Kiteboarding can be hazardous to the rider and to bystanders, particularly if practiced without adequate training, safety gear, knowledge and caution. NOTE: Riders must accept that even if these guidelines are followed, that accidents, injury and even death may occur in kiteboarding.
Kites can exert very substantial force with little to no warning with sudden gusts, improper line attachment, mishandling, tangling, malfunction, etc., resulting in dragging and/or lofting, frequently with insufficient time to effectively react. Riders have been lofted in excess of 1700 ft. downwind and 300 ft. high in strong wind gusts. And, NO “you may not always be able to just let go or kill the power of the kite,” as too many accidents have established, act early and not during the emergency. Your ability to safely and completely depower your kite and otherwise manage in an emergency will weigh heavily on your technique, preparation and reliability of your gear.
"Flat" and "C kites" are mentioned repeatedly in these guidelines, two types of kites with substantial operation and performance differences. It is up to the user to clearly understand what type of kite he is using along with respective capabilities, limitations, proper setup and operation. Kite safety systems can be defeated by lack of knowledge/practice, poor PM or simple bad luck. DO NOT RELY upon total depowering as sometimes it may not occur, the goal is to avoid the emergency in the first place.
Kiteboarders should consider these ideas, area specific guidelines if applicable along with other prudent and safe practices appropriate for local conditions. Cutting corners or picking and choosing safe kiteboarding practices can seriously reduce the rider’s factor of safety and increase the odds of an accident. Seek local, competent knowledge regarding safe local practices as special precautions may be indicated beyond those discussed here. Safety automatically increases to some degree once the rider becomes both aware of and takes potential hazards seriously. By contrast, ignorance and indifference raise the hazard level substantially and are frequently a factor in avoidable accidents. These guidelines have been updated frequently over the years, so please check the FKA website for the latest version. DO NOT use old versions of these guidelines as important changes occur with new knowledge gained over time.
GENERAL SAFETY GUIDELINES
1. JUMP TO COMPETENTLY HELP KITEBOARDERS. Readily help other riders with launching and landing using reliable agreed upon visual and audible communications. Be aware of your surroundings and any kiters having problems. Do not ignore them but go over and see if they are OK and if you can help. Whether you are starting out or are almost a pro, your help may avoid a serious incident/accident and possible restrictions. NEVER grab the lines of a flying or powered kite. Get involved with your local association or club and with area riders to try to preserve access to kiteboard. If you see someone putting your access at risk by poor practices, grab several of your friends and have a friendly talk with the guy, show some interest followed by your concerns. Effective actions may make the difference in avoiding possible injury and related problems. Riders are solely responsible for their safety and that of effected bystanders. If you are new to an area or visiting, seek out local kiteboarders, shops and/or associations for local guidelines and tips BEFORE riding. Don’t ruin things for the local riders.
2. GET ADEQUATE QUALITY PRO KITEBOARDING TRAINING. Kiteboarders, particularly beginners should seek adequate, quality certified professional instruction. Not all instruction is of similar quality; shop wisely for training. Beginners must avoid crowded areas particularly as kite control is still being developed. Beginners should ideally body drag away from shore prior to water starting and should stay out of guarded restricted beach areas. Be careful in your launch area selection and be willing to drive and walk a bit further to have more ideal conditions. Build your skill and experience carefully in side or side onshore winds (NOT onshore or offshore) ideally less than 18 kts. Riders have been injured for choosing poor launches when far safer conditions were relatively close by. Be particularly careful in new conditions and at the START and END of the riding season. Many accidents occur in these times even among experienced riders. In kiteboarding, “DISTANCE IS YOUR FRIEND,” so use it!
3. KITEBOARD WITHIN YOUR LIMITS. Know your equipment’s limitations as well as your own. If you aren't 100% healthy, intoxicated OR IN DOUBT, DON’T FLY! You should be comfortable with conditions and your gear otherwise, if id doesn't feel "right," don’t launch and “live to fly another day.” Always maintain an energy reserve while out kiteboarding. Hydrate regularly and wear adequate exposure clothing (wetsuit/dry suit), to deal with unexpected time in the water. Cold-water kiteboarding requires additional critically important precautions compared to warmer conditions and are beyond the scope of these guidelines. Don’t kiteboard alone or further from shore than you are readily able to swim in from.
