Paddling Glossary

The Nicki

Aligner:  Race official who makes sure all the boats are lined up evenly at the start of a race. Smaller regattas, such as Race the River in Campbell River, use the race Starter to align the boats.

Alignment:  Term used by the Aligner or Starter when all boats are properly positioned at the start. Although not a start command, it alerts the teams that the start sequence is about to begin.

Attention please (see Start commands):  Command the Starter gives one to five seconds before the race start (horn) or the command “go”.

Back Paddle: Paddle strokes used to move the boat backwards.  Initiated by reaching slightly behind and pushing the paddle blade forward. Paddlers should look ahead and keep time as they back paddle.

Beating the drum:  The drumbeat is a link to the cultural and historical aspects of dragon boat racing. The Drummer (Caller) times off the stroke paddlers. In some races drumming is obligatory: in most races it’s optional.

Bench: The wooden or fibreglass seat where two paddlers sit side by side.  Boats are usually numbered from the front to back starting at one and ending at ten. Numbering can vary depending on the number of benches in a particular style of dragon boat. Both River Spirit boats are 6/16s with 12 benches.

Boat Number:  A placard placed on the front of the boat during a race to indicate its lane number. Placards must be large enough to be seen clearly from the shore.

Brace the boat (feather the boat): Command given to stabilize the boat when people are moving seats.  The paddles are extended to the side of the boat and the blades are held flat on top of the water to absorb any boat rock.

Buoy: A floating marker.  Buoys are used to show the start line, finish line and define lanes on the race course. Large buoys are used to indicate the turning point in longer challenge races. Don’t confuse buoys with the fenders or bumpers used to protect the boat.

Caller (Drummer): The caller motivates the team, calls out commands to the paddlers, and may beat the drum as she sees fit. Her role is somewhat similar to that of a rowing cox.

Captain: The person responsible for the team’s well being. She works closely with the team coaches throughout the season. In her absence, the captain’s role will usually be assumed by the steersperson or caller. The captain is the voice for the boat when talking with race officials.

Chief Official (Race Director): Senior official at an event. (Bill Jay at Race the River)  He or she oversees all the race officials, supervises the racing, hears protests, and verifies the race results. This role should always be filled by an experienced dragon boat paddler.

Club (e.g. River Spirit): A group of people organized for a common purpose such as dragon boat racing. Depending on its size, a club may have one or more teams that compete in local, regional, national or international events.

Club Crew Races: Races where all the participants on a team must be bona fide members in good standing of the same club.  Usually any team that is not ‘national’ is considered a ‘club’ team.

Coach:  Person who teaches a team how to improve. (Paid the big bucks on River Spirit)

Course (Race Course): An area of water used for racing (Spirit Reach in Campbell River). Race courses are usually between 250 and 500 metres in length and vary in width depending on the number of boats in each heat. The course is straight and evenly divided into racing lanes. The lanes can be either marked or unmarked.

Crew Classification: In dragon boat racing a team’s classification is sometimes determined by the age, sex, and ability of the team members. E.G. Open, Mixed, Women’s Master’s; Competitive, Recreational. See Division.

Dead Heat:  A tie between two or more boats where there is no discernable difference in time or place at the finish line.

Dead Weight:  Anything in the boat that does not directly propel the boat. For example, the caller and steersperson, extra paddles, water in the boat, etc.  Clearly, the same team will go faster in a lighter boat.

Depth: The distance from the surface of the water to the bottom of the race course. The minimum depth for competitive racing is 3 metres. Deep water is better and shallow water should always be avoided for racing since a boat moves considerably slower in shallow water.

DQ: Disqualified or DQ’d:  To remove a team from a race because they’ve broken the rules. Disqualification usually only occurs for severe rule violations, unsafe conduct, or for not having the correct team composition (e.g. a male paddler on an all-female team).

Division: A class within an event where teams are divided by gender, age, ability or other criteria, such as Breast Cancer Survivors. Examples: Recreational, Premier (the most elite level), Senior or Master (e.g. over 50) and Junior (Under 19). DNF:  Did not finish.

Dock:  Platform extending over or floating on the water that allows easy loading and unloading of the dragon boats.

Dock Master (Dock Marshall, Dock Mistress, etc.): During a race, the volunteer responsible for the flow and movement of people and boats around the dock.  He or she ensures the right teams are loaded, the boat numbers are correct, and an orderly and efficient flow is maintained.

Dragon Boat: A long (48’) canoe-like boat propelled by paddlers sitting in rows of two. (Usually 20 paddlers) The boat’s main distinguishing features are an oriental dragon head attached to the front; a stylized dragon’s tail attached to the rear; and dragon’s scales painted along the sides of the boat. The boat is steered with a long oar located at the rear of the boat. A large Chinese drum in the bow is used to beat the stroke cadence.

Dragon Boat Canada:  The official governing body for the sport of dragon boat racing in Canada and recognized as such by the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF).

Dragon Boat Race (Festival, Regatta): A sporting event consisting of timed runs down a set course by two or more dragon boat teams. These first-to-the-line races are usually organized into progressive rounds of competition according to the number and the classification of the teams taking part.

