Walking on water

In the first of a new series of “unusual challenges” we ask readers to devise a concept system that could enable a person to walk across the English Channel.

From Louis Bleriot’s maiden cross-channel flight, to the construction of the vast sub-sea tunnel linking Dover to Calais; the short stretch of water between England and France has long driven engineers to greatness and eccentrics to adventurous lunacy.

Over the years, people have ballooned, sailed, swum, hovered driven, skid, flown in jet packs and even rowed in a bath-tub across the thin arm of ocean separating us from our continental cousins. But, to our knowledge, no one has succeeded in walking across the surface to the other side.

Ashley and Matt, who work in the same building as The Engineer, hope to change this, and have asked us to ask you – our readers – to help devise a system that will enable them to stroll across the Channel later this summer.

Our first thoughts were that it might be possible. We envisaged some form of floating “hamster wheel” with paddles on the outer-surface, or perhaps a device that would translate walking motion into some form of rotary propulsion.

But the pair quickly shot these ideas down. They want – as far as possible – to rely purely on the direct motion of their own legs. They want to walk.

Our engineering instincts tell us it’s going to be tough. Without any auxiliary propulsion, they’ll be at the mercy of the wind and the waves. We’re worried that they could be spat into the North Sea, tossed unceremoniously back onto the beach, or blown into the path of a cross-channel ferry. But we’d love to be proved wrong.

Here are the key criteria:

  • The device must be based on a standing up walking motion. A cross-country skiing motion is also allowed.
  • Poles are allowed for stability but not propulsion
  • Human power is the only allowed energy source – not wind, solar, batteries etc
  • There must be a ‘shoe’ on each foot not a single platform – stabilisers on each shoe are allowed
  • No propellers or wheels
  • Fins / trim / tracking / steering aids allowed

What do you think? Could it be done, or are our spirited colleagues setting themselves up for a fall (or perhaps that should be “a drown”)

Let us know your ideas in the comment box below. You can also email detailed concepts, with images / sketches to


The most promising designs will be submitted to a panel of experts for further evaluation.