How to Make Paper Boats and Race Them With Your Kids

Do your kids love to play water games?

Are they excited to get outdoors now that spring is here?

Want a great activity that involves a heaping helping of nature and a bit of competition?

Here’s a fun way to bond with your kids, explore the outdoors and let your competitive streak shine: as a family, make paper boats and sail them down a stream.

Don’t have a nearby stream? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.

In this article I’ll show you how to build a paper boat (also called an origami boat) and then find the perfect stream for a family boat race.

How to fold a paper boat (also called an origami boat) with your kids and find the perfect stream for a family boat race.

Why Construct Paper Boats?

Boats, like cars, trains, airplanes and all transportation really, take you away from your everyday life and lead to an exciting adventure. And what kid doesn’t like an adventure… especially an outdoor journey with a craft thrown in for extra fun?

All you need is some paper or cardboard, duct tape and a flowing stream. You’ll have your kids outside racing paper boats in no time.

Before you make boats with your kids, ask them where they would most like to travel by boat. It can be a real or a made-up place. What would their boat look like? Do they want to sail around the world? Where’s the first place they would stay?

boy floating paper boat

Boats inspire kids to use their imagination and make up adventures. Image source: iStockPhoto.

Once you spark their imaginations, they’ll be ready to set sail. But first you have to make the boats.

Building paper boats is fun and provides your kids the opportunity to be creative and add their own flair to their boat. They can decorate their boat with markers, paint or even ribbon—although not too much ribbon since we want the boat to float. They can even try adding light toys or origami animals.

paper boat with toy

Be creative with your paper boats and add toys inside to “sail” them.

Once the boats are ready, find the perfect spot and have a family competition. Have your kids race their boats downstream. By the way, that’s another good reason to decorate your boats—differentiation. So everyone can watch his or her own boat during the race.

Which boat will win? You’ll soon find out.

You Will Need

  • Paper or cardboard (letter-sized: 8.5″ x 11″ or A4)
  • Scissors
  • Duct tape (for waterproofing)
  • Small cardboard boxes
  • Markers, paint, ribbons or other decorations (optional)
  • Plastic or paper toys (optional)

Preparation Time

5-15 minutes

Activity Time

30+ minutes


A stream, bathtub or wading pool

Are you ready? On your mark, get set, make a paper boat!

#1: Make Your Boat

It’s easy to take a piece of paper and turn it into a boat. (Note: You may need to help younger kids with some of the folds. You can also make your own boat. The more boats the better for when we get to the boat-racing part!)

Step 1: Fold a letter-sized (8.5″ x 11″ or A4) piece of paper or cardboard in half, making a neat crease along the middle.

paper to make boat

Start by folding your paper in half.

Step 2: Fold the two corners of the folded edge inwards toward the middle, so that the top makes a point.

Step 3: Now, fold the bottom loose rectangular ends up toward the end of the triangles. Then turn the boat over and repeat on the other side. The boat should look like a hat.

fold edges of paper

Fold the edges along the crease inward and then fold up the loose ends on both sides.

Step 4: Fold the bottom corners inward. Flip the boat over and fold the other side.

fold bottom corners

Fold the bottom corners inward on both sides, so the paper is in the shape of a triangle.

Step 5: Next, open up the boat into the hat shape and then fold it over into a square.

fold triangle into square

Fold the triangle back into a square.

Step 6: Fold the bottom flaps upward—toward the top corner—and form another triangle.

fold bottom flaps

Fold up the bottom flaps toward the top corner to form another triangle.

Step 7: Now take the triangle, shift it and make it into a square. (I know; again. Be patient, we are almost done.)

shift the triangle

Shift the triangle into another small square.

Step 8: Take the top corners and pull them down to reveal your paper boat.

finished paper boat

Voilà! Your paper boat!

There’s a lot of folding. A square. A triangle. Another square. Another triangle. Etc. Just be patient and watch the video again if you need to.

WikiHow shows you how to make your own paper boat.

