Dragon Boat Racing Rules, History, Tips & Equipment

A history of Dragon Boat Racing, how to play, tips for improvement & necessary equipment

How to Play Dragon Boat Racing

Dragon boat racing, consisting of a long and narrow canoe-style human powered boat dressed up like a dragon, is both an international sport and an important ceremonial tradition in East Asia.

Dragon Boat Racing History

Dragon boating has a rich fabric of ancient ceremonial, ritualistic and religious traditions. Dragon boat racing, originated in south central china 2,500 years ago. Since that time, it has served as the basis for annual water rituals and festival celebrations, as well as the traditional worship of the Asian dragon water deity. The celebration is an important part of ancient agricultural Chinese society, celebrating the summer rich harvest. Dragon boat racing came on to the scene in modern times as an international "sport" in Hong Kong in 1976. It is traditionally a prominent component of the Duanwu festival observed and celebrated in many parts of East Asia including Singapore, Malaysia, and Greater China. In December 2007, the Chinese government added the Duanwu festival to the national calendar system of China, denoting the importance of dragon boating in Chinese society today. The Olympic Torch for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics was transported by dragon boat, during one of the legs in Hong Kong.

Dragon boating has rapidly spread beyond Asia to Europe, North and South America, Australia and Africa, becoming a popular international sport.

Dragon Boat Racing Rules

A standard contemporary dragon boat is made up of 22 people. 20 paddlers in pairs, facing towards the bow of the boat, one drummer or caller, at the bow of the boat facing the paddlers, and one sweep or tiller, at the rear of the boat. During races it is common to only have 18 paddlers. The caller directs the group through hand signals, and voice calls, in effort to encourage the crew to perform at their peak. Dragon boaters are paddlers not rowers, paddling in a canoeing style. The dragon boat paddle, now accepted by the world racing federation, has a standardized, fixed blade surface area and distinctive shape derived from the paddle shapes characteristic of the Zhu Jiang (Pearl River) delta region of Guangdong Province, China, near Hong Kong.

The sweep, known also as the helmsman or steersman, controls the dragon boat with a sweep oar rigged at the rear of the boat, normally on the side and off center. When there is no drummer on board the sweep is in charge of calling out directions.

Dragon boat racing distances can be 200 m, 250 m, 500 m, 1000 m, or 2000 m. A typical festival race is a spring event of several hundred meters. 500 meters is the standard distance for many international festivals.

Along with the paddlers, drummer, and sweep, rides a flag puller. The role of the flag puller is to reach out and grab the flag at the finish line to signal that the boat has finished the race. If the flag puller misses the flag, the boat's finish is disqualified.

Dragon Boat Racing Tips

Paddlers should practice with teammates to paddle in unison. The drummer needs to work with his paddlers on efficient means of communication.

Dragon Boat Racing Equipment

A dragon racing crew requires a dragon boat, decorated with Chinese dragon head and tail, and rigged with a sweep oar at the rear of the boat. Each paddler must have a paddle. The drummer needs a drum. There needs to be flag for each boat to pull at the finish line.