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Kitesurfing Safety

There have been a few known fatal accidents while kitesurfing so for kitesurfing or any other disciplines of power kiting, safety has to be taken seriously.  It is recommended that you take kitesurfing lesson from a local reputable kitesurfing school.  If you have to learn kitesurfing all by yourself, make sure that you have read and fully understood the following before attempting to kitesurf:


Don't jump over the power line!
(fortunately, this is just a photography illusion)
Photo by Bill Barker

  1. The Art of Staying Alive
  2. Safety guidelines
  3. Safety release systems
  4. Test your quick release systems
  5. Rescue technique
  6. Avoid getting lofted
  7. Accident Statistics
  8. Special Notes
  9. Emergency & Rescue Telephone Numbers World-Wide

A kitesurfing crash video posted on Youtube.com
 

The Art of Staying Alive

Modern kitesurfing more or less became popular since 1998.  Pioneer kitesurfers have been through generations of equipment and had their shares of accidents. Even thought most had no clue of what risks to encounter in the early days, many (including me) managed to stay out of serious accidents due to some very simple rules and common sense that we practiced.  Many years have passed and kitesurfing is no longer a "mystery" as it was in the early days.  Kitesurfing know-how, Teaching Methodologies and safety guidelines are very well-known and well published (web sites such as http://www.kitesurfingschool.org, schools, books, videos, magazines, accident databases, etc.).  It is no longer acceptable for any excuse of not knowing what risks to expect in kitesurfing or kiting in general. 

Modern kiting risks are manageable as long as one does it properly. 

Personally, I would compare the risk of kiting similar to the risk of driving a car in North America (for sure much less risk than driving in Paris or Saigon).  And similar to driving, there will be more serious and fatal kitesurfing accidents (like driving, the risks are manageable but they're still there, still require attention).  I have been driving in North America for 25 years, driving in Paris for a couple summers (and will be soon driving in Saigon).  I had my fair shares of minor accidents but managed to stay out of serious accidents.  So here it is: a table showing the Art of Staying Alive for both kiting and driving:

The Art of Staying Alive

Kitesurfing

Driving

Don't kitesurf in severe weather (storm, thunderstorm, etc.) unless you absolutely must do so Don't drive in severe weather (heavy rain, blizzard, freezing rain, etc.) unless you absolutely must do so
When in doubt of the weather condition or equipment, stop kiting. When in doubt of the weather condition, the car or the road, stop driving.
Use your "automated" (dead-man) safety devices when launching, landing or near hard objects. Use your "automated" safety devices (air bags, auto-locked seat-belt, ABS, etc.)
Don't attach yourself to the kite in certain conditions (launching, landing, near hard objects) Don't attach yourself to the car - wear your seat-belt - in certain conditions (driving on ice - frozen lake)
Wear appropriate protection devices (helmet, PFD or impact vest, etc.) Wear appropriate protection devices (seat-belt, helmet for formula-one racing, etc.)
Go slow and be careful in crowded place (near shore, people and hard objects, etc.) Go slow and be careful on crowded road.
Don't jump in crowded place (near shore, people and hard objects, etc.) Don't jump your car on crowded city streets (unless you are filming some action movies of course ;-)
Be alert and prepare to handle unexpected risks (extreme gusts, other "crazy" kiters, submerged rocks, etc.) Be alert and prepare to handle unexpected risks ("black ice", other "crazy" drivers, objects on the road, hidden driveway, etc.)
Take a Kiting Lesson Take a Driving Lesson
Don't Drink and Kite Don't Drink and Drive

Those the most basic rules and common sense all kiters should have.  Now read on for more safety details.