Once you have the boat-folding down, you and your kids can get more creative by decorating your boats using paint, markers or other craft items you have around the house.

add decorations to your boat

Once your boat is folded, get creative and add arty decorations to distinguish your boat.

Once your boat’s complete and decorated to your liking, add duct tape to the bottom of it. This will make it waterproof and keep it intact during your adventures at sea.

Use both silver and black duct tape to decorate your paper boat. Don’t add too much duct tape because the weight of it will pull the boat down and it will sink. (Note: I recommend each of you make several boats, so you can keep the fun going in case there is a leak in your first boat or it sinks.)

girl with newspaper boats

If you want to make bigger boats, use larger paper and newsprint. Image source: iStockPhoto.

You can try making boats with colored paper, newsprint, cardboard boxes and toilet paper tubes. You can also really embellish your boats and use them just for décor. Some people make paper boats big enough to fit a person.

There are lots of ways you can experiment when you make a paper boat. For variety, you can also try other boat shapes or make paper airplanes.

This video has an alternate, more advanced paper-boat design.

Not interested in folding? Here’s an easy way to make a boat out of a juice box.

One more thing: make sure your kids name their boats. You can’t set sail on a boat without it having a name.

#2: Find the Perfect Stream

Searching for a stream can take a while. To avoid turning your kids’ excitement into frustration, find the perfect stream before you make your boats and head out to sail them.

The perfect stream for your boat race is one that flows at a slow pace and does not have any rapids or waterfalls. Rough waters can destroy your paper boat. The stream shouldn’t be too deep, since you’ll have to retrieve the boats at a later stage.

the perfect river

Find the perfect stream. Scout it out first, though, so your kids don’t get frustrated waiting to race their boats.

Don’t have a stream close by? You could float your boats in a swimming pool or wading pool at home. On a windy day, you can try racing them in your backyard.

A couple more options: take them out to a pond or float them in your bathtub at home.

No wind? Give your kids straws and see who blows their boat across the tub fastest.

#3: Sail Your Boats

Ready, set, race!

boy with paper boat

Now that you’ve made a boat in eight easy steps, it’s time to set sail. Image source: iStockPhoto.

Now the fun begins! Place your paper boats in the stream and watch them get swept away by the flowing water.

You can also race your boats down the stream.

Have a family meeting and decide on the rules of the race. Agree on a starting point and finish line. Then mark them with a rock or a stick. Also decide if it’s okay to blow on your boats with air from a straw or paper fan to move them along. Plus, make sure you have a family member retrieve the boats at the finish line.

You can have your kids take turns as the official judge. This person will start the race—”On your mark, get set, go!”—and announce which boat crosses the finish line first.

boats in stream

Watch your boats sail down the stream.

Remember the saying, “It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Make sure you and your kids have a conversation about sportsmanship before you start racing. It’s a wonderful teaching moment. Kids need to know that a race isn’t just about who wins, it’s about having a fun, memorable experience, and in this case having a great adventure with your family.

Some Final Thoughts

Building paper boats and sailing them is a wonderful bonding experience you can have with your family. It’s not only fun, but also gets your kids outdoors and allows them to unleash their imaginations. Remember to have your kids customize their boats to add a bit of creative flair and ask them where they would go if they could set sail on an actual boat adventure.

What do you think? Have you raced paper boats before? Where will you hold your race? Let us know about your paper boat experience. Leave a comment or photo in the comment section below. We’d also love to see photos of your customized boats.

Images from iStockPhoto.

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About the Author, Lara Moses

A passionate wordsmith, proud vegetarian and adventurous traveler from Cape Town, South Africa. Kid at heart. Co-founder of and freelance writer and social media manager. Other posts by »

  • Eric Dingler

    Great activity during the winter in the bathtub. Thanks for the post, very clear step by step pictures….I needed those.

  • Jennifer Ballard

    Thanks, Lara! This brings back memories. It’s fun to share activities with my kids that I did when I was young–like this.

  • Lara Moses

    Definitely. It is a great activity for all seasons and keeps kids entertained for hours.

  • Lara Moses

    I also did this with my father when I was younger. I must admit, it’s great fun for both parents and kids.

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