Our 2021 Festival has been
postponed until further notice.

Preparation of Dragon Boat

  • Retrieve the moored dragon boat from the West Side, MLK Drive docks in preparation for practice.
  • Bail any rainwater in boat after retrieving the boat.
  • Having a cell phone in a waterproof holder is up to you.

Preparation of Team

  • Meet the Captain and/or Drummer at the West Side, MLK Drive docks.
  • Have a conversation with your Captain and/or Drummer before you load the boat. Discuss teams plan for practice.
  • Remind the Captain and/or Drummer that practice starts at the top of the hour and ends 10 minutes to the hour. Being late coming back can result in the loss of a practice. A one hour does not mean one hour water time. It includes loading, practice, and unloading. Unloading a boat at exactly the top of the hour is unacceptable.
  • Have the Captain and/or Drummer assemble the team and then have the Captain or Drummer 'stage' the paddlers in two single file lines there.  Row assignments, paddling sides, and weight/balance should happen on the patio as well.
  • Check that everyone has their life vests properly donned and have a paddle in hand.


  • Once the team is 'staged' ask the Captain and/or Drummer to gather team on dock in preparation to loading the boat.
  • Loading the boat should be down from the middle first and then alternating one row at a time out to the bow and stern.  The one thing that is very important is that you do it in a controlled manner, one row at a time.

Pre-Launch Safety Briefing

  • Introduce yourself to the team that just boarded the boat.
  • Count entire crew, including yourself, and record the total number onboard.
  • Go over the basic commands basic commands you plan to use; Take It Away, Let It Run, Hold Water.
  • Determine the experience level of the crew.
  • Clarify that the Steersperson is the ultimate authority in issues of navigation and boat safety.
  • Have paddlers identify their "seat buddies."
  • Inform the crew if the boat capsizes to stay with the boat. Once up, find your seat buddy. Take a head count.  You may designate a strong swimmer to search under the boat.  Utilize your cell phone, tow rope, etc. Do not swim away from the boat.  It will continue to float even if full of water.
  • Ask if there are any last questions from the crew prior to launching.


  • Launch the boat as close to the top of the hour as possible.
  • When you are ready to launch, remind the starboard side (right-hand side) crew to push away from the dock with their hands, not with their paddles, and not to get their fingers in between the boat and the dock.
  • Have crew paddle at slow and steady pace. Stay to the far left-hand side along Boathouse Row docks. Returning traffic will be on the starboard side (right-hand side) of you.
  • Head for about 10 feet to the right of the last safety rope.  There are obstructions and shallow spots to your left.  There is also a very dangerous dam.  Do not go there.  If you get inside a line from the little island across the inlet and the last rope, get back out right away.  If you cannot, yell for help.
  • Be courteous.  Rowers have the right-of-way.  Always give them as much right-of-way as you can, without putting your boat at risk.
  • After the safety rope, go across the river using the Girard Avenue sign on the Schuylkill Expressway as a point.  Do not stop if you can help it.  Pull in along the west bank and give your crew a rest.


  • At this point turn the practice over to the Drummer. You are still in command of the boat.
  • Keep aware of all traffic, shells, launches, other dragon boats, floating debris, etc in 360 degrees around you at all times. Remember a rower coming towards you may not see you.  When in doubt, yell "rower, look ahead!"
  • The Schuylkill Navy is the governing body of this section of the river and they make the rules. Their Rules of the River at http://www.boathouserow.org/rulesoftheriver.html must be followed at all times, there are no exceptions.
  • There is no stopping or turning within 100 meters of a bridge.
  • When heading up river use the left arch of the Girard Avenue Bridge, then the second left arch of the Railroad Bridge.
  • Normally, a turn at the Three Angels will give you the appropriate length practice. Let the crew know when you are ready to make the turn back. Again, be aware of all traffic before making your turn. This includes all shells, launches, other dragon boats, floating debris, etc.
  • Coming back you should be careful around the Railroad/Girard bridges.  Wind and current make the space between them tricky sometimes.  Pay attention!
  • When heading down river the second left arch of the Railroad Bridge and use the center arch of the Girard Avenue Bridge.
  • After getting back through the Girard Avenue Bridge, you can move left towards the stone wall.  The first set of statues is about 500 meters from the Viking statue at Boathouse Row, so here you can do a practice race on the way back home if you like.
  • Remember, no racing or high stroking past the Viking.
  • Be careful making the turn after the Viking statue.  Go a little wide, as the docks stick out into the river further than you might expect.
  • Be courteous paddling back along the Boathouse Row docks.  Paddle in along the port side (left-hand side) of the channel along the docks. Allow all traffic to pass on your starboard side (right-hand side).


