Dragon Boating 101

Dragon boats are usually either one of two types, a 20-person boat, or a 10 person boat.  Each boat also has a caller at the bow, and a steerer or tiller at the helm.  Thus, boats really are staffed by 22 people and 12 people respectively. 

The paddlers sit on benches built for two people, and there are 10 benches and five benches respectively in each of the two types of boats.  Paddlers use a canoe-like paddle, using a similar type of stroke in synch to propel the boat forward. 

The tiller uses a longer oar-type of paddle to steer the unwieldy boat as the 20-person boats may be around 45 feet in length. The caller is often the coach, giving training directions during practices, and encouragement and directions during the races. 

The caller may also use a drum to keep the cadence of the strokes, depending on the race; however, the cadence usually is set by the lead paddlers (the strokes) seated at the front of the boat.  

During races, a decorative dragon head and dragon tail may be attached to the bow and stern of the racing boats, connecting the event back to the origins of the sport.  

Teams race in a variety of divisions in 500 meter or 250 meter straight line races on salt water bays, lakes, and rivers.  Some events also hold “guts and glory” races where boats race circles around a racetrack-like course set up in the water.

Teams can compete in what is known as Club Crews where there are many divisions to meet everyone’s needs. Teams compete nationally and internationally on crew teams.  Individuals can also compete for spots on the US Team in order to travel and compete internationally.

Divisions may be as typical as women’s teams, men’s team, mixed or open teams. Several specialty team divisions are offered in dragon boating such as cancer survivor teams, youth teams, para-athlete teams (known as paradragons). 

There are divisions by age groups such as Over 50.  Check out this helpful graphic on the Pacific Dragon Boat Association website to see the configuration of all of the divisions.