Tips and FAQ



How do I sign up?
Visit our registration page for detailed registration information.

What is a dragon boat?
A dragon boat is a human-powered water craft designed to hold 20 paddlers, one drummer, and one person to steer. Stemming from ancient Chinese tradition, these boats typically contain ornamental regalia, including decorative Chinese dragon heads and tails. The 40-foot fiberglass and wood boats used in the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival are provided by the Rotary Clubs. Though the boats weigh 600 pounds when empty, they can weigh more than two tons when filled with a standard team! Observing these awe-inspiring vessels is an experience not to be missed — come see for yourself!

How long / when is the race?
The 400-meter competitive and recreational races take place Saturday morning and afternoon. Festivities are held Wednesday through Saturday evening and include live music, cornhole tourney, parade of ceremonies, food, awards ceremony and other special activities.

What’s with the ceremonial painting and opening of the dragon’s eyes?
Painting the eyes of the dragon is an ancient and sacred Chinese tradition that has been performed for centuries. Painting the eyes signifies the awakening of the dragon, so this ceremony brings the dragon boats to life. We open the dragon’s eyes to give the boats energy, spirit and, of course, fire — watch out!

How much does it cost?
It costs $750 to register a team — that’s around $30 per person! This fee includes up to two coached practice sessions and races on Saturday. An additional fee of $50 is required to compete in the Friday Night Sprint Cup Races. The fundraising extravaganza is intended to be an open family event and is free to spectators and those attending festival events.

Will my team get to practice before the event?
Yes, each team is provided at least one practice prior to Saturday’s day of racing with an option of a second. One practice is mandatory. Teams are able to reserve the practice times on a first-come, first-serve basis. PRACTICES

What does the drummer do?
As an essential part of the dragon boat team, the drummer serves as the ‘pulse’ or ‘drumbeat’ for the entire team. The drummer’s role is both strategic and practical. Not only does he or she help the steers-person communicate with the crew by relaying commands to the front of the boat, but the drummer also keeps the paddlers in rhythm by matching his or her drumbeats with the strokes of the front two paddlers.

Can my team’s drummer count as one of our eight women?
No — you must have at least eight women paddling, even if your drummer is a woman as well.

How are team members distributed in the boats?
Because boats are paddled rather than rowed, all occupants face forward. The 20 paddlers are divided 10 on each side, and the drummer sits in the bow facing the paddlers, either rhythmically beating a drum or calling race commands. The steers-person serves as a rudder, standing or kneeling in the stern while maneuvering the boat with a long steering oar. Four boats race in each heat, so steering is vital!

Do I need to bring any equipment to race?
Nope! Dragon boats, paddles and PFDs are all included in your race fee. All you need to bring is a smile! Oh, and maybe some sunscreen.

Does my team need to provide a steers person?
The steersperson for both the practice session and races will be provided by the Festival unless the team has an experienced steersperson who has competed in a previous dragon boat race.

Who is sponsoring the event?
The Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival is organized by the Bemidji Rotary Club and Bemidji Chamber. In addition to these major partners, the festival also relies on the support of countless sponsors who generously donate their money, time and talents to not only make the event a reality, but also an annual success.

Does my team have to design and make a team uniform?
Well, no, we don’t require that teams wear uniforms; however, as the ancient Chinese dragon boaters once said, “A team in uniform paddles in unison.” (Okay, yes, we did make that up — pretty good though, huh?) There is a Best Team T-Shirt however. So….bragging rights are up for grabs.

Do I need to know how to swim?
Each team member should be able to swim 50 meters while wearing a personal flotation device. PFDs are provided to all participants as part of the race fee and must be worn at all times during practices and races.Though PFDs are required, participants should note that water wings are optional equipment (but highly recommended for those wishing to reclaim their inner juvenile jubilance!).

Can I reserve a tent site for my team?
Tent sites in the Team Village are first come, first serve. Please note that there will be a few reserved spots for our Emerald Sponsors. You can set up starting anytime on Friday. Just so you know, there is an award for Best Team Village judged on Saturday!

When is the registration deadline for the Dragon Boat Races?
The team registration deadline is July 15th. Please visit our registration page for more information

Where’s all this activity goin’ down?
All events take place at the beautiful Lake Bemidji Waterfront in Bemidji, Minnesota (to the left of the Paul & Babe statues on Paul Bunyan Drive) See ya there!

How many people will be at the festival?
We average 50 teams at our festival — that’s more than 1,000 people in the race, not to mention the volunteers, race officials and THOUSANDS of people who come to the waterfront to watch the event!

How is the event timed?
Races at the Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival are so fast and furious that we use an electronic time system. A professional timing company shoots a narrow band camera along the finish line with a time clock attached to each frame. At the end of heats, boats surge and finish within a fractional second of each other!

Who can participate?
Teams consist of a maximum of 25 people, including a designated team captain: 20 paddlers, a drummer, a steers-person, and up to three alternates. Of the 20 paddlers, eight must be women, and all participants must be at least 13 years old. Other than that, everyone can take part! Dragon boating isn’t about how strong or athletic you are; it’s all about how well you can paddle in unison with your team members. With all 20 paddlers working together in perfect sync, the glide is incredible!

What is the purpose of this shindig?
In addition to their desire to put on a fantastic week of community camaraderie, the Bemidji Chamber of Commerce and Bemidji Rotary Club host this annual fundraising event to fund local initiatives and donate money back into the community.

How can I help?
We thought you’d never ask! The Lake Bemidji Dragon Boat Festival is always looking for sponsors and volunteers. These people and groups are at the heart of the annual success of the festival and, most important, its fundraising efforts. Contact us to find out how you can get involved and be a part of this exciting tradition!

Team Tips

Establish a captain as the “go to” person for the group. This person will be in charge of coordinating the team’s practice sessions and making sure registration forms, the team roster, waivers and any additional materials are completed and turned in on time.

Weight distribution: For maximum speed, the lightest people should be seated in the front and very back of the boat. The heaviest people should be placed in the middle.

Pick a small fry for your drummer: You want someone who is light weight and not afraid to sit high up on a raised seat. Better yet, pick someone who isn’t afraid to wear some crazy paddle pants to reflect your team’s spirit and make you stand out amid the rest of the dragon boaters!

Shelter: Bring a canopy to provide shelter from the sun and camp chairs to sit on in our Team Village. You can reserve a tent site starting anytime on Friday for your team. (We suggest to get their early…like sun-up early for a good spot.) Sunglasses, sunscreen and a hat are helpful, too.

Hydration is key: Drink lots of water to keep hydrated both before and after the races.

Extras: We provide the boats, paddles and PFDs, but you might want to bring some cushioning for your derriere. The wood dragon boat benches are downright hard, and a keister cushion can be your best friend on race day. We recommend a gardening knee pad wrapped in a non-slip drawer liner if you want.

Practice Sessions: Prior experience is not a substitute for attending practice sessions. It’s been nearly a year since most teams have paddled, and teams always have new members. Each team is therefore a new team, and it’s important for the boat to be “full” so that you know how it will paddle/feel on race day.


Festival Founders

Title Sponsor

Paul Bunyan Communications Logo