Coordinator at City Academy.

That brings up some questions – Do you need to build a boat? No, you do not! But you can.

What you will need is:

A floating device of some kind - a kayak, canoe, a row boat,

Solar Components: A solar panel, 12v battery, 12v motor

Northern Tool has small solar panel kits for RVs that translate quite well to solar boats. If you have items to donate, solar or boat related, you're a hero, please contact

In 2024 there will be three classes: Student class; Adult class – individuals or groups not associated with a school and Experimental class – boats that exceed the criteria listed in the rules. And yes, the Adult Class – parental units or teachers could make their own boat and beat their own children in a race, if they’re smart enough. Rules and entry information will be available on the MRES website, click here.

Personally, my favorite part is the educational posterboards and websites the teams create. Not all of us are engineers and builders and not all of you can write witty articles that teach people cool things. We all need a place on the team to thrive and your students can find that by helping to market the team, teach your school about what your team is doing and why solar is important. This part is not required to race but can be a good way to include more students in the process.

Trophies are awarded in the following categories: Slalom, Speed, Endurance with additional competitive opportunities in website design and creative design. And let’s be real, who doesn’t love a trophy.

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