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On The Water - CommandsSeat Positions, Terms


Basic Commands

BACK PADDLE: Reverse entry and exit of your paddle in sync with other paddlers to move the boat backwards. It is important to use your core, rather than depending on your shoulders for this stroke in order to minimize stress and reduce risk of injuring your shoulder.


BRACE THE BOAT: Lean out slightly over the side of the boat and press your paddle blade flat on the water at arm's length. Extend the paddle outward and not downward. This steadies the boat during a wake in the water or when paddlers are changing positions. Keep the tip of the paddle slightly buried. Keep one hand on the handle and the other on the shaft. Give a gentle push down on the blade if the boat rocks your way. If the boat is tipping to the other side pick up on the blade to force your side down.

BURY THE BLADE: Place the paddle into the water perpendicular to the boat so that all of the blade is under water. 


CHECK THE BOAT: Stop the boat’s momentum by placing the paddle in the water perpendicular to the boat. If moving forward, a ‘check’ would be accomplished by back paddling. Hard Check -implies urgency when it is imperative the boat stops ASAP. Do all you can to stop the boat, short of applying a back paddle.


DRAW: Plant the blade 90 degrees from the centerline of the boat and pull toward the boat. This pulls the boat sideways.

FEATHER YOUR PADDLE: During recovery phase of the paddle, turn your upper hand at the wrist so your thumb moves in the direction it is pointed. This diminishes the height you must lift the paddle above the water and reduces wind resistance.

GO: Begin your stroke at the rate, power level & position that has been determined by the coach.

LET IT RUN: Stop paddling, exit the paddle blade from the water and let the boat coast.

LOAD THE BOAT: Begin an orderly process of getting into the boat one at a time  based on seat assignment.

PADDLES IN THE BOAT: Bring your paddle completely into the boat. Usually held upright in front of you.

PADDLES UP: Get yourself and your paddle into position at the catch/entry to begin paddling. Be ready to bury your blade into the water at the catch phase of the stroke.


POWER: Maintain your stroke speed, but increase the power that you drive your blade into the water and pull back. Use of leg drive is important.

TAKE IT AWAY: Usually follows “Paddles Up” and is rarely used in our boat. We prefer the command "GO” instead. "Go" means business, whereas "Take It Away" has a more relaxed connotation.

Race Commands & Terms

ATTENTION PLEASE!: Command by race starter to prepare crews for departure. The next call from the starter will likely be "We have alignment". Get your head in the boat, be quiet and listen for commands from the drummer or steersperson. 


FINISH: The point near the end of a race when a team’s coach/drummer/steersperson calls for an increase in power and rate. It alerts the paddlers that the end is in sight and it's time to give it your all. Normally during the pre-race discussion, everyone is told at what point they will be hearing "Finish" so they can pace themselves to finish strong.

HARD CHECK or HOLD:  Hold the boat as still as possible to maintain optimum starting position. Place paddle vertically into the water so that the blade is completely buried in the water. Keep holding it there until your steersperson says so!

IN THE GATE: Part of the process of beginning a race. Sit in a comfortable forward position. Get quiet, focused and breathe. Place paddle in front of your knees resting on the gunwale. Make sure your outside hip is up against the gunwale and feet are anchored for the first stroke. Normally the next command is "Ready Ready".

LAUNCH: Three progressively longer strokes ("Big, Bigger, Biggest!") that follow the "Press" sets during the beginning of a race. The Launch  takes us up to the race pace in a controlled manner.

PRESS: A series of 6 rapid, short stokes.... "PRESS, 5,4,3,2,1". Typically we do 3 sets of presses, each gaining in speed, at the start of a race, followed by the "Launch". Press sets get the boat out of the water and moving.

READY READY: Get paddles into position for racing. Start of the race is eminent. See Start Positions.



Wet Start - Paddle is buried in the water. Typical position if current is not an issue or if current is pushing you forward. 


Dry Start -  Paddle is held slightly above the water. Typical position when current is coming toward you . Allows the water to pass by the boat without pushing the boat backward. Be ready to catch the paddle without being over extended. It is better to give up a few inches to allow for good breathing and a powerful pull from the beginning.


