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Chemical Reaction Soda Bottle Boat Race Mark as Favorite (74 Favorites)

PROJECT in Chemical Change, Culminating Project, Balancing Equations, Stoichiometry, Mole Concept, Chemical Change, Dimensional Analysis, Measurements, Predicting Products. Last updated February 03, 2022.


In this project, students will design and build a soda bottle boat with the goal of having the fastest boat to get to the other end of the rain gutter racetrack. Students will have to complete stoichiometric calculations to determine an appropriate amount of “fuel” (baking soda + vinegar) to power their boat.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

This project will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • HS-PS3-3: Design, build, and refine a device that works within given constraints to convert one form of energy into another form of energy.
  • HS-ETS1-2: Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into small, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
    • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions


By the end of this project, students should be able to:

  • Create, test, and refine the design of a soda bottle boat powered by the chemical reaction between baking soda and vinegar.
  • Perform stoichiometric calculations and carry out test reactions to determine the appropriate amount of “fuel” (baking soda + vinegar) for their soda bottle boat.

Chemistry Topics

This project supports students’ understanding of:

  • Stoichiometry
  • Balancing chemical equations


Teacher Preparation: 30-120 minutes (once the rain gutter racetrack is constructed, it can be reused in future years and will significantly cut down on prep time)
Lesson: 120-240 minutes over 2-4 days for calculations, development, and refinements, and 45-60 minutes to race the boats


Instructor use/construction:

  • Two 10-foot rain gutters capped at both ends marked in 1 ft increments
  • Waterproof sealant for attaching end caps
  • Hardware tools, such as cordless drill or similar, to make modifications to bottles to create a gas outlet to propel boats.

Student boat construction (students may not choose to use all the materials on this list):

  • at least one plastic bottle (16-24 oz) with its cap, supplied by students
  • baking soda (1 lb. Box)
  • vinegar (1 qt Bottle)
  • string
  • tissue (single-ply toilet paper seems to work best for students that want to encase baking soda)
  • scissors
  • straws
  • pipettes
  • other basic craft supplies (anything you might normally find in a classroom)

Optional supplemental materials:

  • some type of sealant (fast setting waterproof super glue or hot glue gun)
  • weights (such as modeling clay or small rocks)
  • other equipment at students’ request, as approved by instructor


  • Always wear safety goggles when handling chemicals in the lab. (There is a large possibility that the reaction mixture will spray out of the bottle at an aggressive rate.)
  • Students should wash their hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.
  • When students complete the lab, instruct them how to clean up their materials and dispose of any chemicals.
  • Hardware tools, if used, are either used only by the instructor or with close supervision.
  • Verify a gas outlet to prevent severe pressure buildup and possible bottle rupture.
  • If students are not actively using the test track, have them move to a clear area so they are not in the way of another group’s tests.
  • Students should wear lab coats or lab aprons to prevent reactants from getting on clothes.

