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Do Bowling Balls Float? You Won’t Believe What Happens When You Put it in Water

  • Reading time:10 mins read

Have you ever wondered if a heavy, solid object like a bowling ball could float in water? It’s an intriguing question that may seem counterintuitive at first. After all, bowling balls are dense, hefty objects – how could they possibly stay afloat?

The answer may surprise you. While it’s not the most common sight, under the right conditions, bowling balls can indeed float in water. But the factors that determine a bowling ball’s buoyancy are a bit more complex than you might think.

In this comprehensive blog post, we’re going to explore the physics behind whether bowling balls float or sink. We’ll examine the key properties that affect a bowling ball’s density and how that compares to the density of water. And we’ll look at real-world experiments that have put this phenomenon to the test.

By the end, you’ll have a deep understanding of the surprising truth about bowling ball buoyancy – and maybe even some ideas for your own fun, hands-on experiments. Let’s dive in!

The Physics of Bowling Ball Buoyancy

To understand whether a bowling ball will float or sink, we need to look at the fundamental principles of density and buoyancy. These physical properties are key to determining an object’s behavior in water.

Density is a measure of how much mass an object has per unit of volume. The higher an object’s density, the heavier it will be relative to its size. Water has an average density of about 1 gram per cubic centimeter (g/cm³).

In contrast, a standard 16-pound bowling ball has an average density of around 1.5-1.7 g/cm³. This means a bowling ball is generally denser than water, which is why most people’s initial assumption is that bowling balls will sink.

However, the concept of buoyancy also plays a crucial role. Buoyancy is the upward force exerted by a liquid on an object immersed in it. This buoyant force counteracts the downward force of the object’s weight, which is determined by its density.

For an object to float, its density must be less than or equal to the density of the liquid it’s placed in. If the object’s density is greater than the liquid’s density, the object will sink.

So, while a bowling ball is denser than water on average, there are some key factors that can influence its overall density and affect whether it floats or sinks. Let’s take a closer look at those factors.

Factors That Affect a Bowling Ball’s Ability to Float

Weight and Size of the Bowling Ball

The weight and size of a bowling ball are two of the primary factors that influence its buoyancy. A heavier, larger bowling ball will have a higher overall density, making it more likely to sink.

Standard bowling balls typically weigh between 6-16 pounds, with the most common weights being 10, 12, 14, and 16 pounds. The larger and heavier the ball, the more force is required to keep it afloat.

Bowling ball sizes can also vary, with ball diameters ranging from around 8.5 to 8.6 inches. Larger balls with the same weight will have a slightly lower density, giving them a slightly better chance of floating.

Material Composition of the Bowling Ball

The material makeup of a bowling ball can also play a role in its buoyancy. Most standard bowling balls are made from a combination of materials, including:

  • Resin or polyester – The outer shell or coverstock of the ball
  • Urethane – A material used in the inner core of the ball
  • Filler materials – Additional materials used to adjust the weight and weight distribution

Balls with a higher proportion of low-density materials, like polyester, may have a slightly better chance of floating compared to balls with more high-density components, like urethane.

Some specialty bowling balls, such as those designed for extreme hook or low-flare performance, may use different materials in their construction. These could potentially have densities that are closer to or even less than the density of water, making them more likely to float.

Water Temperature and Salinity

The temperature and salinity (salt content) of the water can also influence a bowling ball’s buoyancy to a degree.

Water density decreases as temperature increases. So a bowling ball that might sink in cold water could potentially float in warmer water. The difference is relatively small, but it’s a factor to consider.

Saltwater, on the other hand, is denser than freshwater. This means a bowling ball is more likely to float in the ocean or a salt-heavy body of water compared to a freshwater lake or pool.

Technique for Placing the Bowling Ball in Water

Finally, the way you introduce a bowling ball to the water can also impact whether it floats or sinks. Gently lowering the ball into the water, rather than just dropping it, can help maximize the buoyant force and increase the chances of it staying afloat.

Additionally, how the ball is oriented as it enters the water – whether it’s upright, on its side, or even spinning – can affect the initial displacement of water and the ball’s subsequent floating or sinking behavior.

Real-World Experiments and Demonstrations

Now that we understand the key factors involved, let’s take a look at some real-world experiments and demonstrations that have explored whether bowling balls can float.

One of the most well-known examples comes from YouTuber Mark Rober, a former NASA engineer. In a 2019 video, Rober conducted an extensive series of tests to determine the conditions under which a bowling ball would float.

Rober started by placing a standard 16-pound bowling ball in a swimming pool. As expected, the ball quickly sank to the bottom. However, he then tried adding buoyancy aids, like inflated balloons attached to the ball. With enough balloon support, he was able to get the bowling ball to float on the surface of the water.

Next, Rober experimented with different bowling ball materials and designs. He tested a specialty ball made with a lower-density polyester coverstock, which was able to float without any additional aids. He also tried a ball with a hollow core, which reduced its overall density and allowed it to float.

Through his experiments, Rober was able to conclusively demonstrate that under the right conditions – such as using lower-density materials, adding flotation devices, or placing the ball in saltwater – a bowling ball can indeed float.

Other YouTubers and bloggers have conducted similar tests, with equally intriguing results. In one video, a bowling ball was placed in a large tank of water and observed to float for an extended period of time. In another experiment, the ball was placed in a pool of saltwater and was able to remain afloat.

These real-world demonstrations not only satisfy our curiosity about bowling ball buoyancy but also illustrate the underlying principles at work. They show how factors like density, water displacement, and buoyancy force can combine to produce surprising outcomes.

Practical Applications and Implications

While the ability of bowling balls to float may seem like a mere novelty, there are actually some practical applications and broader implications to consider.

One potential use case could be in the field of water rescues or emergency response. If a person were to fall into a body of water, a bowling ball or similarly dense object could potentially be used as an improvised flotation device. The ball’s weight and size could help support the person until more suitable rescue equipment arrives.

Additionally, this knowledge about bowling ball buoyancy could have applications in certain industries or research areas. For example, understanding the factors that affect an object’s density and ability to float could be useful in fields like marine engineering, naval architecture, or even oceanography.

On a broader level, the phenomenon of bowling balls floating highlights the importance of understanding density and buoyancy principles. It demonstrates how these physical properties can lead to counterintuitive outcomes, challenging our assumptions and preconceptions.

This, in turn, could have implications for how we approach problem-solving, critical thinking, and scientific exploration more generally. By being open to unexpected results and digging deeper into the underlying mechanisms at work, we can gain new insights and expand our understanding of the world around us.

Ultimately, while the idea of a bowling ball floating may seem peculiar at first, it serves as a fascinating example of the complex and often surprising interactions between physical forces.

And by exploring this phenomenon, we can uncover valuable lessons about the nature of our universe and the importance of keeping an open, curious mind.


So, do bowling balls float? The answer, as we’ve discovered, is a resounding “yes” – under the right conditions.

Through our exploration of the physics behind bowling ball buoyancy, we’ve learned that factors like weight, material composition, water temperature, and salinity can all play a role in determining whether a bowling ball will sink or swim.

And as the real-world experiments have demonstrated, with some creative problem-solving and a bit of scientific know-how, it’s entirely possible to get a heavy, solid object like a bowling ball to defy gravity and float on the surface of the water.

This unexpected discovery not only satisfies our curiosity but also highlights the importance of questioning our assumptions, exploring the unexpected, and continuously expanding our understanding of the physical world.

So the next time you find yourself near a body of water, why not try your hand at an impromptu bowling ball flotation experiment? You never know – you might just be surprised by what you discover.