Draw or Draw Stroke: Command given when it’s necessary to move the boat sideways.  The paddler reaches out perpendicular to the hull and pulls water toward and under the boat. Draw strokes may be used to turn the boat by using the front and back paddlers on opposite sides. For example, “Front left and back right, draw”.

Dressed:  A dragon boat with head, tail, drum, and drum seat attached is said to be dressed.  Without these items a dragon boat is considered undressed. See Undressed

Drummer (see Caller) Eye Dotting (Opening) Ceremony: The symbolic spiritual awakening of the dragons where the boats are blessed and the eyes of the dragon are opened by painting dots on its eyes.  It’s considered bad luck to race a dragon boat that has not had its eyes opened.

Equipment: The collective term for all of the items used on a dragon boat. These include the boats, life vests, paddles, steering oars, heads, tails, seats, drums.

Fender (Bumper):  An inflated plastic tube that acts as a cushion between the boat and the dock or another boat to prevent damage. Don’t confuse with Buoy.

Festival:  A dragon boat competition larger in scope than a regatta. A festival usually includes cultural performances, exhibitions, etc. See Regatta

Final: The last race within a division, racing class, or competition class that determines the winner. Finish:  The end of a race. Also a term a caller might use to signal her team to transition from its race pace and power towards the finish line.

Finish Line:  A line perpendicular to the race course that marks the end of a race.  The first boat to cross the finish line with the nose of their dragon head is the winner.

Finish Line Judge:  Race official responsible for determining and calling out the order of finish to the race Timer.

Freeboard: The vertical distance from the waterline to the gunnel. Gunnel (gunwale): The upper edge of the side of a dragon boat.

Head:  A stylized dragon head used on the front of the boat during races. Dragon heads are ornate, colourful and rather expensive. They are made of wood, fiberglass, or in some cases, plastic and painted to match the Tail.  A dragon boat race is over when the nose of the dragon head crosses the finish line.

Heat:  A race within the same round of competition for a particular Division. Initial rounds are usually called heats; later rounds are typically called semi-finals and finals.

Helm (Steersperson, Tiller):  Person who steers the boat using a long (10 ft) steering oar attached to the left rear of the boat.  Steering is similar to using a rudder on any boat in that you pull or push the oar in the direction opposite to which you want to turn. The helm is responsible for the control and safety of the boat at all times.

Hold the boat:  Command used to stop the boat and then keep it from moving. Paddlers bury their paddle blades vertically to create resistance and slow down the boat.

Hold Hard:  Command used to stop the boat quickly. Instead of just holding the boat, paddlers apply substantial forward force against the paddle blades to bring the boat to a fast stop.

Holders: The volunteers at an event responsible for holding the boats at the dock to allow the safe loading and unloading of paddlers.

Hull: The frame or body of the boat.  The 6/16 (River Spirit’s boats) has a hull cross-section shaped like a “W” i.e. the keel is higher than the two outboard chines. This gives a tunnel effect along the centerline (keel) and helps the boat track straight.

IDBF:  International Dragon Boat Federation:  The world governing body for the sport of dragon boat racing.  Canada is one of the founding members of the IDBF.

Lane:  One of a set of parallel courses marking the bounds for contestants in a dragon boat race. Lanes may be marked or unmarked and are usually 10 metres wide.

Lane Markers:  On a race course, the coloured buoys that define the edge of a lane.  The start and finish lines should be marked with buoys of a different colour to the lane markers.

Lead Strokes (Strokes, Strokers): The two paddlers in the front bench who work together to establish the rate and timing. Strokes are usually experienced paddlers with a good sense of timing and rhythm.

Let it Run (Let it Ride): Command given to stop paddling and let the paddle rest on the gunnel. The paddlers should let the boat continue to glide (run) even though paddling has ceased.

Marshalling: Area where teams assemble before they go down to load for a race.  In larger festivals this area is usually controlled, cordoned off, and restricted to those racing. In addition, officials often count paddlers and check wrist-band IDs before allowing a team on the dock to load.

Pace (Stroke Rate, Cadence) – How quickly a team paddles, usually measured in strokes per minute (spm).  For River Spirit, an easy pace is 50-60 spm; medium is 60 to 70 and fast is over 70.  Stroke rates well over 100 spm are sometimes seen in international competitions.

Paddle (noun): Dragon boat paddles must meet IDBF paddle specs.  They have a specific and distinctive shape derived from the paddles used on Zhu Jiang (The Pearl River) in Guangdong Province. They can be made of wood or carbon fibre (no restriction on weight) but must be between 45 and 51 inches in length.

Paddle (verb): Propel the boat through the water with repeated paddle strokes. Paddler: A person who paddles or a member of a dragon boat team. Although the steersperson and drummer do not paddle, they are usually referred to as paddlers when discussing a dragon boat team. See Racer Paddle Spec:  Guideline provided by the IDBF for manufacturers of dragon boat paddles to provide standardization and uniformity.

Paddles Up:  Term used to tell the team to be ready to paddle.  Paddlers raise their paddles as though about to take a stroke and then on the command Take it Away begin paddling.

Penalty: – A handicap or loss of advantage imposed on a team for a rule infraction. See Time Penalty.