Safety Guidelines

Use the following safety guidelines when kitesurf:

  1. Do not kitesurf without a safety release system that allows you to disable the kite at any moment. 
    • Traditional kites cannot be fully depowered while the kitesurfer is attached to the kite (chicken loop or chicken loop line).  When things go wrong, the kitesurfers activate a safety release system that detaches themselves from the kite.  While this system works when you are conscious and can react fast enough, it DOESN'T when you are not conscious or don't have enough time to react to a dangerous situation (a few kitesurfers have had serious or fatal accidents in the past due to these devices).  Use such kite and safety release system with care and only do so when you are out in open water.  Also make sure that you test your safety release system properly as described latter on in this page.
    • The new generation of kite (e.g. Flat LEI) can be depowered fully by simply dropping the bar.  Such kites are safer as once the control bar is dropped, the kite become more manageable and the kiter can have more time (and chance) to activate the safety release to detach from the kite.
  2. If you use a traditional kite which cannot be fully depowered while hooking in to the chicken loop, do not hook in before launching and landing. Depower your kite using the trim strap before launching or landing.  If you use a "spin leash" or "swivel bar", use the modern bar that allows you to launch and land unhooked. 
  3. Don't launch, ride or jump upwind of people or hard objects.  Give yourself at least 1.5 line-length distance from those obstacles.
  4. Check your kite, lines and the set up before launching your kite.
  5. Don't ask a non-kitesurfer to assist you in launching or landing a kite (it is safer to launch and land the kite yourself than having a non-kitesurfer to assist you).
  6. Attach the safety leash "permanently" to your wrist or harness using Velcro tapes or a quick release.
  7. Don't kitesurf near power lines or airport.
  8. Don't kitesurf before, during, after a thunder storm or in stormy weather.
  9. Don't kitesurf in offshore wind.
  10. Make sure that there is a "friendly" beach downwind from where you start.
  11. Don't kitesurf in crowded water. Get out to the open water or any un-crowded area as soon as you can.
  12. Do not kitesurf in very strong wind if you are a beginner (in 20+ knots) and be careful even if you are an experienced kitesurfer (in 30+ knots).
  13. Wear a life jacket or impact vest
  14. Wear a helmet.
  15. Flying lines can cut when the kite is flying.  Never let yourself or others even having a chance of getting tangled up with the flying lines (e.g. do not fly your kite over other people, never wrap flying lines around your hand).

Safety Release Systems

A kite should come with a working safety release system.   Don't buy any kite without a working safety release system.   There are a number of safety release system currently used by the kitesurfers depending on the type of kite and control device they use.

2 Line inflatable safety release system:

For a 2 line inflatable, the safety release system makes one line about 1 kite span longer than the other line to disable the kite when you stop holding the control bar.  The systems have a safety leash attaching to your left wrist (or harness) to allow you to retrieve the control bar.

4 Line inflatable safety release system:

4 line inflatable kite safety system should be similar to a 2 line inflatable.   For a 4 line inflatable, the safety release system makes one line (either one of the front line or one of the back line) about 1 kite span longer than all the rest to disable the kite when you stop holding the control bar.  The systems have a safety leash attaching to your left wrist (or harness) to allow you to retrieve the control bar.

For a 4 line inflatable, the modern kiters normally use a "spin leash" that allows them to "unspin" the lines easily after a spin jump.  Most older spinning leash system requires that the kitesurfer permanently attached to the chicken loop (the depower/empower line) even on land.  One of the modern spinning leash system on the market is the Swivel Bar from KiteLoose which does not require the rider to permanently attached to the chicken loop.

Kiteloose Swivel Bar

2005 KiteLoose Swivel Bar

Swivel bar that allows launching and landing unhooked

Most inflatable can be rigged with a 5th line.  The safety leash can be attached to the 5th line instead of any of the other 4 lines.

Flat LEI safety release system

For Flat LEIs, the kite can be fully depowered while hooking in; however, the kiter should still wear a safety leash similar to a traditional LEI.

Flat LEI bar
 

A flat LEI bar

2 Line foil safety release system:

There is no way to safely disable a 2 line foil except for trying to land it on the side of the wind window or to dump it in the water! 

3 Line foil safety release system:

The safety release system for a 3 line foil is a simple Velcro tape wrist band (or harness band) that attaches to the center leader lines on the bar (which attaches to the brake lines or the trailing edge of the kite).  If you attached the safety leash to your harness (via a Velcro tape or a snap shackle), you can pass the safety release line through the harness loop to make it a "spin safety leash" allowing you to spin the bar to untangle the line.

