Terms & Commands Glossary

Dragon Boat racing requires responsiveness from all paddlers for safety and competitiveness. When a boat needs to make an immediate quick maneuver, paddlers must respond in a timely fashion to the commands.

Below are descriptions of some of the roles, terms, and commands used by KIDS.


Caller: person at the bow of the boat or in the middle of the boat who gives commands.

Drummer: person at the bow of the boat who beats the drum, sets the team’s pace (in conjunction with Front Strokes), and gives commands.

Front Strokes: two paddlers in the front seats of the boat who set the pace and are watched by all other paddlers by looking diagonally across the boat.

Mid Strokes: two paddlers in the middle of the boat who follow Front Strokes. Mid strokes are watched by paddlers looking diagonally across the boat if Front Strokes are not visible. Mid Strokes may also relay commands.

Steers or Steersperson: person at the stern of the boat responsible for steering and giving commands.

Boat Terms

Bow: front of boat

Gunnel or Gunwale: sides of the boat

PFD: is also known as personal floatation device or life jacket. A PFD provides buoyancy to help a person stay afloat in the water. 

Port: left side

Seats: bench where two paddlers sit side-by-side

Starboard: right side

Steering Oar: large oar at the stern used by the Steersperson to steer the boat

Stern: rear of boat

Basic Commands

Back Paddle: paddlers stroke backwards in unison.

Brace the Boat: paddle blade with downward pressure is flat on the water and is not moving.

Check for Drift: paddle blade is parallel to the gunnel and paddle shaft is held against the gunnel. The blade is buried in the water to the throat.

Check and Hold: first set of paddlers place blades in the check position, second set of paddlers place the blades in the hold position. The pattern continues down both sides of the boat. The blade is buried to the throat.

Draw (Left or Right): paddlers lean over the gunnel and pull paddles (deeply) towards themselves in unison with Strokes. Paddles are buried to the throat. Paddlers on the opposite of the boat lean out.

Focus in the Boat: stop talking and moving. Listen to and/or watch the Drummer, Caller, or the Steersperson.

Hold the Boat: paddle handle and blade are at a right angle to the gunnel. Paddle is placed close to the hip and the blade is buried in the water to the throat. The paddle is held firmly in the water.

Let it Run/Let it Ride: stop paddling and place paddle shaft across legs and gunnel.

Paddles Up: sit square with paddle placed close to gunnel and slightly above the water ready to enter the water on the next command. Paddle handle and blade are at a right angle to the gunnel.

Stabilize the Boat: paddle blade with downward pressure is flat on the water and is slowly moving back and forth (like spreading peanut butter on toast).

Take it Away: paddlers, in unison, begin paddling.

Time it Up: paddlers correct stroke mechanics and/or look up at the Strokes to get back into time with them.

Walk it Down (Left or Right): leaving a dock by having the dockside paddlers back the boat down with hands.

Walk it Up (Left or Right): parking at a dock by having the dockside paddlers move the boat up with hands.

Race Start Commands

Back it Down: steersperson calls “Last (number stated) seats, give me (number stated) back strokes.” The boat has glided across the start line and needs to reverse course. Paddles enter the water in unison.

Move it Up: steersperson calls “Last (number stated) seats, give me (number stated) strokes.” The boat needs to slowly move up to be in alignment with the start line. Paddles enter the water in unison.

Focus in the Boat: stop talking and moving. Listen to and/or watch the Drummer or the Steersperson.

All Boats Hold: starter/referee’s call signifying that boats are being aligned and to hold their position. 

We Have Alignment: starter/referee’s call signifying that all boats are in alignment with the start line. 

Attention Please: the starter’s command that all boats are aligned and the race will start in one or two seconds. 

Go! (Horn or Voice):  the starter’s command to begin the race. The team begins its start sequence.

Dragon Boat Crew Members

A crew usually consists of 22 members – 20 paddlers, a STEERSPERSON and a DRUMMER (also known as a Caller).

The 20 paddlers are broken down into three sections: the FRONTS (the first six paddlers), the ENGINE ROOM (the middle eight paddlers) and the BACKS (the last six paddlers).

The STROKES are the two paddlers in the first seat and they set the pace for the rest of the boat. The paddler on the right is the lead stroke. These two paddlers must work in unison and stay in time with each other. 

The FRONTS are usually shorter paddlers because this section of the boat is narrower and has the least leg room. They must be skilled paddlers who can match the pace set by the strokes, as all other paddlers behind them are following this set pace.

The ENGINE ROOM paddlers provide much of the power. Generally taller paddlers are placed in this section of the boat because it is the widest and has the most leg room.

The BACKS are often skilled technical paddlers because the water near the rear of the boat is already cavitating (moving) and is very difficult to manage.

The STEERSPERSON (also called the Steers) stands at the back of the boat and uses a large steering oar. This person’s job is to keep the boat travelling in a straight line so the paddlers can propel the boat forward in the fastest and most efficient manner. The Steersperson is responsible for the overall safety of the crew and the boat.  

The DRUMMER (also known as the Caller) sits on a raised chair at the front of the boat, faces the crew and has her/his back to the finish line. This person is responsible for calling out the stroke pace by watching the lead stroke and relaying the pace to the rest of the crew, either through voice commands and/or by hitting the drum. The Drummer has a loud voice, a calm demeanor and often is small in stature.

Dragon Boats

A dragon boat is a large canoe-shaped boat propelled by paddlers sitting in rows of two. The boat’s main distinguishing features are dragon scales painted along the sides of the boat and, normally only at race time, an oriental dragon head attached to the front and a stylized dragon’s tail attached to the rear.

The boat is steered by a Steersperson (Steers) using a long oar located at the rear of the boat. At festivals, a Drummer (Caller) sits in a chair placed on the bow, facing the crew, either calling or using a drum (often a large Chinese-style) to beat out the stroke pace.

Our club uses two different models of dragon boats. The larger ones (D2s) seat up to 24 people, are about 48 feet long and weigh about 1000 pounds. The smaller one (6-16) seats up to 20, is about 42 feet long and weighs about 500 pounds.

A full crew consists of 22 people – 20 paddlers, a Steersperson and a Drummer. The paddlers are seated in pairs on each of the 10 seats, the Steersperson is standing at the back of the boat, and the Drummer is seated at the front. During practices we have a coach in place of a Drummer at the front of the boat.  

In a race, the goal is to have the crew move the boat forward as quickly and efficiently as possible.  A typical race is 500-metres in length and lasts two to three minutes, depending on weather and water conditions. Race success requires a combination of stroke technique, paddling in unison, and endurance.