PFD (Life Jacket): Each paddler must wear a personal floatation device (PFD) of the appropriate size and approved by Transport Canada. Self inflating and belt-pack PFDs are not recommended.

Port (left): – Nautical term for the left side of a boat. River Spirit uses the more-familiar left and right. See Starboard

Push Off: Command given to one side of the boat to push away from the dock and get the boat under way.

Race: A contest between two or more dragon boats. Sometimes Race designates the races within a division, e.g. Women’s Diamond ‘A’ Semi-final, Race #1.

Racer: Term for any individual on a dragon boat team. Usually referred to as paddlers, Racer correctly identifies not only paddlers but also the caller and steersperson.

Racing Class: The categories in a Regatta or Festival 

  •  Open  No restrictions on team composition, (typically all men’s teams but not restricted to men) 
  • Women’s  All female team.  Some events may allow a male helm and caller.
  • Mixed  Coed teams typically with a minimum of eight (8) and a maximum of twelve (12) female paddlers.
  • Junior  As above, but restricted to paddlers between 13 & 19 yrs.
  • Seniors As above, but restricted to paddlers over a certain age, e.g. over 50.

Race Course: See Course

Race Director: See Chief Official

Race Official: At Race the River a volunteer in a position of authority who ensures event protocol is followed.  E.G. the Race Starter. Race Organizer(s): The people responsible for organizing the dragon boat regatta or festival. In smaller festivals, like Race the River, one person may wear multiple hats.  Larger festivals, like the Victoria 2-day, may have a director or executive director who manages multiple committees and oversees all aspects of the festival.

Race Plan (Race Grid): A complete and thorough written plan for conducting all the races at an event. It includes all the divisions racing, lane assignments, and shows how teams will advance to determine the winners.

Race Schedule: A display board showing the times of each race. Typically includes basic information about each race such as the Division, the Round, and race progression.

Ready (Paddlers, are you Ready? See Starting Commands): The command used after the boats are aligned at the start of a race. If a team is not ready the caller will raise a hand. If all teams are ready for the start, the starter continues the start sequence to begin the race.

Regatta: A group of races in different competition classes (e.g. mixed and women’s) managed by one race organizer. E.G. Race the River is a regatta rather than a festival. See Festival

Registration:  The process of enrolling teams for a race. A team usually submits a roster and waiver sheet along with the race fee. It’s usually the team manager’s responsibility to submit the paperwork. (Not as easy as it sounds)

Registrar:  Person responsible at a regatta or festival for registration. Roster:  List of people on a team including the caller, steersperson, paddlers and alternates. Usually limited to 26 (caller, steersperson, 20 paddlers and 4 alternates) but can be more or less depending on the event.

Round: Stage of the competition — first round, second round, etc.

Seat: (See Bench).

Seating (Setting bench order): The process of deciding the paddlers who will race and their positions in the boat – usually done by the coach and captain prior to loading. (Tough job)

Sponsor: – Company, organization, or individuals that donate money, product or services in return for promotion and advertising.

Starboard:  Nautical term for the right side of the boat. See Port.

Start Sequence: Several slow, deep strokes followed by a longer series of faster strokes at the beginning of a race to get the boat up to speed. As a rule, River Spirit uses a six; eight; ten sequence. Start sequences vary from team to team and sometimes depend on the type of boat.

Starter:  Race official responsible for all aspect of lining the boats up and starting a race.

Start Commands:  The commands the starter uses at the beginning of a race. Once the boats are aligned the Starter will say the following: “Paddlers are you ready?”  “Attention Please” then sound a horn or say the word “GO”.

Steering Oar: Long paddle used like a rudder to steer the boat. During a race the steering oar should be used minimally because any steering causes drag and slows the boat. Steersperson:  See Helm

Tail:  A stylized dragon tail that matches the Head.

Take it away: – Command used to start paddling during practice.  Usually preceded by “Paddles Up”.

Team: A group of paddlers racing together under the same name and all wearing the same uniform. E.G. River Spirit.

Tide (Tidal Conditions): Ocean tides that affect the performance of a team during practice or during a race.  In tidal waters it would be unfair to advance a team based only on its race time.

Tiller: (see Steersperson)

Time:  Value, usually in minutes, seconds, tenths and hundredths assigned to a team’s performance. Some races are decided by time, others are decided by place.

Time penalty: Time, in seconds, added to a team’s race time for a rule infraction. Usually 2 to 5 seconds. Five seconds is about a boat length and therefore a substantial penalty.

Timer (Timers): Officials who time the races.

Undressed (see Dressed): Dragon boat without head, tail, drum and drum seat.

Volunteer:  Person (may or may not be a dragon boat paddler) who helps with the operation of the regatta and the racing. Should be given a meal and a t-shirt and the undying thanks of every participant because without volunteers nobody would be racing!

Wake (wash) Riding: Using the bow wake of the boat ahead to get an advantage in speed. Usually illegal in a race, it’s prevented by enforcing lane position.

Waiver: The document used to protect clubs, organizers, providers, volunteers and others involved in dragon boat racing from legal claim should an accident occur. _______________________