Blast off safely with water-bottle rockets at your next unit event

Combine high-flying rockets with the cool spray of water and you’ve got an exciting way to have some summertime fun.

Launching water-bottle rockets presents a way to teach your Scouts about the scientific principles of aerodynamics, force and motion. It can also offer a fun addition to a meeting or a way to recruit new Scouts. Still, you want to ensure mission control follows safety protocols. Here’s how you can safely launch water-bottle rockets.

Staying safe

A water-bottle rocket often utilizes an empty plastic bottle, a little water and compressed air. With the right balance of the materials, your rocket can fly more than 100 feet in the air. To find this balance, Scout Life magazine has a great tutorial with a video instruction. The page also includes links on how to make a launchpad. If you’ve hosted a water-bottle rocket launch recently, you can share it with Scout Life, too.

Following precautions prevents rockets from bursting or improperly launching at someone. First, adult leaders and participants should check local and state laws on launching rockets.

Second, get the right equipment. Use large bottles, like a 1- or 2-liter bottle, with thicker plastic — not small bottles with thin plastic since those are more likely to burst when filled with pressurized air.

Scouts can decorate their rockets with fins, nose cones and other décor, but make sure what they use is lightweight and non-metallic. You don’t want metal falling from the sky should it get dislodged during takeoff! For that same reason, it’s not recommended to attach action cameras or flight computers to the rockets.

We have lift-off

Concerning the launch, keep your distance. Operators should be at least 15 feet from the launchpad, and spectators should be at least 50 feet from the launchpad. This is to protect everyone in case of a rupture. For the same reason, rockets should be launched remotely from a stable launchpad. Don’t hold the rocket.

When setting up the rocket, point it skyward within 30 degrees of vertical so it flies straight up. Use a manual tire pump to fill the rocket with air, and use an accurate pressure gauge to verify your pressure. The air pressure should be between 50 and 90 pounds per square inch (PSI). If the rocket doesn’t launch, don’t approach it until it’s been depressurized remotely.

For more guidance on launching water-bottle rockets, see the BSA’s Safety Moment on the topic. For guidance on other projectiles, you can review Chapter 10 of the BSA shooting sports manual. The BSA has many more Safety Moments that can help guide you, along with the Guide to Safe Scouting, toward having fun, safe events.


About Michael Freeman 446 Articles
Michael Freeman, an Eagle Scout, is an associate editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines.