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Boat terms

Bow = Front of boat
Stern = Rear of boat
Port = Left side
Starboard = Right side
Gunwale (gunnel) = Sides
Till or Tiller = Steersperson and act of steering Strokes = First paddler on both sides

Cox = Steersperson


There are many commands used in dragon boating and these will sometimes vary depending on the location that you live in the world, but generally, they are the same or close to the same.

“All Down” or "Stop" or "Brake"

Command from drummer/steersperson to stop paddling and rest with paddles on laps.

“All-up”  or "Are you ready" or "Go"

Command from drummer/steersperson to ensure everyone begins to paddle in unison. Paddles are paused in the catch position until command to start paddling is given.

​“Attention, please”

Command given by race starter to prepare crews for departure, the start gun will follow in approximately 3-5 seconds.

Back Paddling

The stroke used to bring a boat backwards into or away from a dock or a race start.


The point when the paddle first comes into contact with the water.

Check or Stop

“Check the boat” or stopping the boat’s momentum whether in a forward or backward motion i.e. if moving forward a ‘check’ would be accomplished by back paddling.

Draw stroke or Draw

Stroke used most often by front or back paddlers to line a boat up straight at the start of the race or to turn the boat around. The paddle is placed perpendicular to the side of the boat and ‘drawn’ towards the boat.


The person who sets a crew’s timing by rhythmically pounding a drum or calling stroke rates. The drummer sits in the bow and is usually lightweight.

Engine room

Refers to the larger paddlers in the middle to back of the boat


The point in a stroke in which the paddle leaves the water cleanly and quickly midway between the paddler’s knee and hip.


The point near the end of a race (in a 500m race usually the last 100m mark) when a team’s drummer/steersperson calls for an increase in power and rate.

Hitting the catch or Drive or Push

Driving the paddle forcefully into the water at maximum reach.

​Ignition or Pacers or Stroke

Refers to the paddlers at the front of the boat who set the pace.

"Let it Run" or “Let it Ride”

Command from drummer/steersperson to stop paddling and let the boat coast with blades out of the water.


The phase of the stroke in which the paddle is fully buried in the water and the paddler pulls the paddle back directly parallel with the boat.


The phase of the stroke in which the paddler maximizes the length of their stroke before hitting the catch.

“Ready, Ready”

Command used by steersperson/drummer to prepare crew for race start - paddles buried in water at beginning of stroke phase.


The final phase of the stroke in which the paddle, following the exit, is snapped forward to the catch position.


The stroke phase that involves trunk rotation in order to maximize reach.

Rushing or Timing is too fast

Occurs when a paddler’s timing is ahead of and out of sync with the rest of the crew.


The person located at the stern of the boat responsible for steering and giving the crew commands, preferably someone with sailing or boating experience. A minimum of two dragon boat practice sessions are required to acquire the skills necessary to steer the boat.


Refers to one cycle of the paddling motion. Also refers to the first two paddlers in the front seats who set the pace for team.

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.


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.

“Take it Away”

Command given by drummer/steersperson to begin paddling, usually follows command of ‘All Up’.

Top Arm Drive

To maximize the catch, the top arm is driven down aggressively burying the paddle. The top arm continues to push down until the end of the stroke.


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.


Command to place paddles in a position across laps with blades out over the water in preparation for the ‘All-up’ command


A common race start technique consisting of six hard strokes followed by sixteen faster strokes.


Race strategy whereby crew pulls harder for 10-20 strokes.