These tips are designed to give you information in advance about dragon boat racing so that you may get the most out of your training sessions. As always, please contact us if you have any questions.

Tip #1:  Get to know your team and boat

You should begin thinking about your paddlers and their placement.  The boat you will be in is the Taiwan style, which is 40 ft. long and holds a professional steersmen and:

  • 18 Paddlers
  • one Drummer
  • at the Helm a Flag catcher

It’s important to have an understanding of what your racer’s strengths and weaknesses are. For example, you may want to know who has the longest arms. That way you can place the lengthiest person at the helm to be the flag catcher. Also, ask yourself who is the most musically inclined? You may want to assign that person to the drummer role. The drummer will help keep a beat for your paddlers to sync up to.

Tip #2: The Importance of a Cadence

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.

Tip #3:  Paddle or Oar?

Since many people do not know what Dragon Boat racing is, (don’t be embarrassed I hear this all the time) it does not surprise me that many people also do not know how or what propels the Dragon Boat forward in the water. These tips are to get you acquainted, so let’s proceed!

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 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.

Tip #4: Command Your Team!

These are the most common paddling terms that are used in Dragon Boat racing. The Team Captain should become familiar with these terms and brief the team on them before the practice day. If all team members understand the terms before your team will work more efficiently and you all will look like you have been Dragon Boat racing for years!

Here they are:

  • SIT UP – 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 (or EASY ALL) – paddling stops and boat coasts to a stop on its own.
  • HOLD THE BOAT – bringing the boat to a full stop with the use of the paddles.
  • READY, READY – race command in a start situation for paddles to be placed in position for the first stroke (submerged or out of water).
  • SERIES – a combination of strokes during a race, often a set of 10 or 20 strokes that are quicker and more forceful.


  • ROWING – rowers use oars, therefore they are rowers. Dragon boaters use paddles therefore they are paddlers. You do not row a dragon boat!
  • COXSWAIN – steersperson of the boat, often incorrectly referred to a coxman. In this area commonly called the “cox”.

These training tips were brought to us by the Stratford Dragon Boat Club, thank you!

 Tip #5: Paddle, how do you work this thing?

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 Stratford Dragon Boat Race Team provided us with the wonderful diagram of the “A” frame position shown above. This is the optimal position for each paddler to be in.

Reach – The “A” Frame Position is the proper position for setting up your stroke. Analyze this position and try to implement it as best as possible.

Catch – The catch position is the moment the paddle enters the water. DO not rotate the paddle if you do, that will decrease the effectiveness of the stroke. With the proper reach position, the catch phase of the stroke will be the most effective.

Pull – Pull the paddle directly parallel to the boat. The paddle should be in a vertical position. Make sure paddlers are sitting up and using the larger back muscles to get the full force of the stroke.

Exit – Exit the paddle from the water when the paddle reaches the hip region.

Recovery – This is when the paddler rests. Depending on the rate of the stroke this may be a long period or a short period. This is also the time that the paddler gets ready and into position for the next stroke.

Tip #6:  The Inner Workings of the Paddling Team

The Dragon Boat should be broken into 3 sections…..

  1. Pacers – These are the front six paddlers. As you can tell by their name they set the pace at the beginning of the race. As stated in a previous tip, the drummer will get the beat from the front paddlers. This beat will set the pace for the rest of the team.
  2. The Engine Room – Consists of stronger paddlers. These paddlers will determine the pace of the race during the race. When the “engine room” paddlers are not able to complete a full stroke you will be able to tell that the pace is too fast for your team.
  3. The Back 6 – These are the strongest paddlers. These paddlers are the “get up and go” during a race. They help propel the boat with powerful strokes. The rest of team will quickly follow as it can feel the boat thrust forward.

Now it is important to remember that the water moves at a different rate from the front of the boat to the back. Each section of paddlers will have to adjust their stroke accordingly.

Make sure that as you are preparing your team you are thinking about the weight distribution and placement of each member. Having a boat off balance will seriously affect your time. It would be a good idea to look at the boat diagram, print it off and place team members in specific spots as you acquire them. You may be able to make adjustments in the water quickly and safely before the race begins.


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