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STEM Activities

STEM Activity: Build Your Very Own Higgins Boat

In this activity, you can learn all about the Higgins Boat and its impact on World War II while you design boat-enhancing features that will keep your craft afloat and allow cargo and passengers to easily disembark.

Materials Needed

  • Balloons
  • Balsa wood (if available)
  • Boat from the Camp Invention® Deep Sea Mystery™ module (if available)
  • Bucket, large container or pool
  • Drawing materials (e.g., crayons, markers, paper, pencils)
  • Recyclables (e.g., cardboard, shoebox, water bottle)
  • Scissors
  • Straws
  • String
  • Tape
  • Washers (or other small objects to act as weights)

At-Home Instructions

  1. Use and other websites and books to research the Higgins Boat and its unique design.
  2. Gather drawing materials and sketch boat designs that will allow cargo and passengers to easily disembark. Might you try adding a ramp? How about a pulley system?
  3. Build a prototype of the boat you designed. Use recyclables and other available craft supplies to do so. Perhaps these Camp Invention participant boat designs will inspire you.
  4. Consider adding other elements to help your boat stay afloat (e.g., adding a ballast), and accomplish other tasks, like getting to shore safely (e.g., design a grappling hook).
  5. Explore various materials for taking your boat features to the next level. Experiment with the buoyancy of different supplies to make a seaworthy vessel.
  6. Test your boat and its elements in a container, bucket or wading pool. Play this video for extra immersion while testing!

Educators: Use this activity in the classroom with these modifications!

Use this activity to explore how simple machines can help accomplish tasks. Have participants work in teams to design and build boats out of recyclables. Then task the teams to use string, washers, cardboard, pushpins and other available materials to add an inclined plane and pulley system onto their boat. Discuss buoyancy and the advantages of having a ballast on a ship. Explore the provided resources embedded in this activity on the Higgins Boat along with its inventor, National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Andrew Higgins, and examine the innovations that allowed this landing craft to play a pivotal role in World War II.

What are we learning?

The Higgins Boat, or Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), was critical to the Allied success in World War II. NIHF Inductee Andrew Higgins made modifications to the Eureka, a boat he invented to retrieve hard-to-reach trees in Louisiana swamps and used in his lumber business, to allow for efficient ship-to-shore deployment of troops and equipment. Due to the landing craft’s innovative design, the Higgins Boat was able to land on a beach, lower its ramp, empty troops and cargo in seconds, and then extract from the beach to reload. Along with having a retractable bow ramp, the landing craft also had a patented ballast system that allowed it to travel in shallow water and a carrying capacity of 8,100 pounds, and it was made of mostly plywood, which allowed it to be lightweight. After the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Higgins Boats were used in the island-hopping campaign through Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa, in North Africa and Italy, and for the D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy.

This activity also explores simple machines, or devices that make work easier by changing either the size or direction of force. Simple machines often play a role in technological innovations. Two such devices, inclined planes and pulleys, are featured in this activity to help unload cargo.

Additionally, this activity involves discoveries in buoyancy. When an object is placed in water, two primary forces are acting on it. A gravitational force yields a downward force, while a buoyancy force yields an upward force. The gravitational force is determined by an object’s weight, and the buoyancy force is determined by the weight of the water displaced by the object.

Looking for more STEM activities?

Check out our Camp Invention Facebook page and official blog for more hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activities!

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