Lively Dragon Club

Helm, Steersperson, Sweep, Coxswain, Cox

To be a steersperson you must know and be able to demonstrate the following skills

The Steersperson

A steerperson guides the boat from the back using a long 9 foot steering oar. The steering oar is kept in place by two vertical pins or a U bolt that is mounted on a wood outrigger that extends out about 14 inches on the left side of the boat directly behind the steers persons platform. Sometimes a rope is added loosely tying the oar in place to help stabilize it, prevent it from slipping out yet allow free movement.

Most steerspersons prefer to stand in the boat. This gives the steers person a clear view of the course and of the team members in the boat. Standing gives a clear line of sight between the steers person and the drummer enhances communication. Standing allows vocal commands to be clearly projected down the boat. Standing enables the steers’ person to use their body weight to aid in managing the steering oar. Standing gives the added advantage of allowing the steers person to use their body weight to help trim the boat so it is riding level in the water. A boat with an inexperienced team may be well trimmed while stationary or paddling lightly then change quite dramatically during a race start as team members lean forward and the upper part of their bodies lean out of the boat in full race mode. You ability to quickly shift your weight to compensate can save the day.

The steers’ person stance is very important. Usually one foot is placed slightly ahead of the other with feet shoulder width apart to give stability both fore and aft and side to side. Knees should be slightly bent and flexible, back straight, shoulders square. To steer well you must learn to be able to utilise the whole steering platform moving back and forward maximizing the range of motion you have with the steering oar.  The steers’ person is looking forward past the front of the boat down the course. When the paddlers start to paddle full force, it can be quite a big jolt. There have been instances where a steerperson has flown off the back of the boat without the crew noticing until they paddle in some strange direction.

The higher advantage point lets the steers person keep their eyes on the horizon line or a spot in the distance to focus on to help keep the boat straight.  Looking back, down or to the side, taking your eyes off the spot in front can easily put you off into another direction quickly. Slight movements with the oar will give great changes in direction, so be cautious. It sounds silly but it is easy to get lost on a racecourse. One of the most important things to do when arriving at the start line is to look down the course to the finish then look past the finish to a spot on land find a visual marker such as a tree or a car that you can steer toward, This becomes your reference point while steering. If you start to feel unsure or confused look for that point, are you still heading directly for it if not you have wavered of course, find your reference point and steer to it. Steering like driving a car it requires practice to develop as good sense of balance, judgement of distance, speed and water conditions. Some steerspersons find it more comfortable to sit down while steering. We recommend that you practice steering standing.

If you notice the sound of a bull horn from the race marshals boat "LISTEN" he or she may well be trying to save your race for you. If they tell you you are off course and to move left or right odds are they are right. You may be lost and not realize it. Do exactly what they say. They will try to guide you back on course rather than disqualify your team.

If another dragonboat appears to closing on you or crossing your path again it may not be them it may be you who have lost your way. Look for your marker if you cannot see it when you look straight down the length of your boat your are the one that is lost. Turn away from the approaching boat so you do not interfere with their race, find your marker and lane.

The steering oar must be buried sufficiently in the water to enable the steersperson to steer. At the same time keeping the oar out of the water as much as possible will provide the least resistance as the boat glides along the water. Be ready to plunge the oar back in quickly if the boat begins to veer off course. If the water is turbulent and unpredictable then the blade will need to be in the water. Steering in flat water with a light team is easier. As you progress in ability you will be able to mange heavier water and a wider variety of teams. Practice Practice Practice.

The steersperson is the most important person in the boat. It is important that both the steersperson and the crew understand this. While underway, the steersperson is in charge of the vessel out ranking all other personal in the boat including the team captain. If there is any action, be it waves, weather, other boaters on the water or misbehaving crew member that the steersperson feels puts the boat at risk return to the dock.

 Responsibilities: the steersperson is responsible for

  • The safety of the crew
  • The safety of the boat
  • The safety of other water users
  • The image your boat presents to the public



  • Do not assume your crew know what they are doing
  • Do not assume your crew know what you are doing
  • Do not assume skippers of other boats know what they are doing


Management: the steersperson must:

  • Know where the nearest phone is.
  • Know where the safety kit is. (how to use it)
  • Know how many people are on your boat
  • Know who is on the boat. Create a list,
  • Know who on your boat has CPR training
  • Have read and understood the Canadian Coast Guard Safe Boating Guide TB-511  Picture link below or the equivalent document in your country.       
  • Inspect the dragonboat and all related gear to ensure all is in good condition. If you are inspected by the harbour police it is you the steersperson they will look to for answers and fine if the boat is lacking in anyway
  • Verify all safety gear is present and operational (spare paddle, buoyant throw rope, bale bucket, whistle, flashlight, PDF for every person on the boat) All equipment must be in good working order.
  • There must be a cell phone, walkie talkie or marine radio onboard the boat or accompanying safety boat or a similarly equipped person on shore monitoring the boat. The communication device must be water proof or protected from the water.
  • Ensure that someone on land is aware the team is going out for a practice and knows what time they will be back
  • Assess the water and the weather conditions are safe to go out in and will remain safe for the duration of the practice
  • Be aware of  any currents, tides, wave conditions that may arise and how to manage same
  • Ensure all crew members are aware of and understand safety procedures and what to do in the event of a capsize or emergency.
  • Ensure all crew members understand the chain of command
  • Ensure all crew members know the command calls and the expected response
  • Be aware of any special conditions that may apply to an individual paddler
  • Be able to mange the team and exercise authority over team members.
  • Ensure all people on the boat are wearing PFDs (Personal Floatation Devices) and that they are properly done up
  • Ensure all team members understand the buddy system and use it


Physical Skills: A steersperson must be able to

  • Load the boat
  • Balance the boat
  • Maintain a straight course at full racing speed with a full crew of 18-20 paddlers plus drummer
  • Steer a figure eight course around two buoys at normal speed with a full crew, in both directions, or in the absence of buoys, steer a set course which includes both left and right angled turns.
  • Execute sideways manoeuvres without going forwards.
  • Turn the boat through 360° in both directions without the use of paddlers
  • Propel the boat forward in a straight line without the use of paddlers
  • Propel the boat in reverse for 50m with the use of paddlers
  • Execute an emergency stop from racing speed to full stop
  • Execute safe approaches to a jetty/pontoon/docks in still and windy conditions
  • Manage the unloading of the team members
  • Secure the boat and ensure all gear is put away correctly

Commands both steersperson and crew must know 
It is very important to use the same commands consistently when managing a team.

  • Let it Run

Stop paddling

  • Hold the boat

Drive your paddle down vertically into the water and hold it firm

  • Hold the Boat Hard

Drive your paddle down into the water doing a back stroke and then hold firm vertically in the water

  • Back paddle

Put your paddle into the water behind your hips and drive it down and forward opposite to a forward stroke

  • Stop

Very seldom used --Signs of panic in a novice steers person This call is not a good command as it does not indicate what to stop

  • Sit up

Paddlers sit up in a uniform position relaxed but alert ready for the next command

  • Paddles Up

Paddlers lean forward rotating from the lower back paddle extended forward up over the water in the catch position

  • Take it away

Paddlers start paddling at a gentle pace and effort level

  • Ready Ready

Call before a race Paddlers instantly respond getting into the catch position

  • Go !!!

The word says it all

  • Up!!!

command to tell the paddlers to increase the speed/tempo of their stroke. Very important not to push the team's stroke rate up to the point it starts to loose synch. Also very important to project your voice to the paddlers at the front of the boat so they bring the stroke rate up or you may find the back of the boat rushing the stroke causing the team to loose synch and power.

  • Draw

Paddlers reach out at right angles to the boat plunging the paddle into the water and pulling the boat to the paddle

  • Front Left Draw

Front Left 3 paddlers or front left quarter draw

  • Front Right Draw

Front right 3 paddlers or front right quarter draw

  • Back Left Draw

Back left 3 paddlers or back left quarter draw

  • Back Right Draw  

Back right 3 paddlers or back left quarter draw

  • Left Side Draw

All paddlers on left side draw

  • Right Side Draw

All paddlers on right side draw

  • Pry

Similar list of calls as draw only the paddle is inserted into the water close to the boat and pushed     away  or pried away from the boat at right angles often used in conjunction with the call to draw

  • Brace the boat

The paddlers put there paddles on the water surface at right angles to the boat moving them back and forth with a slight downward pressure to stabilize the boat

  • Lengthen

Paddlers extend their reach forward to maximize the stroke length

  • Series

This is a call for a prearrange set of strokes often with increased power and tempo

  • Power

This is a call for more power, effort

  • Finish

This call lets the paddlers know that they are within a predetermined distance of the finish line. This call tells the paddlers if they have any extra ability/strength to give it NOW

  • Back it Down

Paddlers in the boat paddle backwards in unison. Call is often used when moving the boat away from the dock or at a race start to move your boat back into position

  • Stroke

Steersperson will call give me "one stroke" The number of strokes in the call can vary. This call is used when positioning the boat

The above article covers the basics of steering a dragonboat. With practice you can progress with confidents to steering dragonboats in local race events. This is a work in progress

Recommended reading:
USA Navy article on steering/turning a boat


  • Lively Dragon Club
  • South Africa Dragon boat Club
  • IDBF
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