Gulf Coast Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival will take place on Saturday, April 24, 2021




Frequently Asked Questions

What is dragon boat racing?

Dragon boating is a unique kind of boat racing. A dragon boat team consists of 20 paddlers sitting two abreast, a cox who steers the dragon boat from the rear and a drummer who sits at the front. The boat itself is 46 feet long and will go as fast as you can paddle! The team of paddlers work in unison to propel the boat forward from a standing start, the aim being to reach the finish line in the fastest time.

What are the origins of dragon boat racing?

Dragon boating began in China more than 2,000 years ago, originating from superstitious beliefs that the boat racing would ensure prosperous and bountiful crops. The dragon boat celebrations were conducted during the summer solstice, the time of the year when natural calamities such as disease and death were more prevalent. Accordingly, dragon boating has come to symbolize both humankind’s struggle against nature and the fight against dangerous enemies.

How does the festival benefit our community?

All proceeds from the festival directly benefit United Way of South Mississippi, which seeks to improve the health, education and financial stability of all people in Hancock, Harrison, Pearl River and Stone counties. Your United Way accomplishes its mission by awarding grants and operating programs that help meet critical community needs.

In the 2019-2021 grant cycle, UWSM awarded $650,000 in community impact grants to 11 area nonprofits, which help fund programs like Project Learn at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Gulf Coast, the Mobile Pantry Program at Feeding the Gulf Coast and the Children’s Program at the Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, UWSM has awarded over $358,000 to our community partners for rapid response to those affected by COVID-19 for housing assistance, utilities assistance, food, medications, PPE and basic needs.

We operate PreK4Ward, which offers free preschool to 140 children; savings programs, including the FamilyWize prescription discount card and free tax preparation services; Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, which delivers one book each month to children from birth to age 5; United Way Readers, which pairs adult volunteers with children to provide reading practice; and the Little Free Library program, which promotes neighborhood book exchanges through free public bookcases.

We also lead the Fill the Bus school supply drive, MLK, Jr. Day of Action diaper drive and a coat drive.

How can I help?

Easy…paddles up! Register you and your team members for this unique team-building experience. Sponsorship opportunities are listed at the above link, and there are also numerous volunteer opportunities. If you are interested in providing volunteers, please contact Kellee Caldwell.

How will COVID-19 affect the Dragon Boat Festival?

The Dragon Boat Festival will proceed as it normally does every year. However, if local restrictions and mandates prohibit us from having the Festival as planned, we will make minor changes to how the Festival will take place. In this case, each boat will have 10 rowers, one drummer and one steerer. All boats and equipment will be thoroughly cleaned after each race. Since every team will not be able to be at The Dock at one time, there will be a new racing schedule. Heats 1-12 will have two lanes each and heats 13-15, the championship heats, will have three lanes each. Heats 1-12 will take place on Wednesday, April 21 through Friday, April 23. The championships will take place on Saturday, April 24. No tents or vendors will be permitted.

Important Dates

The final day to register a team will be Tuesday, March 30, 2021 by 5 p.m.

To receive the full benefits of your sponsorship, including a $100 participant sponsorship discount, please register no later than Friday, February 12, 2021 by 5 p.m.

All other payments are due to United Way of South Mississippi on Wednesday, March 31, 2021 by 5 p.m.

The festival will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 24, 2021, at The Dock on Seaway Road in Gulfport.

Total books given out to date through Dolly Parton's Imagination Library

Volunteer Hours in 2018

Dollars Invested in our Communities over the Past Year



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