Starting Your Own Dragon Boat Club

Starting a dragon boat club requires a lot of time, effort and determination. To that mix, you have to add strong leadership and motivated people with a common vision.

What do I mean by vision? I mean the ability to see beyond the physical manifestation of a club; you need the ability to see the future in terms that make sense, and you need enough faith to see things through.

If you’re near water, be it flat or sea, chances are good that one or more paddling clubs already exist. For that reason, you have to ask yourself what you hope to accomplish that the existing groups can’t – or won’t. That’s the most obvious pointer to the need for a unique vision – one which will motivate you and your new members to bring it about.

For example, if the local clubs are primarily built around a recreational paddling model, and your group has international competition in its sights, you have a vision that’s clear and easy to understand. In addition, rather than competing with the existing club, it’s likely that a competitive club would augment it in unexpected ways, like providing an avenue for recreational paddlers to move up the ladder to more serious competition.

The Vision

In order to sell your vision, you need a clear understanding of exactly what it is you want to accomplish. Do you want to start with a 10-paddler dragon boat and add a 20-paddler boat as membership expands, or do you simply want to start with the larger hull?

Do you want to buy a used boat or a new one? Club boat or IDBF-certified racing boat?

Does your vision include the eventual addition of outriggers, to provide paddlers with more choices for training and conditioning?

Do you have an understanding of the cost of maintaining a dragon boat in your local waters? If not, your new club may find itself buried in debt before it becomes large enough to fund an adequate budget.

Are you familiar with the cost of real estate on or off the water? After all, moving 40 foot dragon boats is no easy matter, and you need to give a lot of thought to where you’re going to moor it, or, if moorage isn’t available, where you’re going to store it so it can easily be carried in and out of the water by your crews.

Have you priced fire, theft and liability insurance for your area? Insurance alone can run $4000 to $6000 a year, depending upon the equipment and facilities under your new club’s control.

The Mechanics

Anyone can start a club. All you really need to do to create one is stand up and say, “I am a dragon boat club.” That’s not likely enough, however, to make your club survive and prosper.

The process should include a discussion about the legal form the club will follow. Do you want to take advantage of the non-profit status afforded in many jurisdictions, or simply come up with a name and address for the club and leave it at that? The latter won’t cost nearly as much, but it also won’t offer many of the benefits enjoyed by non-profits. boat things

The People

You need at least ten to twenty paddlers, depending upon the size of the boat you plan to acquire, but I assume that most folks thinking of starting a dragon boat club already know that.

The real question is, “How many members do we need to satisfy both our vision and the real cost of obtaining and maintaining it?” My experience suggests that a minimum of forty to fifty members will be needed to provide the financial support required; it also seems obvious to me that club budgets expand as the membership does. That, too, needs to be part of your vision. At what level will your vision be satisfied?

The Money

This is the most frustrating piece of the pie. Unless you’re lucky and find a sponsor with deep pockets quickly, you’re going to have to give a lot of thought to the cost of getting your club up and running, not to mention putting bums in the boat.

A new twelve meter dragon boat can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $20,000, depending upon the make, model, transportation costs, taxes and duties and, of course, how it’s equipped. (A nine meter boat will cost from $7500 to $10,000.)

Moorage can run $10 a foot or higher, but marina owners are often willing to provide marginal moorage for little or nothing. I know of several dragon boat teams and clubs that enjoy free moorage simply because the spots provided don’t offer enough water at low tide to generate revenue for the marina operator.


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