Stealth -  A "temporary" placement of a paddle during the "ready ready" phase. The blade is turned so it is parallel to the keel of the boat. This keeps the boat from being blown sideways if there is a cross wind. And if the current coming towards the boat blades in the stealth position allow the boat to remain stationary without being pushed backwards. 

UP:  Increase your stroke rate. Make sure you watch your strokes, so you don't get out of sync!

WE HAVE ALIGNMENT!: Command by race starter to let everyone know the boats are in a straight line and ready to go. "Ready, Ready" will be called in the boat and paddlers should be in their predetermined Start Position. 


Seats in the Boat

Drummer: The drummer sits in the bow and is usually lightweight. The person who sets a crew’s timing by rhythmically pounding a drum or calling stroke rates.  During practice, the coach may sit in this spot.


Ignition:  The typically lighter weight ‘strokes’ sit in the first seat. The strokes and the next two rows of paddlers set the pace. This group should have good timing.


Engine Room: Refers to the larger paddlers in the middle to back of the boat. This group provides the power.


Turbo / Rockets: Refers to paddlers at back of the boat. Paddlers in the back seats must catch the water very aggressively because the water is moving faster and is harder to get a good hold. This group provides the essential boost during the end of a race when the front of the boat starts getting tired.


Steersperson: The person located at the stern of the boat responsible for steering and giving the crew commands, preferably someone with sailing or boating experience. We require that our steerspeople have training or proven experience steering a dragon boat.

Stroke Descriptions and Paddle Positions

A-FRAME: The “A –frame” is formed by the body and arms when setting up for the Catch. Fully rotate your body with back to the water. Lean slightly toward the water. Reach forward with the outside arm fully extended. Top arm is straight or slightly bent with the hilt of the paddle about ear height. 

AIR TIME: The time from the end of the power phase when you pull the blade out of the water at the exit until it enters the water at the catch. Since your paddle is not in the water, you are not pulling the boat forward, However, air time allows time to let your muscles rest. Do not fall into the habit of a slow recovery. Keep air-time to a minimum (aka: Snappy Recovery)

ANGLE (Positive and Negative):  Any force vector can be translated into a vertical and a horizontal component. Vertical force vectors have no horizontal component, and horizontal vectors have no vertical component. The design of a Dragon Boat paddle is not the best one for speed. A dragon boat blade needs to be vertical to the water during the power phase of the stroke to be the most efficient.  This requires the blade enter the water in front of the paddler creating a Positive Angle, so it can be vertical about the time it reaches the paddler's hip. A positive angle ensures that the majority of the force translates into a forward motion, with a small component of the force pushing the boat up out of the water.  Once the blade moves past vertical position, it is in a Negative Angle and provides no power to the forward movement.

CATCH: The moment the paddle blade first hits the water. Your blade should enter the water at a 45 degree angle without a *plunk* sound or a splash. 

Catch position: A-frame with the your blade held just above the water where you plan to enter.

Hitting the catch: Driving the paddle forcefully into the water at maximum reach.


CORE: Your body from your hips up and including your torso.


ENTRY: The phase of the stroke when the paddle first enters the water. The paddle is said to be at the Catch position.


EXIT or END: The point in a stroke when the paddle completely leaves the water after a powerful pull. The Exit should be clean (minimum splash), quick and begin about midway between the your knee and hip. Have the smallest negative angle as possible (or have your paddle as vertical as possible) at this stage of the stroke. The exit marks the end of the Power Phase and the beginning of the Recovery Phase. Some paddlers like to lift the paddle straight out in the line of the shaft. Others like to slice it out by dropping the top hand slightly into and across the boat while raising their outside had upward and outward in one fluid motion. 

EXTENSION: The phase of the stroke during which the paddler maximizes the length of their stroke before hitting the catch.This position in the stroke is crucial to maximize the length of the stroke. The position of the outside paddling arm is equivalent to pulling a bow and arrow. The outside shoulder should be dropped slightly while extending forward. Your torso bends forward for additional extension. The upper arm should rise up to about your ear. The lower arm is fully extended and is almost locked at the elbow. The paddle should be a few inches above the water before driving it into the water.

LEG DRIVE: Pushing with the strong muscles in your legs (along using with your core) as you "un-rotate" during the Pull phase to help accelerate the paddle through the water.