4 Line foil safety release system:

The safety release for a 4 line foil with handles is a simple Velcro tape wrist band (or harness band) that attaches to the kitesurfer's left wrist (or harness). From the wrist band (or harness band), there are two lines (regular 500 lb. kite line is fine). One line around 1'6" (or longer if you use shorter harness line, I use around 2' harness line) attaches to the same spot on the left brake leader line as the left brake line. The other line around 4' attaches to the same spot on the right brake leader line as the right brake line. To disable the kite, just drop the handles.

For a 4 line foil with bar, the safety system is similar to a 4 line inflatable.

Test Your Quick Release Systems

Some safety systems are completely dependent on the quick release systems (especially for 4 line inflatable kites).  Don't rely on the claims of other kitesurfers, equipment manufacturers or dealers, test your quick release systems yourself (biological or mechanical) each time you go out as follows:

  1. Find 2 tables about 4' high. Place them around 40 - 50 cm apart.
  2. Place your control bar between the two tables (one end on each table)
  3. Wear you harness, impact vest and all the associate clothing or gloves (i.e., if you do both summer kitesurfing and winter kitesnowboarding/kiteskiing then you need to repeat each test twice, each one with different clothing, glove, etc.)
  4. If you use a fixed loop, hook in to you fixed loop and suspend yourself in the air.
  5. Hold the bar and make sure that you can unhook from the fixed loop within 10 seconds.  If not then you need more lift up exercise or a longer fixed loop or a quick release on your fixed loop.
  6. If you have a quick release on the fixed loop, make sure that it works (within 10 seconds) by locating it and activating it while suspending yourself attaching to the fixed loop.
  7. If you use a chicken loop, tie the loop tightly with the bar so you can suspend yourself by attaching to it.
  8. Hold the bar and try to unhook from the chicken loop within 10 seconds. If you can do this consistently then it's great, you are one of the few who can do it!  If not, you need a quick release on your chicken loop.
  9. If you have a quick release on the chicken loop, make sure that it works (within 10 seconds) by locating it and activating it while suspending yourself attaching to the chicken loop.
  10. If you shackle in then tie the shackle line to the bar and suspending yourself while shackled in. Make sure the quick release of the shackle works within 10 seconds by locating it and activating it while suspending yourself.

Now your can feel better that your systems the way you installed them on your bar are tested with your harness and clothing set up with the load of your weight (if possible, you may want to wear some extra weight while doing the testing)

A prudent kitesurfer may want to repeat the same 10 steps after putting the quick release systems in water and mixed them up in sand for a while (step 5 and 7 does not need to be repeated).

A prudent kitesurfer may want to have 2 or 3 quick systems (preferable of two different types) so if one fails, the others can be used.

Rescue Techniques

A kitesurfer must be familiar with the following techniques to self-rescue or to rescue other kitesurfers or any other water users.

Self-rescue Techniques:

  1. If your kite is still flying, just use its power to pull you and the board to the beach. With this method, you normally can go around 60 degrees downwind either to the left or to the right, so make sure there is a friendly beach in that direction. This is one of the main reason why you should make sure that there is a friendly beach downwind from where you started.
  2. If your kite is on the water and cannot be relaunched for whatever reason (light wind, bridle mixed up, broken battens, broken lines, water leak, etc.), you need to wind all the lines in. In you are using an inflatable or closed cell foil kite, you need to reel in with 1 line 10 - 12' out-of-sync of the other such that your kite will not relaunch accidentally when to wind the lines in. If you use a reel bar, you need to pull the left line 20'; reel both lines in 10' while holding the left line (at the 20' position); pull the left line another 10' and continue to reel both lines in while holding the left line.
  3. If you are using an inflatable kite, you can use the kite as a sail to get you to shore. After having wound the lines in, just hold the kite bridle with both of your hands and position it to act as a sail to get you to shore. You can go only around 60 degrees downwind either to the left or to the right, so make sure there is a friendly beach in that direction. 
  4. If you are using a foil and the water has yet gotten into the foil, you can relaunch the foil using the bridle and park the kite on one side to get to shore.
  5. If you are using an inflatable kite and there is no wind, you can just hold the kite with one hand while swimming to shore (you can hold the board with the other hand). 
  6. If you are using other types of kite (or the wind is pushing your inflatable kite off shore), you need to pack your kite. You can pack a ram foil kite by folding both wind tips together a number of time until around 3', 4'. Then you can roll the kite from the trailing edge toward the leading edge. If you use an inflatable kite, you can use the same packing method but have to deflate all the inflatable tubes completely before packing your kite. If you use a framed kite, you have to use the packing method come with the kite.
  7. Put the packed kite on top of the board and then hold the board with both hands in front of you while swimming to shore. You can also hold the board and the kite with one hand on the side while swimming to shore. If your board is big enough, you can lie on top of your equipment and paddle to shore.