Teacher Notes

  • This project is a hands-on way to combine chemical reactions, stoichiometry, and engineering practices. Since it will take several days to complete (and should be done outside in reasonably comfortable weather), it could be a fun post-AP exam or end-of-year project. Students should work in teams of 3-5.
  • The instructor will need to construct (2) 10-foot rain gutter racetracks with end caps secured with waterproof sealant as testing and competition tracks. Any local hardware store will have the materials. You will want to mark them in 1-ft increments for students to have a measurement of how far boats are traveling if they are not traveling the full 10 ft. For best results with testing and racing, fill gutters halfway with water and try to level out with shims.
  • The instructor will need to supply hardware tools, i.e., cordless drill, drill bits, and hot glue gun, for boat modification if students are to modify in class. These should be used by the instructor or with close supervision.
  • Due to the high likelihood of the reaction mixture spraying out of the bottle boats, it is strongly recommended that the testing and racing part of this project take place outside.
  • Depending on the boat design and the number of reactants used, boats may fly off the track, so be sure to complete this activity in an open area where no one is at the end of the track.
  • The gutter tracks should be placed on a fairly level surface so the water level in the gutter tracks is consistent. The surface should also tolerate getting messy, such as a parking lot or a grass field, as the reaction mixture is likely to spray outside of the gutter tracks.
  • Make sure tracks are free of debris and materials before each trial or race.
  • The boat designs will vary between groups, but should all include a small hole for a gas outlet to both power the boat and prevent the bottle from rupturing. Be sure this is part of students’ design before you approve it.
  • Commonly, students’ designs involve putting one reactant into the bottle prior to testing/racing, then as they are given the “go” they add the second reactant (either directly in the mouth of the bottle before putting the cap on, or through a secondary opening they put in the side of the bottle, possibly with a funnel). They then cap or cover the larger opening directing the gas flow through a smaller opening (usually in the cap) which propels the boat in a specific direction down the track. Students tend to get the best results if they can close the cap before any reaction has occurred.
    • Other things students might try include hot-gluing “fins” of some sort to the bottle or using a tissue to encase the baking soda to make it easier to add all at once. (They will likely realize in their trials that the tissue could clog the gas outlet, which would need to be resolved for the final model.)
  • You may wish to review the balanced equation of the baking soda and vinegar reaction with students ahead of time, or at least let them know that CO2 will be one of the products. They may struggle to identify that one of the products, H2CO3, decomposes further to produce water and carbon dioxide. The production of the CO2 gas is what will ultimately propel the boat.
  • For a 16 oz bottle, about 14 g NaHCO3 and approximately 190 mL of 5% vinegar solution should propel the boat down the track adequately if capped and designed with a small gas outlet. (See the Calculations worksheet answer key for sample calculations.)
    • Some students may strategize that if they use excess reactants, they will generate more gas and therefore more thrust. However, they will need to ensure it does not have too much thrust and fly off the track resulting in disqualification, which they may try to resolve by adding weights, such as modeling clay, small rocks, etc.
  • There are various ways you could determine the “winners” of the race – you could set up two tracks and race two teams at a time with the winners of round 1 racing each other in round 2, and so on, in tournament-style brackets until you get one final winner. Alternatively, if you only want to set up one track to cut down on materials and prep time, you could do time trials for each boat one at a time, possibly using photogate timers if you have them, and the boat that goes the full length of the gutter in the fastest time wins.
  • Ensure all groups get copies of the student activity sheet and the Calculations worksheet to keep track of their designs as they evolve. They will need these to write their final report.
  • Students will submit a report (see student activity sheet for detailed requirements) that includes an introduction, their activity log describing what they did each day of the project, safety precautions, materials used, design schematics, calculations, trial data, and what they might change if they were to do it again. This should help them understand how scientists and engineers keep track of information related to their experiments and projects.
    • Alternatively, if you had time, you could have students give presentations to the class, rather than a written report, which would provide public speaking practice.
  • Since students are working in teams, you may wish to have them evaluate their teammates throughout the process so that you can intervene if some students seem to be doing all the work or not allowing others on their team to participate fully.

For the Student



Your task is to build a Soda Bottle boat that will travel the full length of a rain gutter racetrack in the shortest amount of time. Your boat will be powered by vinegar reacting with baking soda.


  • Each team will need to supply at least one plastic bottle (16-24 oz)
  • Baking soda (1 lb. Box)
  • Vinegar (1 qt Bottle)
  • String
  • Tissue
  • Scissors
  • Straws
  • Pipettes
  • Other optional supplies possible (verify with instructor)


  • Always wear safety goggles when handling chemicals in the lab. (There is a large possibility that the reaction mixture will spray out of the bottle at an aggressive rate.)
  • Wash your hands thoroughly before leaving the lab.
  • Follow the teacher’s instructions for cleanup of materials and disposal of chemicals.
  • Hardware tools, if used, are either used only by the instructor or with close supervision.
  • Verify a gas outlet to prevent severe pressure buildup and possible bottle rupture.
  • If you are not actively using the test track, move to a clear area so you are not in the way of another group’s tests.
  • Wear a lab coat or lab apron to prevent reactants from getting on clothes.


