The new sport of Kitesurfing is growing at a fast pace. More and more boaters may come across kitesurfers and it is important to understand their unique characteristics with regards to requirements, speed, tack and manoeuvrability.
Kitesurfing is a fast wind powered planing sport, unless expert those that participate have little manoeuvrability and can spend periods in the water being dragged downwind trying to regain control of their kite. Many of those new to the sport have no previous water experience and therefore do not understand the rules of the road or the water etiquette of other water users.
When encountering a kitesurfer you may have difficulty reading their intentions, as it is difficult to understand which tack they are on. Water users encountering kitesurfers should do so with caution.
Despite the kite board being a very small craft in combination with the kite (with lines up to 45 meter long) it actually occupies a very large area. Other water users should be aware that the kite and lines could strike a craft anywhere within a 45 meter leeward radius of the kitesurfer and therefore should attempt to keep clear of this area.
Being aware of the following performance characteristics of the kitesurfer will help you predict its movements and take avoiding action.
• The kite board itself is very small (smaller than the smallest windsurfer) and therefore has very little buoyancy. Consequently it has very limited slow speed manoeuvring capability. So wherever possible, avoid forcing a kitesurfer into a small area (between two vessels for example).
• A kitesurfer short of power or in a failing wind will not be able to sail upwind therefore always try to pass to windward.
• A beginner kitesurfer will be unable to sail upwind with any precision and therefore won't be able to take avoiding action to windward.
• A kitesurfer in the water preparing to start needs space downwind to bear away into and get going.
If you do become somehow embroiled with a kitesurfer in the water or are trying to help them re-launch their kite, DO NOT HANDLE THE LINES. Pulling on a line may cause the kite to suddenly power up and garrotte hands, etc, also do not place yourself downwind of any of the equipment or the kitesurfer.
Rules of the Road
As it will be difficult for other water users to predict the course and actions of a kitesurfer it is strongly suggested that you keep clear of them on the water. The following however gives guidance on applying the water 'rules of the road' to kitesurfers.
Port and Starboard Rule
As kitesurfing uses a kite (which essentially is positioned similarly regardless of tack) instead of a conventional sailing rig and therefore it can be difficult to determine which tack they are on at a given point of time. The kite may also give an optical illusion which is the opposite to the way the kite is actually flying.
If the kitesurfers leading leg / arm is their right one they are on starboard, conversely if their left leg / arm is leading they are on port.
On Same Tack
Windward boat gives way - An experienced kitesurfer will have the control over his equipment to ensure this rule can be applied however an inexperienced kitesurfer may struggle to control the power and hold their position upwind, they could even be inadvertently driven downwind, on many occasions this could even result in the kitesurfer being "lofted", i.e. high in the air. Other water users should be aware of this and give kitesurfers considerable room to leeward.
The Overtaking Rule
Other water users should be aware that kitesurfers will probably choose to overtake to leeward to avoid the risk of catching their lines on the rig of the craft they are overtaking and in case they inadvertently travel downwind during the overtaking manoeuvre.