PERCENT EFFORT: Subjective term used to get paddlers on the same page regarding power during a drill. For example, the coach may say, "Start with 50% effort for 20 strokes, increase to 80% for 20 strokes, then 100% for the last 20 strokes".  Things such as technique and rate should remain intact, but Reach and Power will vary based on % effort. 

PULL: The phase of the stroke during which the fully buried paddle at the catch is pulled back parallel with the boat to the Exit. It is the most powerful phase of the stroke. The blade should be perpendicular to the centerline( Keel) of the boat and moved backward in a line parallel to the keel. Optimally, keep the paddle within 7 degrees of vertical for as much of the stroke as possible.

POWER:  The rate at which work is performed or energy is converted. As a simple example, burning a kilogram of coal releases much more energy than does detonating a kilogram of TNT.  But because the TNT reaction releases energy much more quickly, it delivers far more power than the coal. We are aiming for TNT.

PRY:  1) Condition near the end of the power phase of the stroke when the blade goes more than 10 degrees past vertical (negative angle). The force on your outside hand is in the upward motion. The result of the stroke is to pull the boat down in the water while picking up the water with the blade. 2) A "pry" stroke is opposite of a "draw".  In an effort to move the boat away from something, the blade is placed next to the boat, parallel to the centerline of the boat. Exert pressure to push the blade away from the boat moving the boat toward the opposite side the from the one you are paddling on.

RATE (aka Stroke Rate): The number of cycles of a complete stroke per minute. 


REACH: The process of getting the blade as far forward as possible without decreasing your ability to apply power to the stroke. We usually aim to put the blade of your paddle into the water at a position near the thigh of the paddler seated in front of you.

RECOVERY: The final phase of the stroke during which the paddle, following the exit, is quickly snapped forward to the Catch position. 


ROTATION: The stroke phase that involves trunk rotation in order to maximize Reach. 


RUSHING: Occurs when a paddler’s timing is ahead of and out-of-sync with the rest of the crew. The condition arises when a paddler starts to pull before the Lead Stroke does.


SETUP: The phase of the stroke that starts with the Exit. Once your body has exploded to pull the boat forward it needs to do two things. First, it needs to rest as much as possible (Recovery) to insure the most explosive pull on the next stroke. The second thing is every part of your body is out of position to start the next pull. It is during this setup phase the paddler fluidly moves his body back into the position for the best pull possible.


1) The complete cycle of the paddling motion. Phases of a complete stroke vary in terminology, but basically include SetUp (which includes Recovery), Rotation, Catch/Entry, Pull, Exit/End

2) The two paddlers in the front seats who set the pace for team. The Lead Stroke is responsible for setting the pace and the other Stroke must be in sync at all times so the remaining paddlers in the boat can lock into their actions in order for the boat to have good timing.


Stroke length: The angle the paddle creates from entry at the Catch to Exit. Stroke length is directly related to the boat's forward movement. A long stroke means more water is pulled and is determined by the length of the Reach position. 

Stroke rate: The paddling pace, the number of times the paddle goes through the water in a minute. Rates can vary from 40 to over 80 depending on the intensity of effort. The crew’s optimum rate for racing is determined by the coach. 


SWINGING: The bad habit of dropping the top hand into the boat on the recovery phase thus causing the bladed to swing out over the water. This inefficient technique prevents the achievement of higher stroke rates necessary for racing. 

TIMING: All paddlers must be in Sync. Having different size and different paddling ability paddlers makes this hard. So to make sure we understand it is very important for us to all enter the water at the same time. Small paddlers must find ways to increase their stroke length. Larger paddlers may shorten their stroke length to blend in with the small paddlers. They should not over reach and refrain from paddling negative at all.

TOP ARM DRIVE: To maximize the catch, the top arm is driven down aggressively burying the paddle into the water. The top arm continues to push down until the end of the stroke.

UPFRONT: The power phase of the forward stroke is found ‘Upfront” . This is where in the power phase the paddler is reaching up forward and pulling on the paddle shaft to pull the boat forward. Collapsing and bending way over on the reach has two issues. So, it is important to not over reach. Bending at the waist doesn’t really get you much farther forward. The bending or lunging motion gets your momentum to be going in more of an up and down motion and not in a front to back motion. Being overextended on the seat doesn’t allow for a hard pull from the beginning.

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