by Bob Domkowski, Flygt, a Xylem brand

Pumps are the lifeblood of amusement park rides, water attractions, pools and spray parks. They facilitate the thrills, deliver the cooling enjoyment and provide the means of vehicle transportation throughout the leisure and attractions industries.

Water rides and attractions—such as Shoot the Chutes, log flume rides, super flumes, river rapids rides, fiberglass serpentine chutes and more recently, surfing attractions—are integral and popular components of any amusement, theme or water park. Today, some can even be found on cruise ships.

This article provides an overview of the major water attractions at amusement parks and the pumps that power them.

Shoot the Chutes

Shoot the Chute, the first type of amusement water thrill ride, was originally constructed in Rock Island, Illinois, in 1884. The ride located at Watchtower Park consisted of a boat that would carry patrons down 500-foot slide of greased wooden plank placed on the side of a hill, ending with a splash onto the lake. This attraction proved popular, and many more attractions of this type were constructed around the Midwest.

Components of the modern Shoot the Chute attraction include a flat-bottomed boat that generally seats from 12 to 24 guests, a powered uptake (lift chain or wide, rubber belt lift hill) that takes the boat up from the embarkation area to an upper trough and a steeply inclined drop. The upper horseshoe-shaped trough contains water that ends up spilling down the drop-track. This creates a visualization that the boat is coming over a waterfall or spillway. The boat travels down the steep decline, splashing down into the lower pond. The boat travels along the run-out track, causing an initial large splash. Because of the hull design, it also generates a huge water wall in front of the boat. Many parks use that wall of water to provide additional excitement as guests exiting the ride from the previous cycle can get drenched by that water swell.

Generally, two horizontally mounted, flow generating low-head submersible propeller pumps are installed near the passenger embarkation area in the lower pond to generate a steady current to propel the boat along the lower pond course. An additional submersible centrifugal pump is used to deliver approximately 5,000 to 6,000 gallons per minute of water to the upper ride trough supplying the waterfall effect.

Many custom attractions, such as Universal Studio’s Jurassic Park attraction, are derivatives of Shoot the Chute. With the Jurassic Park attraction, the boat vehicle begins the journey in a large pond where more than 40 small horizontal submersible propeller pumps, located along the channel pathway, generate a current that propels the boat along its heavily themed journey. After several mechanical lifts inside a themed building, the ride ends with a traditional Shoot the Chute drop and large splash run-out, soaking the riders.

Dudley Do-Right log flume at Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventures

Log Flume Rides

The log flume ride is a cornerstone attraction of any amusement park. In fact, amusement park development experts list it as one of the top 10 attractions that every park needs. The first modern-day log flume was designed and constructed by Arrow Dynamics of Clearfield, Utah, at Six Flags Over Texas in 1963—a ride that remains in operation today.

One of the first heavily themed log flumes built was the Bud Hurlbut-designed Timber Mountain Log Ride at Knott’s Berry Farm. The ride trough of the Knott’s flume is enclosed within a structure, simulating the experience of traveling through an animated working saw mill.

Similar to Shoot the Chute, after embarkation, the log flume ride begins with a lift hill using a chain or rubber belt taking the four-to-six passenger, fiberglass faux log boat vehicle up to an elevated trough. Unlike the Shoot the Chute’s simple horseshoe-shaped upper trough, the log flume traverses a narrow serpentine channel, which provides twists and turns, ending with a thrilling steep descent and splash-down. Some log flume rides use two uptakes and two drops with the final drop being the most dramatic.

The Flume at Knoebel’s Amusement Park in Elysburg, Pennsylvania, is one example of a classic double-drop log flume ride. Reverchon Industries developed and sold a semi-portable log flume ride for large carnival operations that could be set up, dismantled and moved several times per season. Several of these semi-portable attractions are installed in fixed locations as well. Luna Park at New York’s Coney Island is one example of a fixed place Reverchon Log Flume. Electric submersible propeller pumps or conventional shafted axial flow propeller pumps deliver water for travel in the lower trough while a centrifugal pump generally delivers water for the upper trough.

Super Flumes

The super flume is a more recent derivative of the traditional log flume attraction. It uses larger and wider fiberglass log vehicles that can accommodate side by side or two riders per row, doubling the vehicle capacity and ride customer throughput. Walt Disney World’s Splash Mountain attraction is an example of a super flume. Electric submersible or conventional shafted axial flow propeller pumps and centrifugal pumps deliver water for travel throughout the attraction flume troughs.

River Rapids Rides

The first river rapid ride was developed in 1980 by Intamin Ltd. and was installed in Astroworld Park in Houston, Texas. The river rapids ride replicates a rafting trip down a narrow, winding, churning river.