Rescue Techniques:

  1. To rescue another kitesurfer, you should tell the other kitesurfer to pack his/her board properly. You should try to stay within the same area (within 1 mile) while the other kitesurfer pack his/her kite.
  2. Once the kite is packed, you can stop beside the other kitesurfer. Make sure that the other kitesurfer has wound all the lines in completely. The other kitesurfer should put the packed kite on top of your board and holding your board with both hand while you use power of the kite to pull both you and the other kitesurfer to the beach. With this method, you can go only around 60 degrees downwind either to the left or to the right, so make sure there is a friendly beach in that direction.
  3. You can use a similar technique to rescue any other waters user as long as they can pack their equipment on the water and can hold on to both your board and their equipment with both hands.

Avoid Getting Lofted

Getting lofted is one of the most serious dangers of kitesurfing.   Due to the high power requirement of kitesurfing, a serious wind gust can send the kitesurfer upward if he/she has the kite park overhead.  Getting lofted in the water is fun (it is normally called tea bagging).  It is getting lofted on land that normally results in serious injuries or death.

Lofting video posted on Youtube.com
 

Following is the recommendation from Rick Iossi on how to avoid getting lofted:

Lofting is a reality for kiteboarders, fortunately for whatever reasons, a somewhat rare one though. This may be due to critical timing of the gusts, while being airborne off the water and more vulnerable to being moved along further and/or higher. Who really knows at this point. Several kiteboarders have been lofted while standing still, so being airborne isn’t strictly required, but it helps. I have put together a set of precautions that seem to make sense. Input is welcome, particularly from kiteboarders who have been lofted.

Gusts are the most common cause of course, more rare causes could include the apparent dust devil that occurred in Spain with Robert Sanchez's fatal accident and the thermal bubble that lofted Eric in Oahu to an incredible 225 ft.

  1. Pick your weather carefully. If the weather radar, wind plots imply squalls or unduly gusty weather or if obvious storm clouds or other signs of unstable weather are moving in, it would be a good idea not to go kiteboarding. When in doubt, don’t fly, wait for stable weather.
  2. If you are stationary in the water or on land, try to keep your kite at the edge of the wind window and near the surface. This may result in your being dragged as opposed to lofted, so plan accordingly. Be ready to depower your kite at the earliest opportunity if hit by a strong gust to try to avoid extended dragging and potential serious injury.
  3. If you are near hard objects or if pronounced gusty conditions are developing, stay unhooked and be prepared to let go or more ideally, use a snap shackle to secure your chicken loop. It is important that the snap shackle is rigged properly to improve reliability of release. If you do use a snap shackle, rehearse mentally, frequently, " if I get lofted, pull the snap shackle release cord". In the shock of lofting, your reactions may be slow, so rehearsing may help. Of course if you are already high over land, this one is a very tough judgment call as riding things out may be the wiser course. To avoid having to make such critical decisions in very little time, which may result in injury regardless of the decision, the best course is to work hard to avoid circumstances which may lead to lofting in the first place.
  4. Avoid or simply don’t fly with onshore winds or kiteboard within 300 ft. upwind of hard objects. If you go out in onshore winds, which is NOT RECOMMENDED, kiteboard more than 300 ft. offshore until it is time to come in. I would come in without delay, keeping the kite low and be prepared to let go of your bar if lofted. This technique generally requires assisted landings shortly after you make it to shore. Do not jump within 300 ft. of shore or hard downwind objects. If feasible it would be a good idea to have assisted launches and landings at least 200 feet offshore in onshore winds, thereby avoiding having an airborne kite closer to shore than 200 feet.
  5. Be particularly cautious while upwind of bystanders. If circumstances seem to support possible lofting, it would be best not to launch at all. If the rider decides to go despite this recommendation and prudence, he should move a substantial distance away from the bystanders.
  6. Try to use shorter line sets if you are expecting stronger winds. Also try not to fly a larger kite than supported by apparent conditions.
  7. Always wear a helmet! Wearing an impact vest is also a good idea.
  8. Do not come within 100' of substantial vertical surfaces or walls with onshore winds to avoid potentially being lifted. In theory even relatively minor winds could cause substantial uplift along the face of buildings, cliffs, etc.
  9. Do not fly your kite near thermal generating conditions. Please see http://sports.groups.yahoo.com/group/kitesurf/message/34927 for more info on thermals.

