Basic Paddling Technique and Tips


These are some general guidelines to paddling in a dragon boat. It is important to pay attention to your coach and fellow paddlers as minor adjustments to technique may be made as needed for each boat.

It's Teamwork!


The most important thing to pay attention to when paddling in a dragon boat is timing. A boat is most efficient when all paddlers are synchronized and in time with eachother. Keep your head up and your eyes on your pacers

Boat Sections


A dragon boat is split into three sections of paddlers:

  1. Pacers - these are the front 6 paddlers. These paddlers set the pace or stroke rate for the rest of the boat.

  2. Engine room - the middle 8 paddlers are the strongest paddlers in the boat. It is their job to propel the boat forward. 

  3. Rockets - the back 6 paddlers are the "get up and go" paddlers that launch the boat off the start line.

The drummer sits at the front of the boat in practices and races, calls commands based on the pacer paddlers strokes, and motivates the team.

The steersperson or helmsman stands at the back of the boat and controls the path that the boat will take. They control the safety of the boat and assist the drummer with commands. 

Boat Commands


These are the most common paddling terms used in practices and races:

  • 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 RIDE: Command from drummer/steersperson to stop paddling and let the boat coast with blades out of the water.

  • CHECK THE BOAT: Bring the boat to a full stop with the use of the paddles.

  • STABILIZE THE BOAT: To stabilize the boat. Paddle blades flat on the surface of the water with a slight downward pressure to stabilize the boat.

  • WE HAVE ALIGNMENT: Starter referee's call signifying that they have exact alignment of the boats the race start is imminent.

  • PADDLERS READY: race command in a start situation for paddles to be placed in position for the first stroke.

  • ATTENTION, PLEASE: Command given by race starter to prepare crews for departure, the start gun will follow in approximately 1-5 seconds

  • FINISH IT: The point towards the end of a race where the steersperson instructs the team to finish the race – give it all you’ve got!

Remember, in dragon boating, one paddles, we do not row. 

Paddling 101


There are four basic parts to a dragon boat stroke: setupcatchpull, and recover

A frame.jpg


The perfect setup position looks like a capital letter A with your head up and your eyes forward. Keep your chin and your top hand over the gunnel (side) of the boat and over the water. Your hips should be touching the side of the boat.


Hinge your torso forward and rotate your shoulders so they are facing toward the outside of the boat. Drive the paddle fully into the water with your top hand.


Sit your body up and de-rotate your torso; try not to bend your arms. 

Exit and Recovery

Your paddle exits at the hip - pull the paddle straight up and out of the water. Return to the A frame setup position by rotating and stretching your bottom arm, shoulder, and back.