Guidelines to sweeps

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N.B. The Golden Rules
  • KEEP TO STARBOARD in cuts (ie stay on the right)
  • KEEP TO STARBOARD (right) when passing an oncoming boat,
    so you pass with the boat to your PORT (left) side
  • NEVER stop in a cut, especially not broadside on! even if you can see there's nothing coming.
  • ALWAYS GO ANTICLOCKWISE (i.e. keep the harbour walls on your right)
    NEVER GO CLOCKWISE; someone else may be just around the corner expecting the way to be clear.
  • ALWAYS HAVE A WHISTLE and use it, especially when going round blind corners.
  • BE SEEN - ALWAYS HAVE LIGHTS AFTER SUNSET. The sweep must have a headlight and there must be a bright bow light. The more lit up you are, the safer you are.

Capetonians are very fortunate in being able to pursue our sport in the V&A - we are the only sport to be afforded this privilege. The V&A is however a working harbour and has busy tourist traffic. We are therefore requested to keep within the Marina and Alfred Basins. No boats should be in the Alfred Basin when there are shipping movements under way. There must be an qualified sweep on board at all times.

Remember, Dragon Boats are very vulnerable boats, because they are long & very narrow with no keel and they rely entirely on disciplined crew-responses to all the sweep's commands.

It is vital for the continued presence of dragon boating in the V&A that we adhere strictly to the safety regulations agreed on with the Port authorities.

The sweep is the person responsible for the safety of the boat & all who are in her, and the sweep is therefore the person in overall charge of the boat.

Rules & regulations for paddling in the V&A

These guidelines were drawn up in 1997 based on the IDBF guidelines for sweep training,
the V&A Regulations for Dragon Boating and the maritime skippers code. (updated 2011)

Due to increased traffic, we are no longer allowed out beyond the white swing bridge.

There must be on board:

  1. bailers
  2. a hooter or whistle
  3. life jackets for non-swimmers
  4. mooring lines
  5. navigation lights from twilight


  • Do not enter a cut if you are likely to get in the way of another vessel
  • Hoot when about to enter a cut, and always do so on the right (to starboard).
  • Keep to the right (starboard) in cuts
  • Keep to the right (starboard) when passing an oncoming boat, so you pass with the approaching boat to your left (PORT)
  • Never stop in a cut, especially not broadside on! Even if you can see there's nothing coming.
  • Never stop broadside on to the traffic flow, even if it is around the corner in the synchrolift area of the Alfred basin, you may be in the way of another dragonboat doing circuits.
  • Always go anticlockwise (i.e. keep the harbour walls on your right) never go clockwise; someone else may be just around the corner expecting the way to be clear.
    e.g. don't go sneaking into blue bridge cut on the left when you have been stretching in the synchrolift basin, another dragonboat coming out will do so on THEIR right, which will mean you'd collide head on
  • Never assume other boats know or will adhere to rules!


  • Be aware of any activity from linesmen standing around bollards it means the vessel is about to depart
  • Be aware of people standing expectantly at an empty berth, jetty or gangway - it means something is about to arrive.
  • Watch the horizontal radar detector on the top of vessels; if it is turning it means the vessel is about to depart
  • Beware of fishing boats with their engines running - they are likely to depart
  • Beware of wakes - and the ricochet of wakes off the harbour walls.
  • Try to orientate the boat so you take waves at a right angle, i.e. on the nose (or stern). Be especially wary of the pilot boat and tugs, they send up a huge wake, even within the confines of the Pier Head. Slow the paddling and if needs be, brace the boat.
  • Watch the swing-bridge light (on the North corner of the entrance to the white bridge cut near Den Anker)
    • Flashing red light = swing bridge is in place - only small boats will be able to pass through (but even these can be a danger)
    • no light - BEWARE! the bridge is open :- something big is about to enter / leave
  • When about to enter a cut, watch for approaching masts
  • If cutting across a cut, do not do so too close to the wall. Get your drummer or stroke pair to look out for approaching vessels.

