Building A Human-Sized Pop-Pop Boat

Pop-pop boats are a neat little science teaching tool that many children end up playing with at some point or other. They’re normally sized to float around a sink or bathtub. [Steve Mould] recently got the opportunity to board a much larger example,  sized for an actual human passenger.

The boat belongs to the The AHHAA Science Center in Estonia, along with a smaller model about half the size. Both are fired by propane gas burners to give them some real heat output into the water tank, far beyond what you’d get from little tea light candles. In the case of the larger boat, it uses a series of valves to allow the tank to be filled with water while the rear thrust pipes are closed.

At the larger scale, it’s more easy to visualize the flow out of the boat’s rear outlets. It’s by no means a fast way to get around on the water, with a top speed somewhat less than walking pace. It’s also very loud. Regardless, it’s amusing to see the pop-pop engine work even when scaled up to full size.

If you’re looking for an in-depth explanation of how pop-pop boats work, [Steve Mould] has covered that previously. Video after the break.

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The Secrets Of The Pop Pop Boat

Many kids get an early introduction to mechanics with tin pop-pop boats. If you haven’t played with one – you’re missing out! Pop Pop boats are fun toys – but how they work is often misunderstood. To clear this up, [Steve Mould] takes a deep dive into the theory of operation of the pop pop boat.

Most people think these toys operate like a simple steam engine, with water being flashed into steam inside a tiny tin boiler. Turns out that’s not the case. To explain the physics, [Steve] commissioned a glass version of the boat.

The glass boat shows that during normal operation, there isn’t any water at all in the “boiler” at all. The water is only in the boat’s small exhaust tubes. The air inside the tank is heated by a candle. The air expands and pushes the water out of the tubes. This allows the air to cool, and return to the tank. The water then rushes back up the tubes, and the process repeats.

One of the more interesting facts of the video is that the glass boat doesn’t pop. The popping sound associated with the boat is actually made by the tin diaphragm on top of the “boiler”.

[Steve] has gotten pretty good at explaining complex topics using clear cutaway models. If this tickles your fancy, check out his water computer.

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