water table/play area

So I recently took my 3 year old to the children's museum in Indianapolis, which was great, but what really stuck out for him was the water table/play area. I think he would have been happy chasing boats around that table all day. But it got me to thinking that i could build one of these in the backyard (scaled down, of course!).

I've been looking for plans to accomplish this, but everything I find is basically an elevated tub or plastic tote. The project I'm envisioning would be on an incline so the boats could follow a set path. Initially, I was thinking it would be shaped like a ring, so he could climb under it to be in the middle, but I think a rectangle would be simpler (and walking around the table would be good exercise for him!) The path would (on a gentle incline) circle around the perimeter of the rectangle, so boats would eventually end up near the starting place. He could then pick up the boats and set them on another circuit. Probably would need a pump to pull water from the end back up to the starting point, which would provide a current to help the boats along. 

Any ideas or suggestions that could help this project along? Potential issues? One thing I'm not sure about is how to handle the water depth on the incline. I forsee the water rushing down the incline to quickly, leaving just a trickle to attempt to carry the boats along, leaving the boats "beached." Maybe there should be no incline at all and rely on the pump to provide the current?

I'll attach some images of the super fancy versions we've encountered in museums, just as example of my inspiration.  

Downunder35m3 months ago

You don't really need a slope for the water.
If the channel is levelled properly you can use multiple in and outlets.
If the inlets are at an angle to support a flow direction the water will flow that way.
The outlets can be by means of overflows or by hose connections on the underside - depends on you skill set and tools at hand.
At least this way you can make the boats moving at all times.

Nostalgic Guy3 months ago

I reckon you have a great idea kids love things like that & it's great opportunity for some learning by experience to happen.

I think using an incline could be overcomplicating things, I'd go for a relatively powerful 12v pond pump perhaps the kind used for fountains or to lift water a metre or so for waterfalls, or as a friend of mine used for a similar child friendly ground level water feature in his garden a filtration pump from an above ground garden swimming pool.

With some clever plumbing he made water inlets on both sides of his circuit which if I recall correctly was about 30' in total, he had sufficient water flow to have a channel about 16" wide and 3" deep and was even able to do experiments with his kids using sand to show how water flow shapes the land, all very impressive stuff to five and seven year old kids with enquiring minds.