Of course, kiteboarders can break all of the above guidelines and perhaps be perfectly OK for hundreds of hours on the water, then again, maybe not. One kiteboarder I know made it through two years of going out in virtually every kind of weather including two hurricanes, before he smacked into a bad landing and serious injury onshore. Unfortunately, sad experience has shown that given enough time, bad things have a way of catching up with us if we go a little too extreme, too often. We really need to avoid lofting, particularly near others, for both our own good and that of the sport.

 

Following is an interesting email about lofting that I received in May, 2004.

Hi there,

I have been looking over your site and have found the information very useful to me as I am interested in all things kite powered. I am a paraglider pilot looking to try kite surfing and was very interested to read the section on lofting (this is a new expression to me). Just thought you would like to know about my experience with lofting.

I was flying an Advance Off-road 3.8m power kite (ram air) in a relatively sheltered field (high trees running along 3 sides of the field. I'm not sure of the length of line but they are the standard ones witch came with the wing. The wind that day was moderate and was exerting a low pull on the wing. It was a good day to practice with the kite, stalling helicoptering and spinning etc.

My wing control is generally very good as I am used to controlling a 13m wing (my paragliding canopy) in wind up to 17mph.

A freak gust of wind caught my kite (3.8m ram air) witch lifted me to around 10-12ft. I know this is not very high but the speed with which I was lifted and accelerated horizontally was shocking! I let go of both control handles ( I was flying it on a 4 line system with a handle in each hand) and fell to the ground. Fortunately my father was there to run after the kite as I couldn’t get up because of a hard landing. Both my ankles were swollen and bruised by the impact, a day spent sitting down was the result.

I am well aware of the power of the wind and know that every time you fly any kite you are harnessing a truly powerful thing. This said, I weigh 75kg and didn’t expect that to happen to me with that particular size kite in those conditions. I was lucky and learnt a great lesson that day.

Don't know if this is any good for your site but I thought it may have been of some interest to you

Regards

Daniel Sidoli

edensidoli@hotmail.com

Accident Statistics

The following table shows some accident statistics derived from the KSI database compiled by Rick Ossi from 2000 to September 2003.

2000 % 2001 % 2002 % 2003 % Total %
                     
Total 9   16 59   21 105  
Total unknown skill 3 33% 5 31% 15 25% 4 19% 27 26%
Total beginner 1 11% 2 13% 11 19% 5 24% 19 18%
Total experienced 5 56% 9 56% 33 56% 12 57% 59 56%
Total light or no injury 4 44% 6 38% 20 34% 4 19% 34 32%
Total serious & moderate injury 4 44% 7 44% 30 51% 16 76% 57 54%
Total fatal 1 11% 3 19% 9 15% 1 5% 14 13%
                     
Light or no injury (unknown skill) 2 22% 3 19% 5 8% 1 5% 11 10%
Light no injury (beginner)     2 3% 1 5% 3 3%
Light or no injury (experienced) 2 22% 3 19% 13 22% 2 10% 20 19%
                     
Serious injury (unknown skill) 1 11% 2 13% 8 14% 2 10% 13 12%
Serious injury (beginner) 1 11% 1 6% 6 10% 4 19% 12 11%
Serious injury (experienced) 2 22% 4 25% 16 27% 10 48% 32 30%
                     
