2022 Riverhead Cardboard Boat Race Sets Off August 13

2017 Riverhead Cardboard Boat Race
2017 Riverhead Cardboard Boat Race
Michael Zinn

The annual carnival of crazy crafts, daring-do, and even some athleticism returns when the Riverhead Cardboard Boat Race commences on the Peconic Riverfront in Downtown Riverhead next Saturday, August 13 (rain date August 20).

Registration is open through this Sunday August 7, but one doesn’t have to participate to have a great time at this wild event.

Luck may not be with our local paddlers this year, as 2022 marks the 13th annual race (2020 was canceled due to COVID) which is on the 13th day of August. But boaters and spectators alike can hope the cardboard and duct tape watercraft remain seaworthy as their captains row for glory in various categories, including the always raucous Supervisor’s Race, pitting the Southampton and Riverhead town supervisors against each other in a contest for town pride and bragging rights.

Before getting into all that, the rules are simple — but definitely require careful consideration if boaters want to be cleared for competition.

2021 Riverhead Cardboard Boat Race participant
2021 Riverhead Cardboard Boat Race participantCourtesy Riverhead BID


Boat construction is key, because anyone breaking the rules set by event officials will be disqualified before getting a chance to enter the water:

The event is called a Cardboard Boat Race for a reason! Boats must be no longer than 33 feet and constructed using corrugated cardboard only — no wax-covered cardboard and no weather-sealed cardboard. And absolutely NO SONIC TUBES, aka Sonotubes (the heavy-duty cardboard tubes used for molding concrete pylons and other cylindrical concrete forms). Wood, metal and wax are all forbidden materials.

The next key ingredient to any seaworthy, and legal, cardboard boat is duct tape, which is vital for protecting the cardboard vessel from becoming waterlogged. Choose any color duct tape, the brighter and more fun, the better.

Boat builders may use water-based glue only, such as Elmer’s white glue or wood glue. Absolutely no epoxy or two-part glues will be permitted. And the event officials will check. Any paint must also be water-based, latex paint. No epoxy paints or varnishes will be allowed.

2019 Cardboard Boat Race participant
2019 Cardboard Boat Race participantCourtesy Riverhead BID

Each occupant of any watercraft will be allowed one single-sided paddle of any material — no double-ended paddles (as seen in kayaks) are permitted. Boats cannot have any sort of mechanical propulsion, this is all about man- and woman-power!

Finally, the fun part, all boats must have a name. They may be painted and lettered, and props and decorations are permitted and encouraged as long as these accoutrements do not add to the stability or buoyancy of the craft — this will be determined at the discretion of the almighty event officials, who have the final say in all matters.

As the organizers put it, “Get crafty and start paddling!”

Follow the rules using cardboard and duct tape, and see how far your boat can make it down the Peconic River.

And remember, if every boat were perfectly seaworthy, the race wouldn’t be nearly as fun. Folks come to see participants flail about, tip over and sink, but they also come to watch the craftiest and best cardboard engineers and captains prevail against all odds.

Jay Schneiderman and Laura Jens-Smith competing in the 2019 Supervisor's Race
Jay Schneiderman and Laura Jens-Smith competing in the 2019 Supervisor’s RaceDesirée Keegan


Participants can register online for three primary race categories on Saturday, including the Youth Regatta (all crew ages 12 and younger), Grand National Regatta (all crew must be over 12), and Yacht Club Regatta (all-ages allowed onboard).

An Outlaw Division, which does not require prior registration, follows where all surviving crafts may compete in a second race to see who can stay afloat in one more heat.

And of course, the Supervisor’s Race — where Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman will face Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar (or a champion sent in her stead, as was the case in 2021) — begins the festivities at 11 a.m.

Schneiderman, who won last year after sharing the 2019 title in a tie with previous Riverhead Supervisor Laura Jens-Smith, says he never received his 2021 trophy, so he’s eager to get it back to its rightful home in Southampton this year.

“I haven’t seen the trophy, but it’s somewhere in Riverhead,” he said this week, noting that he had “this big plan to build a new boat” this year, which probably won’t come to fruition. “I have a garage full of cardboard, but I haven’t built that boat, so I’ll probably just use the boat I’ve used for the last two years,” Schneiderman explained, adding, “It’s done well.”

2021 Riverhead Cardboard Boat Race team
2021 Riverhead Cardboard Boat Race teamCourtesy Riverhead BID

Despite his winning effort last summer, and always having “a blast” racing, Schneiderman said, “The crowd tends to be biased toward Riverhead,” so it would be good to see more supporters come up from Southampton.

“Sometimes I feel like the crowd isn’t with me,” Schneiderman laughed. “I still have fun, and it’s really non-competetive. I get along really well with the Riverhead town supervisor,” he continued, acknowledging that it’s all in good fun, even if he ends up competing against another Aguiar replacement.

After all races conclude, and the winners are announced, special prizes will be handed out in a variety of additional boat building and performance award categories, such as Best Spirit, Titanic Sinking, People’s Choice, Best Constructed (No Tubes), Commander’s Choice, Best Captain, and Most Creative.

Past Riverhead cardboard boat race
Bystanders cheer on a group of kids battling to stay afloat and get to the finish line.Michael Zinn

Hosted by the Riverhead Business Improvement District in conjunction with the Riverhead Chamber of Commerce, the day, which attracts participants from as far as Massachusetts and Virginia, will also offer, for the first time this year, music from DJ Allstar, ongoing announcements and play-by-play from emcee Mike MK, as well as the usual fun and games, including the annual hula hoop competition.

This is going to be a day not to miss!

Visit business.riverheadchamber.com/events/details/2022-cardboard-boat-race-12650 for registration and full details.

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