Long before the Australian city of Darwin had an official recycling program, residents found a new life for their empty beer and soda cans.

In 1974, while organising a local water festival on Fannie Bay, Lutz Frankenfeld and Paul Rice-Chapman decided it would be fun to build a raft out of beer cans and encourage others to do the same. So the first annual Darwin Beer Can Regatta was born.

Now in its 40th year, the regatta has grown to include more than 65 beer can boats. Some are made from more than 1,500 empty cans, some range 12m in length and some come from countries as far as Canada and Belgium. Events and races are held throughout the one-day event, this year on 7 July.

The “Battle Of Mindil” is a major highlight of the regatta; sailors set out to be the first to find a hidden object as random as a broken emergency radio beacon, a six-pack of beer, or a wooden chest and are allowed to attack other boats with water guns and flour. During the “Can Boat Challenge” teams of four compete to be the fastest beer boat in the water as they race around a short course and a number of buoys in the bay. Despite its name, the Beer Can Regatta also has a “Best Soft Drink” competition for boats made from cola cans, so those under the legal drinking age can compete. 

All of the participating boats must use cans as their primary floatation device; a handy can-struction guide is available for newcomers. For visitors without a seaworthy vessel, there are land-based events such as tug-of-war, thong-throwing (the flip-flop kind) and sandcastle construction.

Can’t make it to the competition? The Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney has beer-can boats from previous regattas on display year-round.