Fatal (unknown skill)     2 3% 1 5% 3 3%
Fatal (beginner)     1 6% 3 5% 4 4%
Fatal (experienced) 1 11% 2 13% 4 7% 7 7%
Categories
No kite leash & run away kites 2 22% 1 6% 2 3% 1 5% 6 6%
Badly rigged kite leash     1* 6% 2 3% 3 3%
Kite leash got tangled     3 5% 3 3%
Badly connected kite lines/lines got tangled near the kite     5**** 8% 2 10% 7 7%
Lofted / dragged (hooked in on land) 3 33% 2 13% 16 27% 5 24% 26 25%
Lofted /  dragged (hooked in near shore) 1 11% 7 44% 6 10% 5 24% 19 18%
Lofted / dragged (hooked in unknown or not relevant)     1 6% 9 15% 3 14% 13 12%
Stormy weather 2 22%     2 2%
Steep wind gradient 1 11%     1 1%
Board leash     1 6% 6 10% 2 10% 9 9%
No Impact vest     1 6%     1 1%
Poorly anchored kite     1 6%     1 1%
Lines tangled with body, hands, etc.     1 6% 3 5% 2 10% 6 6%
Jump in shallow water & near shore     1 6% 1 2% 2 2%
Ride in shallow water with fins     1 2% 1* 5% 2 2%
Boat collision & riding too close to boats     2 3% 2 2%
kitesurfers / kites collision     2 3% 2 2%
Fisherman collision / conflict     1 2% 1 1%
Inexperience launch assistance     2 3% 2 2%
Man-lifting         1 5% 1 1%
Cause unknown     2 3% 2 2%
1* This accident is also recorded in another category
5**** 4 of these 5 accidents are also recorded in other categories

Special Notes

  • The US Coast Guard initiates a full search whenever they determine a rescue is needed. This results in very expensive resources being dedicated until the missing/distressed person is found. Too often the Coast Guard has searched through the night for a windsurfer who has made it safely to shore and was at safe home. It is important to follow-up with the Coast Guard if you have been the cause of an emergency call. (this paragraph is taken from the San Francisco Boardsailing Association website).
  • Rick Iossi has compiled extensive information about kitesurfing safety that should be reviewed by all safety conscious kitesurfers.  Rick Iossi's work can be found here.

Emergency & Rescue Telephone Numbers World-Wide

The following table is extracted from http://www.techrescue.org/modules.php?name=News&file=print&sid=15 and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_telephone_number for the convenience of our readers.  For more accuracy and more up-to-date numbers, please view the original data.  If you go on a kitesurfing trip, try to remember the local emergency number.

Country General Emergency Police Fire Ambulance
Albania   19 18 17
Argentina 911 (Buenos Aires) 101 100 107
Australia 000 or 112      
Austria 112 133 122 144
Belarus   02 01 03
Belgium 112 101 100 100
Brazil   190 193 192
Brunei   993 995 991
Canada 911      
Canary Islands 112      
Cayman Islands 911      
Chile   133 132 131
China   110 119 120
Croatia 112      
Czechoslovakia 112 158 150 155
Denmark 112      
Dominican Republic 911      
Estonia 112 002 001 003
Finland 112 10022    
Faeroe Island 000      
France 112 17 18 15
Germany 112 110 112 112
Greece 112 100 100 166
Hong Kong 999 or 112      
Hungary   07 05 04
Iceland 112      
India   100 101 102
Indonesia   110 113 118
Ireland 999 or 112      
Israel   100 102 101
Italy 112 112 115 118
Jamaica   119 110 110
Japan   110 119 119
Kazakhstan   02 01 03
Luxembourg 112 113 112 112
Malaysia   999 994 999
Macedonia   92 93 94
Mexico City 08      
Mexico 060 or 080      
Moldavia   02 01 03
Netherlands 112      
New Zealand 111      
Norway 112 112 110 113
Philippines   166    
Poland 112 997 or 117  998 999
Portugal 112      
Romania   955 981 961
Russia   02 01 03
Saudi Arabia   999 998 997
Singapore   999 995 995
Slovakia 112 158 150 155
South Africa 107 or 112 (soon) 10111 10177 10177
Spain 112 091 080 061
Sweden 112      
Switzeland 112 117 118 144
Taiwan   110 119 119
Thailand   191 199  
Trinidad/Tobago   999 990 990
Tunisia   197   190
Turkey 112 155 110 112
Ukraine   02 01 03
United Kingdom 999 or 112      
United States 911      
Venezuela 171      
Yugoslavia   92 93 94

 


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