The Boat:

Port: Left side of the boat.

Starboard: Right side of the boat.

Stern/aft: The back of the boat.

Bow: The front of the boat. 

Paddle (noun): Device with a blade on one end and a handle or grip on the other used without an oarlock to propel a boat through the water. Dragon boat paddles have a very distinct shape and must be between 41 and 51 inches in length. They are made of wood or composite materials like carbon fiber. 

Oarlock/Rowlock: A brace that attaches an oar to a boat. In dragon boating, located at the rear of the boat for the steersperson's oar.

Gunwale/Gunnel: Typically the widened edge at the top of the side of the boat, where the edge is reinforced with wood, plastic or aluminum.


Caller/Drummer:  The person who sets a crew’s timing by rhythmically pounding a drum or calling stroke rates. The drummer sits in the bow and is usually lightweight. They are also in a great position to see paddlers in action (and other boats), in order to shout instructions.

Paddler: Person who paddles or a member of a dragon boat team.

Stroke/Ignition:  The first pair of paddlers at the front of the dragon boat. They are consistent paddlers who lead the stroke rate, and change the stroke rate as the team progresses through different stages of a race.

Engine Room: The middle of the boat, generally where the strongest paddlers with longest reach are located. This is the lowest part of the boat, allowing paddlers to sink their paddles deeper in the water.

Turbo/Rockets: The rear-most paddlers in the boat. Because of the fast current created by forward paddlers, they must actually paddle faster (but at same stroke rate) in order to feel the same resistance (amount of work). Paddlers in the back seats must catch the water very aggressively because the water is moving faster and is harder to get a good hold.

Steersperson/Tiller: The only person who stands on the boat, with a 10 ft steering oar, located at the stern of the boat responsible for steering and giving the crew commands, preferably someone with sailing or boating experience. Steering a dragon boat can be a challenge during a race with narrow lanes and wash (waves) from other boats.

The Stroke:

Stroke:  Refers to one cycle of the paddling motion. 

Reach/Extension/Rotation: The phase of the stroke in which the paddler maximizes the length of their stroke before hitting the catch.  This phase involves trunk rotation in order to maximize reach.

Catch: The next part of the dragon boat stroke, where paddle is forward over the water. This is the only place where there might be a pause (which should never happen at the back of the stroke).

Hitting the catch: Driving the paddle forcefully into the water at maximum reach. 

Plunge and Pull: The middle part of the dragon boat stroke where paddle is first sunk and THEN pulled through water to the hip. The paddle should be out over the water, and the body de-rotates to pull the paddle back directly parallel with the boat. 

Exit: The last part of the dragon boat stroke where the paddle leaves the water cleanly and quickly midway between the paddler’s knee and hip. Don't pause at the back! The top hand leads the exit (think of it like drawing a sword.)

Recovery: The final phase of the stroke in which the paddle, following the exit, is snapped forward to the catch position.

Stroke Types:

Paddle (verb): To move through water by means of repeated short strokes of the limbs. One "paddles" in dragon boat, as opposed to "rowing."

Back Paddling: The stroke used to bring a boat backward into or away from a dock or a race start.

Check: “Check the boat” or stopping the boat’s momentum whether in a forward or backward motion i.e. if moving forward a ‘check’ would be accomplished by back paddling. 

Draw stroke or Draw: Stroke  used  most  often  by  front  or  back  paddlers  to  line  a  boat  up  straight at the start of the race or to turn the boat around. The paddle is placed perpendicular to the side of the boat and ‘drawn’ towards the boat. 

Feather paddles: place paddles out away from boat, flat on surface of water to help stabilize the boat.

Race Breakdown:

Start: A short set of slower, deep strokes followed by a longer series of faster strokes used by teams at the beginning of a race to get the boat moving. Typically 6 and 16 or 5 and 10, varies by crew and boat style.

Six-Sixteen: A common race start technique consisting of six hard strokes followed by sixteen faster strokes. 

