A Dragon Boat is a human-powered watercraft. They were traditionally made in the Pearl River Delta region of China's southern Guangdong Province out of teak wood to various designs and sizes. In other parts of China different woods are used to build these traditional watercrafts. It is one of a family of Traditional Paddled Long Boats found throughout Asia, Africa, and the Pacific Islands.
Currently, boats are being made, for competitive purposes, out of carbon fiber and other light materials. Dragon boats are the basis of the team paddling sport of dragon boat racing a watersport which has its roots in an ancient folk ritual of contending villagers held over the past 2000 years throughout southern China. While 'competition' has taken place annually for more than 20 centuries as part of religious ceremonies and folk customs, dragon boat racing has emerged in modern times as an international sport, beginning in Hong Kong in 1976. But the history of dragon boats in competition reaches as far back as the same era as the original games of Olympia in ancient Greece. Both dragon boat racing and the ancient Olympiad included aspects of religious observances and community celebrations along with competition.
For competition events, dragon boats are generally rigged with decorative Chinese dragon heads and tails. At other times such as training the decorative regalia is usually removed, although the drum often remains aboard for practice by drummers.
Dragon boat races are traditionally held as part of the annual Duanwu Festival or Duen Ng observance in China. 19th-century European observers of the racing ritual, not understanding the significance of Duanwu, referred to the spectacle as a "dragon boat festival". This is the term that has become known in the West.
Dragon boat racing, like Duanwu, is observed and celebrated in many areas of east Asia with significant populations ofethnic Chinese living there e.g. Singapore, Malaysia, Riau Islands and Greater China. The date is referred to as the "double fifth" since Duanwu is reckoned as the fifth day of the fifth lunar calendar, which often falls on the Gregorian calendar month of June, but also, rarely, in May or July. This is because Duanwu is reckoned annually in accordance with the traditional calendar system of China, which is a combination of solar and lunar cycles, unlike the solar-based Gregorian calendar system. Christian Easter is another example of lunar-based calendar and date reckoning.
In December 2007, the central government of the People's Republic of China added Duanwu, along with Qingming and Mid-Autumn festivals to the schedule of national holidays observed in the People's Republic of China, such is the importance of dragon boating in China today.