"Dragon Boat racing is fun…but we are no sloughs when it comes to competition and technique."

The Dragon Boat

A dragon boat is a large canoe-shaped boat propelled by paddlers sitting in rows of two. The boat’s main distinguishing features are dragon scales painted along the sides of the boat and, normally only at race time, an oriental dragon head attached to the front and a stylized dragon’s tail attached to the rear.

The boat is steered by a Steersperson (Steers) using a long oar located at the rear of the boat. At festivals, a Drummer (Coach) sits in a chair placed on the bow, facing the crew, either calling or using a drum (often a large Chinese-style) to beat out the stroke pace.

A full crew consists of 22 people – 20 paddlers, a Steersperson and a Drummer. The paddlers are seated in pairs on each of the 10 seats, the Steersperson is standing at the back of the boat, and the Drummer is seated at the front. During practices we have a coach in place of a Drummer at the front of the boat. 

In a race, the goal is to have the crew move the boat forward as quickly and efficiently as possible.  A typical race is 500-metres in length and lasts two to three minutes, depending on weather and water conditions. Race success requires a combination of stroke technique, paddling in unison, and endurance.

Dragon Boat Crew Members

A crew usually consists of 22 members – 20 paddlers, a STEERSPERSON and a DRUMMER (usually our Coach).

The 20 paddlers are broken down into three sections: the FRONTS (the first six paddlers), the ENGINE ROOM (the middle eight paddlers) and the BACKS (the last six paddlers).

The STROKES are the two paddlers in the first seat and they set the pace for the rest of the boat. These two paddlers must work in unison and stay in time with each other. 

The FRONTS are usually shorter paddlers because this section of the boat is narrower and has the least legroom. They must be skilled paddlers who can match the pace set by the strokes, as all other paddlers behind them are following this set pace.

The ENGINE ROOM paddlers provide much of the power. Generally taller paddlers are placed in this section of the boat because it is the widest and has the most leg room.|

The BACKS are often skilled technical paddlers because the water near the rear of the boat is already cavitating (moving) and is very difficult to manage.

The STEERSPERSON (also called the Steers) stands at the back of the boat and uses a large steering oar. This person’s job is to keep the boat traveling in a straight line so the paddlers can propel the boat forward in the fastest and most efficient manner. The Steersperson is responsible for the overall safety of the crew and the boat.  

The DRUMMER (usually our Coach) sits on a raised chair at the front of the boat, faces the crew and has her/his back to the finish line. This person is responsible for calling out the stroke pace by watching the lead stroke and relaying the pace to the rest of the crew, either through voice commands and/or by hitting the drum. The Drummer has a loud voice, a calm demeanor and often is small in stature.

Terms and Glossary of Commands

Our Dragon Boat Stroke

Not all dragon boat strokes are the same. After using two methods that incorporated more shoulder use, the club was fortunate to have elite Canadian coaches come to Nelson in 2016 to teach us the stroke we currently use. This stroke is much easier on the body incorporating our legs and core using a twisting motion of the torso while keeping our heads looking across and up the boat to seat 1. The first season we incorporated the stroke we started winning races at festivals!

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