Note: This guide was written before Command Blocks were a thing.
Boat races can be incredibily fun, especially when many players are competing. It’s relatively easy to set up and there aren’t really any rules as to what you can build, though there are, of course, limitations to what a boat can do.
You could create a simple, straight track in the middle of the ocean and see who’s the fastest or you could create a massive river starting on a large mountain and ending in the ocean.
Though no matter the design you choose, make sure you build according to the skills and limitations of the players on your server. A huge river will look nice and epic, but when the players on your server aren’t into boat races or when they get frustrated every time their boat breaks on an annoying corner in your river, nobody is going to be racing any boats.
If you’re having trouble designing your race, try one of these blockades, rapids and other mechanisms to make your boat race a little more challenging.
Wild Water Rapids
These are often quite challenging as boats are hard to control. These rapids can easily be created by placing water blocks a few blocks apart, they’ll flow in all directions and create odd currents.
Make sure you test your rapids yourself, many rapids are too difficult or impossible to go through without breaking your boat.
Waterfalls can be used just for fun, as an easy way to get down, or as a challenge.
By making the water fall into a small pond, the players will have to slightly aim their boats if they were going too fast. Players who miss the pond will break their boats and most likely die from falling damage.
Water elevators are basically closed in waterfalls. However, these elevators have to be made entirely out of water source blocks or else the boats will not be able to go up.
It’s always best to surround the water blocks with solid blocks to prevent the water from flowing everywhere. If you don’t, going up the elevator will be close to impossible. By using fence gates or doors you can create openings through which boats can pass, but water can’t.
Whirlpools are a great obstacle and also look perfect when incorporated well with the surroundings. They’re easy to build. You simply create many circles out of any solid block, each time going 1 block lower and smaller, until you’ve reached the center. Then you place water on the outer ring and let the water flow inwards. You can make it as big and as small as you want, though keep in mind that boats will have to be able to pass, unless they need to enter the center of the whirlpool to get to an underground passage or something similar.
Closing Piston Doors
Pistons make great obstacles as they can be turned on and off with a redstone clock. The blockade can be as simple as a single piston pushing and pulling a block on one side of the water or as difficult as large mechanisms of pistons smashing into each other, with only just enough time to make it through to the other side.
Dispenser traps can make it very difficult to get passed without breaking your boat. Simply building a line of dispensers connected to a redstone clock will make them fire arrows at a constant rate. Add some delays to different dispensers to make sure they don’t fire all at once. This looks great in jungle style designs and give it an Indiana Jones-like feel.
Animals can be a pain to pass with a boat. Bumping into any mob too fast will break your boat. Using hostile mobs makes it even more difficult, especially if you use skeletons.
A funny way to use this is by placing many chickens inside a huge, player created couldron, basically creating a chicken soup through which the contestants must navigate.
Giving the contestants or perhaps the audience weapons always adds an extra bit of competitiveness to the race. Players will usually abandon trying to be the first over the line for the first half of the race, instead, players will only try to kill each other or break each other’s boats. Bows and arrows and splash potions work great as they have a longer range than swords. Swords tend to make people accidently click their own boats.
Give the audience bows and arrows and let them shoot on the contestants, or go for the safer option and give them snowballs and eggs.