  • one blast (whistle blow) = going to starboard (turning to my right)
  • two = going to port (turning to my left)
  • three = going astern (going backwards)
  • Five = get out of my way - NOW
  • GREEN = Starboard = Right
  • RED = Port = Left


Do not take a boat out unless you are happy that you and your crew can cope well with the conditions and that you will run no risk of a swamping, capsise, or of being blown onto the yachts moored in the Marina or Alfred Basins.

If it is very windy in the new basin, don't take the boats out - there's no-one standing by to rescue us when we are practicing. Trying to swim a capsized boat to the side would be extremely difficult and people could get badly scratched on the barnacles as they try to climb out at the sides of the basin.

Remember you are responsible for the safety of the boat and its crew.
Welcome newcomers, make them feel wanted, and keep them in mind when setting exercises, we don't want to put them off!!


Notice which boats/yachts moor where, so that you will know where they are headed for when you see them coming in through the swing-bridge area.
If you know where a boat is likely to be going, then you will know how best to get out of the way.

Notice where there are places one could get out of the water should a capsize happen.

Where are there any steps / ladders?


  • Check the securing of the sweep oar;
    don't trust anyone else's tying & don't tie it too tightly as this prevents rotation.
  • Check the stability of the sweep arm, prongs and platform.
  • Establish if anyone can't swim and request that they wear a life jacket.
  • Brief the crew on safe behaviour and what to do in the event of swamping / capsize.
  • Insist that no-one stands up in the boat!
  • Instruct beginners on paddling technique, and assign someone to help them.
  • Balance the boat; sit paddlers right up against the gunwhales, weight affects the boat more in the middle, so swop a heavy paddler for a lighter one if necessary. An unbalanced boat is an unsafe boat
  • In high side wind, move heavier paddlers to the back to help reduce crabbing sideways
  • Stay in the Marina Basin in poor visibility and heavy traffic.
  • After a session, check the mooring lines are secure.
  • Check fenders are in position and that the bow/stern will not rub against the marina.
  • Cancel the session if the weather is inclement.

Demonstrate the correct method of tying lines to a cleat


N.B. Where the coach is not the sweep; the sweep's commands over-ride those of coach or captain of club crews.

Corporate team leaders should not be giving commands on the boat, unless it is to repeat those of the sweep

  • Keep commands clear, simple, and stick to our standard commands.
  • Be assertive! You, and you only, are in charge
  • Emphasize that no paddler may take it upon themselves to initiate any commands!!
  • Don't hesitate to be REALLY FIRM with people whose behavior could put the boat at any risk.
    Call on the team captain (of corporate crews) to enforce your commands if need be.
  • If there is still a problem, return to the jetty.
  • Novice crews must practice in the new basin only
  • If you have any concern about the boat's safety.... wind too strong, waves too big, cross-current too strong, crew behavior, harbour too busy, return to base.


  • Are you ready ?
  • Attention !
  • Go !
  • Next stroke ... Easy ( = stop paddling)
  • Stop the Boat!
  • Backpaddle!
  • Drawstrokes! e.g. drawstrokes left / partners lean right (to counterbalance) or backpaddle
  • Brace the boat! paddles flat on the water in the event of waves or crew exchanging places.
  • Hold the boat! paddles vertical in the water & slightly to the side to stop drifting
  • Disembark one at a time from the front / back

STOP the boat before you need to and then ease it forwards.


  • the wake must be taken nose on (or stern to), otherwise the boat will capsize.
  • Have everyone not in the act of bailing brace the boat.
  • Bail hard!