  • Have crew paddle at a slow and steady pace into the dock.
  • As you approach the dock ask for the bumpers to be put out on the port side (left-hand side) of the boat.
  • Have crew “Hold Water” and steer slowly into the dock. DO NOT COLLIDE WITH THE DOCK!
  • You should be the first person out of the boat and tie off the stern of the boat.
  • Proceed to the front of the boat and tie off the bow.


  • Unloading the boat. There are several ways to do it: front to back, back to front, from the middle first.  You or the Drummer can decide.  The one thing that is very important is that you do it in a controlled manner, one row at a time.
  • Inform the crew to return all paddles to the bins and to hang all PDFs on the hangers in the shed.
  • After unloading, the boat should be turned as a courtesy to the next Steersperson/team. The Steersperson will ask someone on the dock to hold the bow line while they scull/gondola the stern of the boat around.  Once the boat is perpendicular to the dock the bow line can be walked upriver to aide in the turning.

Wrapping Up

  • If there is no other team following your practice or at the conclusion of the final practice of the day the Steersperson should move and moore the boats to the dock opposite the channel.
  • Return the dragon boat to the docks. Firmly tie up to cleats on the dock. Make sure bumper guards are out on the boats to protect them from damaging each other and/or damage from the docks.
  • Return the steering oar with the other paddles.
  • The Steersperson is responsible for making sure the boats are tied up properly, PDFs are stored correctly in the shed. All paddles are in the bins. Steering oar is placed next to paddle bins.

Good Steering Technique

  • When maneuvering a moving boat, your steering oar almost always stays in the water.  The only exception is if you are making a turn and your arms are all the way out (boat turning to starboard-right), or the oar is pushing you over the side (boat turning to port-left).  Then you want to reposition the oar, and continue the turn without falling overboard.
  • If you are moving slowly, keep most/all of the oar blade in the water.
  • If you are moving fast, you can reduce the amount of oar blade in the water.
  • It takes less oar blade to steer a fast moving boat. It also reduces drag.
  • A slightly crouched forward position is probably the best to begin with one foot forward, one back.  Keep two hands on the steering oar until you get comfortable with boat, crew, weather, and current.
  • Steer by identifying a point on the bank, and lining it up with your Drummer’s head.  Keeping your Drummers head on that point keeps you on a nice straight course.  When you need to turn, pick a new point, turn to it, and hold that course.
  • Small course adjustments are always better than big ones.  They have less impact on boat stability, it is easier on you, and it reduces the chance that you have to make big adjustments because the boat got away from you.
  • Remember that one of your tools is the ability to direct the paddlers.  The crew may be doing a drill or race piece under the direction of the Drummer, but if you need something, the crew is yours to command.  Boat safety takes precedence over everything.  The crew is your accelerator and your brakes.  Use them wisely, but use them if you must.
  • Watch out for rowers.  Look behind you every so often.  Rowers can be much faster than you are, and it's hard for them to look directly ahead of them.
  • Don't stop while crossing the river, or 100 meters from any bridge.
  • Stay away from the falls.

For Hire Steerspeople:

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