Adopting an animal, specifically a duck, is normally a huge commitment with a lot of responsibility; in Charleston, it’s just a neat way to give back to charity. The Rotary Club of Daniel Island, along with a few other clubs, holds an annual duck race on the Wando River benefitting Rotary community service programs both locally and globally. Before the race, the club holds “Duck Adoptions” where people can pay $10 to adopt a rubber duck to race on the big day.
On race day, 30,000 rubber ducks are dumped from a bridge 150 above the Wando River where they set off on their float downstream. About a half mile downstream the club uses oil skimmers to direct the ducks in a “V” shaped pattern. At the apex of the V, there is a small opening that forces the ducks form a single file line for the finishing stretch. The adopters of the first 11 ducks that cross the finish line win items donated from local companies or cash prizes.
As anyone can imagine, managing 30,000 rubber ducks in quite a task. When the race first started, each duck was assigned an adopter and a number. The number was written on the duck because that was the only way to keep track of which duck and lucky duck adopter won the race. The pre- and post-race work was increasingly laborious. It involved weeks of pre-race numbering and matching adopters to ducks, and post-race documenting every duck coming across the finish line and then inventorying the ducks.
After realizing that the numbering system was just too time intensive for their club, the members decided to use barcodes on the ducks. Initially, the process with barcoding was to scan the barcode into a computer and then assign the adopter. While that did save some time, manually scanning each duck was still taking weeks of work for each member of the club both pre- and post-race. Also, the barcode labels were not holding up against the Wando River. Ducks were crossing the finish line with no barcode – meaning no identity and no luck for that adopter.
In 2014, the Rotary Club realized that neither of these methods was practical and started researching other ways to manage their duck fleet when they ran across RFID. After extensive conversations with an RFID expert, RFID testing began. The club knew that they could not put the labels on the outside of the ducks after seeing so many barcodes fail, so the tag had to fit inside the ducks. Blind testing started: the club cut a small slit in the tail of the rubber duck, inserted different tags into each one, and then used a glue sealant to seal the slit. This method enabled them to test each tag’s performance inside the ducks without bias. After choosing the SMARTRAC ShortDipole RFID tag, trial runs began to ensure that race day would run smoothly.
It’s been two years and two annual duck races since the Daniel Island Rotary Club first started using RFID, and the results have been fantastic. It only took about one week with a human assembly line to tag each duck and record the number for all future races; and even better, it only takes about 30 minutes to inventory the entire fleet of 30,000 ducks. There are still a few ducks lost each year due to wind and wave conditions, but now all ducks that come across that finish line are tagged, read, and their adopters known. Club members brag about how easy and smooth it is to work with these RFID-tagged ducks and would never look back. Now instead of difficult pre-race work, all that needs to be done is to match an adopter’s name to a specific duck’s EPC number on a spreadsheet. The difficult post-race inventory count is performed in plastic barrels in record time.
The Daniel Island Rotary Club raises hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for charities and receives help from the community every year on race day. In Charleston, the “Duck Race Club” holds what is now a tech savvy local tradition every June.
For more information on the Daniel Island Rotary Club, or to adopt a duck for the next race, click the link below. Comment below or contact us for any questions about tagging hard-to-track items – like floating ducks.