  1. In the absence of a safety boat
    • Immediately you surface, check your partner is present and okay.
      Front pair check on the drummer, back pair check on the sweep.
    • Count off from the front
    • the next step is to right the boat.
      Remember the commands come from the sweep only (or if incapacitated, the club captain).
      • prior to doing this, move the weaker swimmers to the nose and tail.
      • Pull the sweep oar fully aft so the handle is at the sweep arm (and therefore out of the way)
      • Don't worry about rescuing anything floating away, unless it is a bailer.
        Anything else can be gathered up later. The key bag should be tied to the boat
      • If it is windy, use the wind to help you turn the boat by turning it with the wind.
      • As the boat comes over everyone must be careful to keep clear as it rolls.
      • Once the boat is the right way up and floating at the surface, get two or three light paddlers into the boat and bailing hard.
      • As the boat rises more paddlers can climb in (in pairs as the rest of the crew hold the boat stable).
      • The boat should be clear and floating in 11 to 15 minutes.
      • The last paddlers in the water may need to be helped in by paddlers already there.
  2. When a safety boat is present
    • Make sure that the person who was sitting next to you is okay: last two paddlers look out for the sweep and front two for the drummer.
    • Again, all commands come from the sweep only.
    • Count off from the front
    • Do not make any attempt to right the boat. The air trapped under it will keep it afloat.
    • Non swimmers should be wearing life jackets. If any non-swimmers were not wearing one, try and get them on top of the upturned boat.
    • If anyone is injured, get them on the boat too.
    • Those in the water huddle together and wait for the rescue boat.


  1. Number off from the front.
  2. Start with everyone paddling at a gentle pace to warm up and give newcomers a chance to get into a rhythm.
  3. Stretch
  4. Various exercises
    • Odds and Evens (e.g. 30 as a boat, 30 odd, 30 even, 30 odd, 30 even ......)
    • When not paddling rest paddles right against the back of the person in front to stop them bringing their paddle too far back and lifting water, and to give the person behind a goal to reach their paddle right under. If the person in front of a paddler is not leaning forward they must push them forward when they are into the reach part of the stroke
    • Threes - a Canadian version of Odds and Evens (3 odd, 3 even, 3 odd ......)
    • Easy pyramids (e.g. 30 slow 30 hard, 40 slow, 40 hard, 50 slow 50 hard......)
    • Hard pyramids (e.g. 20 slow 30 hard, 20 slow, 40 hard, 20 slow 50 hard......)
    • Jedi pyramids (start sequence then 20 long, 20 power, 20 accelerate, 20 long - whole boat - then same again in pairs or fours. Repeat with 40s, then back to 20s)
    • Front half then back half
    • Sea-pulls - Paddle in pairs (not a good idea in winter - those not paddling get too cold)
    • Paddle in fours
    • 20 as a boat then front pair only for 20, next pair join in for next 20 and so on down the boat until all paddling for 20, then front pair stop, after 20 next pair stop and so on until only last pair paddling for 20
    • Practice starts, front half do the first bit of the sequence whilst back half put the brakes on, then vica versa, then whole boat; now add the next bit of the sequence and so on.
    • more suggestions would be most welcome! send to
  5. Race 500m and 300m
  6. Encourage partners to give constructive criticism, tactfully, to anyone who needs it.


Control - Sweeps must be able to excercise full control over the boat and the crew and do the following . . .

  • Maintain a straight course at full racing speed with a full crew of 18-20 paddlers plus drummer
  • Steer a figure of 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.
  • Demonstrate safe approaches to a jetty/pontoon in still and windy conditions
  • Demonstrate the correct way to load into a starting pen
  • Execute sideways maneuvers 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
  • Excecute an emergency stop from racing speed to full stop, turn the boat through 180° and start off again
  • Answer questions about basic safety, regulations in the V&A, and the International Rules of Procession within a harbour,
  • Conduct a crew through a one hour practice session

Responsibilities - As a sweep you are accepting responsibility for . . .

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

When accepting the role of sweep the golden rule is ASSUME NOTHING

  • 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, or that they will adhere to any rules!

Practice session procedure:-

  • Request non-swimmers to wear a life jacket.
  • Advise people with expensive glasses to remove them if they do not have a retaining chord.
  • Find out if there is anyone with asthma or who is severely allergic to stings,
    request them to have their medication with them.
  • Brief the crew on basic safety.
  • Load the boat.
  • Balance the boat.
  • Instruct beginners on paddling technique.
  • Check your steering equipment.
  • Stay in the Marina basin if conditions are not safe - too much wind, swell, or traffic.
    You, as sweep, have the responsibility for the safety of the boat and its crew.
  • Warm up circuit.
  • Stretch.
  • Various excercises.
  • Dock and disembark.
  • Stow the boat safely.

sloth's sweep trying to correct and avoid colliding at the ccwc 2004

Sweeping isn't always as easy as the paddlers think ....


