Since 1992, water levels in Lake Michigan have dropped by nearly six feet. This trend presents a challenge for recreational boating due to the water levels required for boat launches. In light of declining water levels, sand buildup at launch facilities, and increased dredging costs, the Winnetka Park District needs a boat ramp that can alleviate these conditions and work within an unpredictable, dynamic water system.


Modified Boat Launch

The student team proposed two computer-aided design (CAD) models that meet the client’s needs for short- and long-term boat launch solutions:

  • A Modular Ramp design would help alleviate dredging costs in the short term. This modular system is adjustable, removable, can be elongated or shortened, and preserves the safety and simplicity of the current system while addressing the environmental concern of sand build-up around the ramp structure.
  • An Enclosed Tank Launch would eliminate yearly dredging costs in the long term. This solution uses a hydrodynamic tank that would minimize sand build up, reduce dredging, and allow for launching during periods with low lake water levels.

Development Process

Modified Boat Launch
  1. The students were presented with a design challenge during an initial meeting with Northwestern faculty adviser, Professor Charles Dowding.

  2. After brainstorming ideas, they met with representatives of the Winnetka Park District to further understand the problem, get initial idea feedback, and learn the specific constraints for the design.

  3. The students met again with Professor Dowding to discuss their refined ideas and get expert feedback on how the ideas would impact the dynamic lakefront environment.

  4. Students met with a beach restoration expert contracted by the park district to understand if the designs would alleviate the identified problems and determine if construction would be possible.

  5. Students met with the Winnetka Park District representatives for final feedback on their presented solutions. They discussed if the cost-benefit analysis met the organization’s fiscal parameters.