Dragon Boat Racing 101


Sit up! Sit with the paddle across your lap, parallel to the water.

Paddles up/ready!
 Paddles in the ‘ready position’ but not yet in the water.

Take it away!
 Start paddling, slowly and together, as a team.

 Run the paddle blade back and forth across the water to help steady the boat.

 Hold paddle out of the top of the water – also helps steady the boat and usually done by the back six.

Hold the boat!
 Hold the paddle at your side with the blade in the water, not stroking, to slow or stop the boat.

Back paddle/Back it up/Back it down!
 Start paddling backwards, slowly and together, as a team.

 Reach out from boat and pull water towards you with the flat side of your paddle running parallel to the boat. This stroke is used to pull the boat and/or help turn in a certain direction and is preceded by the “Side and seats!” – needed to perform the action such as “Front three lefts draw!”

 Reverse of the above – start beside the boat and push water out from the boat with the flat side of your paddle paddle1running parallel to the boat. This stroke is also used to push the boat /help turn in a certain direction. Also preceded by the “Side and seats!”  and needed to perform this action such as: “Back three rights pry!”

Let it run!
 Stop paddling and hold your paddle in the “sit up” position. (This will become your favourite command!)

Ready ready/Race ready! Used at the start of a race – paddles in the water in the ready position with tips buried and all paddlers waiting for GO! command to start paddling.

 During a race – a series of 10-15 strokes that are more forceful in the water to help give the boat a surge – usually starts with the Engine Room or Back Six.

Finish! At the end of a race – similar to a series but usually more than 10-15 strokes. This varies from crew to crew and your coach will work on this as race day draws nearer.

Ten more!
 Usually used at the end of a piece and will be somewhere between 10-30 more strokes – until the coach feels you’ve got it In other words, paddle until you hear “Let it run!”

Parts of the Stroke:

1. Set up.
2. Reach and rotation.
3. Catch.
4. Pull.
5. Exit/Recovery.


  • The stroke utilizes the big muscles in your torso, not just your arms.
  • Reach with your bottom arm, using your lats to extend it further.
  • Hold your top arm high and rotate your top shoulder back, which will help extend your reach.
  • Press down on your paddle as you pull through the water.

headerwebnew11Practice Procedures and Safety

Ask questions during practice if you don’t understand a specific element of a workout. Remember, there is no such thing as a foolish question!!

Lifejackets much be worn and done up properly at all times.

When choosing a paddle, stick with a shorter, narrower blade when in doubt. Ask your coach if you’re not sure, as paddles range in length from 44 to 51 inches.

Don’t pound the sand or ground with the paddle as it causes undue wear and tear on the blade.

Initially your coach will help, but when loading the boat, it’s generally EITHER middle-to-ends OR front-to-back.

When unloading the boat, your coach will call front 2 (or 4) and back 2 (or 4) and continue calling, row-by-row, until the boat is unloaded.

When out on the water:

  • Do not stop paddling unless the coach says so.
  • Never let go of your paddle as it is difficult to retrieve from the water and can be dangerous for other boats sharing the waterway.
  • Never stand in the boat except to load and unload and when doing this, do so carefully and efficiently – the floor can be slippery and the boat will rock from side to side.

Placement in the Boat

Some paddlers who have been in the sport for a while tend to think that the best place to sit is either in the front six or the engine room and that the back six is for the ‘weaker’ paddlers. This is NOT the case.

Every section/row/seat has a function that contributes to the boat as a whole. So, if you are used to sitting in a certain spot and are asked to move, it has nothing to do with lack of performance and everything to do with boat dynamics, body movement, cohesiveness, balancing the boat, etc. The coach makes the final call for the good of the crew in these matters and confirms with the team captain that any changes are okay.

You can see more tips on padding a dragon boat here, or you can keep an eye on our Pinterest page, were we regularly add new information on techniques and tips.