General helming skills

Always check the sweep arm and platform as well as the tie-down of the oar. (When there is a drummer get them to check the drum tie-down as well as the drum-seat.

Use backpaddling on the opposite side of drawstrokes to prevent boat moving forward.

Do not rely on paddlers stopping the boat when coming in to moor up. Stop early and ask the front four to paddle in gently.

Show consideration to other boats/clubs - don't do a sprint in the middle of someone else's assessment/ time trial or come up close behind when they are doing a reversing exercise. Try and anticipate what they are going to do and keep clear.

A sweep doesn't power the boat, so wherever you need help from paddlers, ask for it. Don't carry out an exercise immediately you are told to (by anyone, including the coach) if you are not happy with your boat's position. You are the one that will get the blame if anything goes wrong!

Remember the sweep is the one giving the commands. The sweep overules the coach, the captain (& the sweep examiner) as the sweep is the one responsible for the boat and crews safety.

Twist the sweep oar when cornering, this gives a sensitive, more stable response.

In a side wind, the stern tends to get blown away; loading heavy paddlers at the back helps stop this.

Always helm as though it is an assessment!

Always bring your own whistle (and head-torch in winter), even if you aren't expecting to sweep.

Encourage during racing!
Yelling that you are catching up / overtaking / getting caught is a great incentive when paddlers are tiring

Call commands loudy and clearly.
The people in front are 11m away, and can't hear you if it is windy or people behind them are chattering. Don't call too many instructions when they are paddling - they won't hear you properly, so they won't hear a command either. If you want to instruct, stop the boat and get them to look at you (or try to) so you can see they are listening.

When aligning, use the wind by turning into it and use it to take the nose round.

When racing, do not endanger paddlers for the sake of winning. Try to avoid racing so close paddles clash, arms could get broken.

With regards to safety in the V&A

Whistle blows were too short and not necessarily in correct place. Remember you are doing it as a warning to other boats, especially ones you can't see or who can't see you !

One blow = proceeding to starboard !! Should not blow once when cutting left across the cut!
One blast means you are proceeding though it on the right.

Ask the stroke pair for the ok before crossing any cut.

Be observant and watch which boats moor where so you know where best to get out of the way.
You need to be aware at all time of what is going on around you. Ask yourself things like "That ships engines are running -is it about to depart, or just charging its batteries?" (If about to depart there will be people standing at mooring lines ashore or on the ship ready to cast off).
Constantly observe activities on the quayside, on jetties and gang-planks, bridges, lights etc and ask for example "Why is that guy walking down a gang-plank to nothing" ... (the boat that moors there will be about to come in!)

A boat travelling in the traffic flow has right of way,
If another dragon boat is doing a 500 from the One-and-only to the white bridge (or vica versa) they are with the flow. Another dragon boat coming out of the synchrolift area should give way. If in any doubt, be polite, give way.

Remember we are smaller and far more tippy than anything else on the water - never expect anyone else to get out of our way!

Helming Corporates

When briefing novices ask if any = asthmatic and if so, do they have their pump?
Advise people wearing glasses to take them off if they don't have a safety chord, specs dont float!

With a rowdy crew, psychology helps.
Put yourself in a dominant position by pairing them off and seating them - preferably in the boat, otherwise on the jetty. They are now confined, Mr Bigdeal is no longer in centre stage, and you are standing over them so they are more likely to listen to you than him. Tell them that if they mess about, the boat WILL capsise. This will make the rest of the boat tell Mr Bigdeal to behave! Avoid the temptation to throw a paddle at him … !

Finally, remember that it is important that the Waterfront see us as an asset
- and not as a nuisance!

Take Care.

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