  1. Before you start building your prototype, complete the Calculations worksheet and submit it to your instructor for approval. This includes writing a balanced chemical equation for the reaction of vinegar with baking soda and using stoichiometry to calculate the correct ratio of vinegar to baking soda.
  2. Work on a boat design. Keep track of all of your safety precautions, materials, ideas, original design drawings, changes to your design, etc. in the Activity Log on the following pages. You can use this information to troubleshoot and redesign if the boat doesn’t float, does not move, etc. in step 4. You will need to type up and submit your Activity Log as part of your final report.
  3. Verify your boat materials and get your instructor’s approval on your design before you gather supplies and start building your boat. Consult with your instructor and record any modifications you make in your Activity Log.
  4. You will get 3 test trials before the final race. Test your model in the rain gutter racetrack set up by your instructor after they have reviewed your boat design and your calculations. You want to make sure the boat floats before doing any chemical testing. Be sure to record the amounts of chemicals used in your Activity Log. Based on your results, you may want to change the amount of CO2 being produced. If you do, you will need to go through the math again. Record all results and any changes you make to the boat in your Activity Log and return to step 2 if necessary.
    1. NOTE: Do not be discouraged if your original boat does not work and you have to create a 2nd or 3rd version. This is supposed to be a project that shows what you have learned this semester while allowing you to have a little fun.
  5. Finalize your model and prepare for race day. Make sure your Activity Log contains a labeled drawing of your final boat.

Final Report

You will be turning a report in that will be put together by your group. Each member will be responsible for a section of the report. (Some sections will be longer than others. Ensure the work is evenly divided among team members, i.e., someone does two of the shorter sections, another person does one longer section, etc.) The report must be one entire document and will include the following sections:

  1. Introduction/Purpose: Give the reader a short introduction to the goals of the project and how you accomplished them. Make this clear and to the point.
  2. Summary of your Activity Log: The summary needs to include an overview of safety precautions, how materials were used, ideas that worked (or didn’t work), and key design features of your boat. The summary needs to be in paragraph form and not a list format. Give the reader an overview of how/what happened during the design process.
  3. Design Process: Use the Design Process section of your Activity Log to complete this section of the report and provide the reader with more details on how you developed your boat design. It needs to be organized clearly so the reader can follow your thought process. Include safety precautions, materials used, significant details, frustrations, solutions, things that went well, and new ideas you had as you tested your initial design. The log can be in a more “list” or “outline” format, but there still needs to be complete thoughts and sentences so the reader can understand what you did and why.
  4. Design Drawings: Include labeled drawings of your original design and your final design, if you made changes after your test trials, from your Activity Log. These can be hand-drawn as long as they are neat and clear.
  5. Data and Calculations: You will need to clearly present your calculations as well as any test data you used to determine the amount of baking soda and vinegar to fuel your boat. In addition to the calculations you did to determine the proper ratio of baking soda and vinegar, you should also provide the data from your 3 test trials and your final race. Data, including units, needs to be organized in a table format. Be sure to note how you used your data and calculations to determine your fuel ratio for the final race. (Hint: both the Calculations worksheet and the Data section of your Activity Log will help with this section of your report)
  6. Conclusion: Provide a short summary of the design process and reflect on what you learned in this project. Be sure to include what went well, what difficulties you encountered, and what you might change if you were able to do further testing and make further refinements to your boat.

Next to each numbered section above, put the initials of the group member who will complete that section.

Activity Log

Design Process

A. Safety precautions:

B. Materials list:

C. Ideas & frustrations:

Design Drawings

Include notes on any modifications you plan to make to the original design drawing.

A. Original, labeled boat design:

B. Final, labeled boat design:


In the space provided below, create appropriate data tables to organize your data and observations from each of your trials and your final race.

Trial 1:

Trial 2:

Trial 3: