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A trained steerperson is the most important part of any good Dragon Boat Team. When picking your steerperson you have to find an individual that:

  • Wants to try steering.
  • Has good upper body strength and good balance.
  • Is able to take control of the whole boat during practices and on race day.

Once you have chosen your steerperson it is important that they are aware of their responsibility to their crew's safety on the water.  A good steer should have knowledge of the boat commands, effects of wind and water conditions, and know where to go during practice sessions. Every FMG Dragon Boat team will have an qualified FMG coach at their first practice.  This coach will work with your steerperson to make sure that he/she is comfortable and confident steering the boat and that the coach is confident the steerperson is qualified to lead your team to victory.  If we feel that your steerperson needs extra coaching, then we will send a coach out with your team at the next practice. 

It is the responsibility of your steerperson to take control of their boat and listen to race officials during practices and race day.

Key Points

foot stance: Feet should be at least shoulder width apart. Placing your right foot slightly ahead of the left, this helps novice steerpersons get a feel for the balance of the boat.  Once you are more comfortable steering it is good to try and have your feet side by side.  Try keeping your legs relaxed as you try to get your balance in the boat.

hand position:   Place your right hand (top hand) on the “T-handle” at the top of the steering oar; place your left hand (bottom hand) around the middle of the steering oar (around waist level).  Some experienced steerers will only use one hand to steer.  When  steering with one hand you first have to get comfortable steering and be able to steer a straight 500m course.  When using one hand, place you left hand on the “T-handle” and rest your right hand at you side.  This sometimes helps to get your balance, but only used when the steerer is comfortable steering and able to steer a straight line.

stand up:  Many first time steerpersons tend to crouch down because they are worried about losing balance or falling out. To see where you are going, what your paddlers are doing and to have complete control of your boat it is best to remain standing; do not sit down.

turning:   When turning the Dragon Boat it is important to reduce the power of the boat. Have your team paddle only 50%.  This prevents you from over steering, losing control of the boat and to keep your balance.  When turning under power it is important to make wide turns, this prevents the boat from rocking.  Remember to turn two to three boat lengths after the start line, this allows you to make wide turns and keeps your team from having to back up from the start line.  To make sharp turns have your paddlers stop paddling.  This is when you have to work, for a left turn, the steering oar blade starts close to the tail of the boat and sweeps out away from the boat with the handle of the steering oar coming towards you.  For a right turn, the steering oar blade starts away from the boat and pulls water towards the boat the handle of the steering oar pulls away from you.  You can also have your paddlers help out by making one side paddle forward while the other paddles backwards.  Remember this may make your team more tired but it will help you as a steerperson as well.

Steering Oar Position

The steering oar can move left & right.  Make sure the “T-handle”, the forward end of the steering oar, is around chest level or 6-8 inches from the last seat in the Dragon Boat.  Another quick measure is that the U-bolt be positioned one-third of the way up the steering oar.  This will maintain proper leverage on the oar required to steer without force and exertion of the steerperson.


When it comes to docking your boat you have to make sure you have the full attention of all your paddlers.  In order to dock the Dragon Boat properly, make sure that the boat comes parallel to the dock.  To do this aim the front of the boat at the docks and then paddle steer the boat into the dock, making sure that the head of the Dragon Boat does not hit first or the back end of the Dragon Boat doesn't hit first.  You can have your paddlers help by moving the boat back and forward.

Other Factors

Wind and boat wake can cause a steerperson to feel uneasy.  The best way to handle oncoming boat wake is to turn the front of the boat into the wake, so that the front end hits the wake first and the boat moves up and down instead of side to side.  Facing sideways to a series of waves is a situation the steerperson must avoid.  The closer to 90 degrees (head-on) that the boat meets these waves the better.

Keeping Straight

When underway and at speed, pick a point to steer toward that is 500m or more ahead of the boat.  Line up the front of the boat with the selected point and do not let the bow veer off that point by more than 6 inches to either side.  If the boat needs to go left, the top part of the steering oar is pulled towards the steerer.  If the boat needs to go right the top part of the steering oar is pushed away from the steerer.

Emergency Situations

If there is an emergency (heart problems, heat stroke, etc) on the boat during practices and/or race day, it is the steerpersons responsibility to inform race officials.  The emergency signal for race officials is that the steerperson has the Dragon Boat STOP the boat, then flare the boat, and the steerperson stands straight up with his/her left arm straight up in the air with closed fist.  All necessary means will be executed.  We at FMG Dragon Boat take all medical emergencies very serious.  An ambulance will be called and the docks cleared when the Dragon Boat returns.


Commands must be spoken loudly and clearly in order for the entire boat to hear. The steerperson must have full control of the boat at all times to ensure that commands are being heard. The less talking in the boat by paddlers the better.

The following are the commands a steerperson and team members must know.

® paddles up:   Signal for paddlers to assume the paddling position. Paddles should be raised above the water, bodies in position to paddle.

® take it away:   Signal to start paddling

® stop the boat:   Paddlers thrust the paddle blades deep into the water at their hip.  This helps the steerer to keep the boat stopped.

® let it ride:   The paddlers stop paddling and rest their paddles on    their lap.  This is the rest position.

® flare the boat:   The paddles are horizontal with flat blades resting on top of the water to stabilize the boat.  This is used when the boat may face a wave or boat wake, or if the steerer is trying to get his/her balance.

Race Situations

It is up to the steerperson to get the boat to the starting line when the starter is ready to send the race.  This may require having your team paddle all the way up to the start line, making sure that they don't us too much of their energy.  Once you approach the start line it is important to come up to the start line with the other Dragon Boats.  If you hold the boat back the starter might send the race when your team is not ready.  Sitting at the start line too early might mean the starter will have your boat backup while starting the race.  In situations where there is a cross wind it is important to know where the wind is coming from and lining up in your lane accordingly.  It is important to be in the center of your lane at the start line when starting the race. If there is a left-right cross wind, you will want to line up on the left side of your lane, by the time the starter is ready to send the race your boat will be in the middle of the lane, and not in the next lane.  It is important that the steerperson stay in their lane the entire race, and listen to the race officials at all time.

Remember it is the steerspersons responsibility to be at the start line when the starter is ready to send the race.

Race Start

Know your boat/lane number. The starter will refer to you as lane number 1, 2, 3 or 4; so it is important that you know your lane/boat number.  The starter will not wait for you to line up.  Once the majority of the boats are ready the race will start.  When coming to the starting area, go past the start line turning.  This way the boat has lots of room to line up and prepare for the start.  Line up in your lane.  Come to a full stop.  Feel the drift – watch the buoys to confirm which way the wind is pushing the boat.  Listen to the Start boat for commands.  The starter is addressing the steerperson, the steerperson addresses the crew.

Starting Commands

one minute to start:   The starter will send that race within that minute.  It could range from 5 seconds to 60 seconds or more.  It is the steerer's responsibility to listen to the starter and bring the boat up to the starting line once the starter has said one minute to start.  Remember your paddlers will be excited but it is your responsibility to make sure they are quiet and you can hear the starters commands.

attention please:  This is the steerers cue to tell the paddlers, paddles UP.  A good steerperson will have their paddlers ready to go. 

air horn:   This is the starting signal for your paddlers to start paddling.

race: Once the race has started you need to steer the boat in the straightest possible course to the finish line.  It is also important to minimize use of the steering oar during races, as it creates drag and can reduce overall speed.  Using minor adjustments is more beneficial than a more heavy-handed approach.

Final Word

We strongly encourage all steerspersons to complete the Red Cross Onboard Study Guide .  Remember that you are in control of the boat.  The better you do your job by using clear commands and confident maneuvers, the more comfortable and confident you team will feel.  Teamwork is the key, and you are the person who brings everyone together.

Contact us today to learn more.