Race Pace: Essentially, race pace refers to the stroke rate employed during parts of a race that are not the start, series, turn or finish. The race pace must be slow enough to ensure good sync and proper paddling technique. Usually measured in strokes per minute, a slow race pace is less than 60; medium is 60 to 80 and fast is over 80 strokes per minute. Stroke rates of over 100 can be seen in international competition. See "stroke rate."

Series: Race strategy whereby crew pulls harder for 10-20 strokes with focus put on being in sync.

Finish: The point near the end of a race (in a 500m race usually the last 100m mark) when a team’s drummer/steersperson calls for an increase in power and rate. 

Drummer/Caller Commands:

"Paddles/All Up" - Get into paddle-ready position by raising paddle forward and up over water (bottom arm horizontal). Ensures everyone begins to paddle in unison. Paddles are paused in the catch position until command to start paddling is given. Not used in races.

"Take it away" - Start paddling, generally at a regular or lighter pace as instructed by the coach. Follow the stroker’s pace. Not used in races. Usually follows command of ‘All Up’

"Together!" - If the coach sees the crew starting to get out of synch, this will help paddlers refocus on their timing.

"Hold the Boat" - all paddlers to immediately sink their paddles straight down and hold tight in order to stop boat.

"Draw" - instructions (usually for one side of boat) to pull water towards the boat in order to move boat sideways.

"Reach!" - Paddlers to reach a little farther forward at catch to get longer stroke in water.

“All Down” - Command from drummer/steersperson to stop paddling and rest with paddles on laps. 

“Let it run/ride” - Command from drummer/steersperson to stop paddling and let the boat coast with blades out of the water, in an “all down” position.

“Ready, Ready” - Command used by steersperson/drummer to prepare crew for race start paddles buried in water at beginning of stroke phase. 

“Set” - Command to place paddles in a position across laps with blades out over the water in preparation for the ‘All-up’ or “Ready, Ready” command depending on whether or not you are racing.

Race Official Commands:
Commands will vary at some regattas, but common commands are:

"Starter you have the race" - Usual command when boats are almost ready at the race start line. Race is about to start... eyes in the boat, and listen to coach and follow instructions to line up the boat and prepare for race.

"Attention Please!" - The starter will sound the starter gun with 1-3 seconds. Listen to coach, prepare for race start plan.

Paddling concepts:

Stroke rate: The paddling pace, the number of times the paddle goes through the water in a minute. Rates can vary from 40 to over 80 depending on the intensity of effort. The crew’s optimum rate for racing is determined by the coach. The coach will identify different paces for practices and races, and there are different stroke rates for different parts of a race.

Positive Angle:  This is a very important concept. The paddle force acts to first RAISE the boat, and then to propel it forward. The boat is raised at the start of the stroke when the angle of the paddle is down and away from the paddler (45 degree angle). Pushing down on the water effectively raises the boat a little. By the time the stroke ends at the hip, the paddle angle is perpendicular (90 degrees) to the water (or slightly negative). If your paddle is too negative, you are lifting water up, thereby pulling the boat back down into the water (and maybe splashing the paddler behind you as well). Why do we worry about boat height? The higher the boat, the less water displaced, the less resistance on the boat (which makes it easier to go faster, and the boat glides easier between strokes).

Rushing: Occurs when a paddler’s timing is ahead of and out of sync with the rest of the crew.

Swinging: The bad habit of dropping the top hand into the boat on the recovery phase thus  causing the bladed to swing out over the water.  This inefficient technique prevents the achievement of higher stroke rates necessary for racing. 

Top Arm Drive: To maximize the catch, the top arm is driven down aggressively burying the paddle. The top arm continues to push down until the end of the stroke.   

Wake (wash) Riding: Sliding or surfing down the bow wake of a boat in front of you while veering slightly away from the other boat.  Gives an advantage in speed to the boat which can provide a significant advantage.  Prevented by using wide lanes or enforcing lane position to keep boats in the center of their lane.