Practice and Race Day Safety Information

Safety Guidelines

Basic Rules of the Boat and Water

  • Only individuals who are at least 16 years old and have signed a waiver may be in the boat and use the equipment unless otherwise authorized by Mayo Clinic Health System BBDBF Practice Coordinator.
  • Non-paddling passengers are not permitted on boats unless otherwise authorized by the Mayo Clinic Health System BBDBF Practice Coordinator.
  • Individuals are not permitted to operate or be in the boats while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
  • Boats must not be beached or docked away from the loading ramps unless otherwise authorized by the BBDBF Practice Coordinator.
  • A non-paddling steersperson must be in position during practice.
  • The steersperson is the boat captain (and decision-maker).
  • Although it is an exciting and new experience for many of paddlers, it is important to keep conversation to a minimum and remain alert to the instruction and commands of the steersperson.
  • The steersperson or practice coordinator assistant will review basic safety rules with the paddlers at the beginning of each practice.
  • The steersperson may decline to seat paddlers who, in his or her sole opinion, may not have the ability to perform the duties associated with paddling.
  • Each team must have at least 14 paddlers and no more than 20 paddlers aboard the dragon boat unless otherwise authorized by the steersperson or coach. Drummers are also welcome to practice with their teams.
  • Paddlers and drummers must notify the steersperson of any physical conditions that may affect their ability to react or respond in an emergency.
  • Individuals must wear a U.S. Coast Guard approved, adjusted, and fastened, personal flotation device (PFD) at all times. Inflatable PFDs are not permitted.
  • Shoes or sandals with a heel strap must be worn at all times by all paddlers, drummers and steerspersons. Flip flops are not allowed.
  • All paddlers are to remain seated in the boat at all times.
  • If paddlers are changing positions on the boat during a practice, all other paddlers must obey the “brace the boat” command from the steersperson. One extra paddle and PFD should be carried on board during practice.
  • If a paddle drops into the water, do not attempt to rescue it as this can cause sudden movement of the boat. The steersperson will give instructions to retrieve the paddle.
  • Steerspersons will have telephones, but paddlers are advised not to bring phones on the boat because they could easily fall into the water.
  • State and federal laws and regulations (including, but not limited to, U.S. Coast Guard rules) governing boating and river navigation must be followed.


The Practice Coordinator reserves the right to cancel all practices in the event of severe weather conditions. Teams with practices scheduled during these times will be issued credits for missed practices.

  • Wind: If strong winds are forecasted, the minimum number of paddlers in a dragon boat should be increased to correspond with the increased wind resistance. This decision will be made by the Practice Coordinator and/or steersperson.
  • Current: If the river current is strong, as happens during heavy rains, the minimum number of paddlers in a dragon boat should be increased to correspond with the increased river flow. The BBDBR Practice Coordinator will monitor river conditions and send announcements to team captains as increased numbers of paddlers are required or if practices must be canceled. Please note that even if strong currents subside, practices may remain canceled if dangerous large debris is present.
  • Lightning: If lightning is forecasted for or present in the immediate area, boats are not allowed to go out and boats that are on the river must return to the dock. If the boat is a significant distance upstream or downstream from the Veterans Freedom Park landing, the steersperson should evaluate whether there is another, closer dock where the boat may be safely docked and the team may take cover until the storm passes.
  • Fog/Reduced Visibility: A minimum of 150 yards of unrestricted visibility must be available for boats to go out. The dragon boat steersperson is responsible for determining whether there is enough visibility to safely conduct a practice. Extra care should be exercised in the presence of any fog or similar reduced-visibility conditions. Teams caught on the river during a sudden fog should proceed with extreme caution, stopping often to look and listen for other boats.
  • Extreme Temperatures: Practice at the discretion of the steersperson.

River Hazards

  • Debris: Generally, debris is not moving fast enough to do serious damage or cause injuries. Nonetheless, contact should be avoided. Debris that accumulates against docks, barges, etc., on the upstream side poses the greatest danger because the water can flow through the debris, but a boat or person cannot. These are known by most boaters as “strainers” and they can be quite dangerous as swimmers can be pinned under or against the debris by a strong current.
  • Wakes: Wakes can swamp a dragon boat if taken directly on the side or the bow. In addition, some dragon boats may capsize. It is best to head into or away from wakes at a 30 to 45 degree angle.
  • Other Boats: Jet skis, wakeboard boats and other speed craft can create big wakes. Nuisance boaters may be reported (be sure to get a hull identification number) to the US Coast Guard.

Paddler Overboard

  • Stay calm and don’t panic.
  • Listen to the steersperson and be ready to take clear direction. You will be asked to get the paddler out of the water and back into the boat as soon as possible. Your team will stabilize and balance (flare) the boat while someone pulls the paddler back in.
  • Most importantly, do not lunge to the aid of the person overboard or the boat can capsize…which leads us to the next point.


  • Cover your head with your hands (drop your paddle, it’ll float)
  • Roll with the boat in the direction it’s going
  • After you surface from the water, LOOK for the boat and STAY with the boat
  • Find your seat partner; if someone is missing, look under the overturned boat
  • Stay calm, remain quiet and don’t panic

In an Emergency

  • Remain with the boat.
  • Contact 911, the US Coast Guard or the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Department as soon as possible if anyone on a boat is injured or possibly has hypothermia as the result of swamping, capsizing or other incident.
  • All incidents must be reported to Mayo Clinic Health System administration by phone as soon as possible after the end of the practice during which the incident occurred.