1. Your Team & Role

You should begin thinking about your paddlers and their placement. 


  • 18 – 20 paddling at any given time
  • Responsible for keeping a quiet and focused boat
  • Responsible for listening to and following instructions quickly



  • The paddlers that sit in the front row of the boat
  • Leads the paddlers in stroke rate and timing
  • Drummer and lead stroke must be in time with each other
  • Drummer and lead stroke are in constant communication as to what is happening in the boat and around the boat
  • Drummer calls commands based on the entry of the strokes’ paddles
  • Two more strokes may be used, in the middle of the boat, to help keep paddlers in time
  • Essential that both sets of strokes coordinate timing
  • Some sort of reflective tape on the inside wrist of the strokes may help paddlers see the strokes and to keep time


  • Sits at the front of the boat with the drum
  • Controls the boat during practice or during a race
  • Prior to docking, the drummer will hand control back to the steersperson
  • Together the drummer and steersperson bring the boat back into the dock
  • The only exception to this is the steersperson can take over the boat at any time for safety reasons
  • Responsible for the safety of the crew from sides and back
  • Coaches the crew through the practice
  • Knows the correct boat crew commands to call out
  • Sets the race tactics and calls the race


  • Stands at the back of the boat with the steering oar
  • Sets the path the boat is to take
  • Responsible for the safe operation of the dragon boat
  • Knows the correct boat crew commands to call out
  • Ensures safety equipment is on the boat
  • Is the person, ultimately, in control of the boat
  • Once away from the dock, the steersperson will hand over the control of the boat to the drummer who will then lead the practice or call the race
  • At any time the steersperson can take over the boat for safety reasons

2. Cadence (the beat or pace)

Most of us know what a Cadence is. However, I thought it would be important to define it in relation to Dragon Boat Racing. According to the free Merriam-Webster dictionary online a Cadence is:

1.b : the beat, time, or measure of rhythmical motion or activity

The beat of the Cadence comes from the lead paddlers. The lead paddlers set the rhythm of the stroke. Each drummer beats the drum to the pace of the lead paddler’s strokes. Voila, you have a cadence.

The Cadence provides each paddler with the timing and the speed of the strokes. Synchronization is one of the major key components of getting your team to the finish line as efficiently and fast as possible!

And I don’t know about you, but when I hear a drum beat, I just can’t help but move to it! The same thing applies to paddling. You will be surprised at how the drummer and the cadence will keep the paddles moving.

3. Paddle or Oar?

Many people think Dragon Boat is like rowing. But there is a big difference!

A common misconception is that Dragon Boats are equipped with oars. This is incorrect. In boats that use oars there are rowlocks available. There are no rowlocks on a Dragon Boat. Hence, the paddler is the main support for the paddle.

The paddle in Dragon Boat racing is most often made of wood or carbon material and is used to move the water while propelling the boat forward. The paddler holds the paddle with two hands one at the top of the handle, the other closer to the top of the paddle blade. The paddle is drawn down through the water from front to back to drive the boat forward.

Check out this video on proper paddling technique

Paddlers may want to wear gloves to prevent blistering if they are not used to paddling often.

4. Boat Commands

These are the most common paddling terms that are used in Dragon Boat racing. The Coach should become familiar with these terms and brief the team on them before the practice day. Everyone should understand and obey the commands to keep the boat safe and to paddle in sync.

  • LET IT RUN (RIDE) – paddles in the relaxed position, parallel over the water pointed at 90 degrees to the side of the boat.
  • PADDLES UP – paddles above the water ready to take a stroke. Commonly used for starting the movement of the boat in a non-race situation
  • TAKE IT AWAY – command to start paddling.
  • LET IT RUN  – paddling stops and boat coasts to a stop on its own.
  • CHECK THE BOAT – bringing the boat to a full stop and holding it steady in place with placing the paddles in the water. 
  • ATTENTION PLEASE – race command in a start situation for paddles to be placed in position for the first stroke (submerged or out of water).
  • START – a combination of strokes during a race (usually at start of a race), often a set of 10 or 20 strokes that are quicker and more forceful to help pop the boat up from stationary position.


  • ROWING – rowers use oars, therefore they are rowers. Dragon boaters use paddles therefore they are paddlers. You do not row a dragon boat!

5. Paddle 101

It is important to understand the different parts of the stroke. If the team is in sync with their stroke form then the boat will move smoothly. If the team struggles with their positions and stroke form the boat will feel sluggish. There are 6 parts of a stroke rotation: reach, catch, pull, exit and recovery. The A-Frame position shows the optimal position for each paddler to be in.

By Luakit_