4. USE A RELIABLE EMERGENCY KITE DEPOWERING MECHANISM, QUICK RELEASES, HELMET, IMPACT VEST, HOOK KNIFE and other reasonable safety gear. Kiters often ignore emergency flotation, not all have survived that choice. There are MANY new kite and emergency depowering systems on the market both of new and past designs. The burden falls upon the rider to pick a reliable, well maintained system, thoroughly train in its use, maintenance and to use it prudently. Many kiteboarding serious accidents and fatalities involve head injury. A good well fitting and secured helmet for kiteboarding, MAY aid in reducing injury and improve the chance of survival in many but not all impacts. A helmet is NO excuse to kiteboard carelessly. DO NOT freeze holding your flat kite bar in when you should be sheeting out to effectively depower your kite. Regularly test and maintain your kite emergency depowering mechanism. Relying upon manual unhooking alone to release your bar is UNRELIABLE based upon the accident experience. The rider needs to understand and accept that in an emergency, quick release and depowering mechanism MAY NOT be accessible or function correctly in the critical seconds of the emergency. Equipment and activation failures have happened, flat kite depower has been disabled in emergencies, how much do you want to risk on this? It is up to the rider to try to avoid the emergency in the first place and to aid proper function of the release through regular practice and maintenance.
5. LAUNCH, RIDE AND LAND WELL AWAY FROM BYSTANDERS. Give way to the public on the beach and in the water at ALL TIMES. Be courteous and polite to bystanders. Complaints have frequently led to bans and restrictions on kiteboarding in some areas and continue to do so on a regular basis. NEVER launch, ride, land or walk upwind of nearby bystanders. Think ahead to protect those around you. Work to keep a 300 ft. (100 m) buffer zone from bystanders if you can.
6. BE AWARE OF AND UNDERSTAND THE WEATHER. Is the forecast and current weather acceptable, free of pending storm clouds, excessive gusty winds and hazards? What are real time wind conditions like up weather, is a cold front or other system bring strong gust spikes? Timely color radar can sometimes give a clue as to violent storm/gust potential. Are seas and wind condition within your experience, ability and appropriate for your gear (check kite manufacturer's wind chart)? New kiters should practice in lighter, side or side onshore winds. Onshore winds have a much higher injury rate even among experienced riders and should be avoided. Offshore winds should be avoided in the absence of a chase boat. If storm clouds are moving in, land and thoroughly disable your kite well in advance of any change in wind or temperature, if necessary totally depower your kite by using your kite leash while still away from shore. Lightning can strike many miles ahead of storm clouds. Learn about unstable and excessively gusty weather in your area and work to avoid squalls and storms through TV, radio and Internet information.
1. USE GOOD LAUNCH AREAS. Make sure your launch is open, FREE OF DOWNWIND BYSTANDERS, hard objects, poor or slippery footing, nearby power lines, buildings and walls etc. within at least 300 ft. (100 m), and preferably more particularly in higher wind. Too many riders have slammed into walls, parked cars, and trees with better launches not so far away at all. Some riders have needed in excess of 600 ft. (200 m), to regain control in violent dragging or lofting in higher winds. Avoid kiting in areas with gusty winds due to land wind shadow effects. Avoid kiteboarding near airports and in low flight path areas, complaints have led to restricted access in some areas. Never fly your kite in the path of low aircraft in flight, moving your kite low to the water at the first indication of inbound aircraft.
2. WHAT SIZE C AND FLAT KITES ARE OTHER RIDERS USING? Check to see what size kite other kiteboarders are rigging and get their input on conditions. Do not directly compare C and Flat kite sizes, there are critical differences particularly in stronger winds. Try to select a kite size for the lower to middle part of the wind range. Do not rig too large a kite for conditions and carefully consider advice of more experienced riders. Failure to act on prudent advice has cost some rider’s severe injury and even death. If you don’t have a small enough kite to safely launch, DON’T! No one session is worth loss of your life or injury and extended recovery. This can and will happen in marginal conditions over time.
3. CHECK & REPAIR YOUR GEAR BEFORE YOU FLY. Check your kite for tears or leaky bladders. If you have leaky bladders or tears in your kite, repair them before flying. Check ALL kite, harness, and control bar lines, webbing, pigtails, bridles, pulleys, the chicken loop, leaders, bridles, harness for knots, cuts, wear, loose stitching or abrasion as appropriate. If the line sheathing shows any breaks, excessive discoloration or knots or pulleys look worn or bind, replace them. You should plan to replace pigtails, leaders, bridles and pulleys every 6 months and sooner if necessary based upon condition. Inspect and test your quick release, pulleys and emergency depowering mechanism. Frequently, mentally and physically rehearse activate your emergency depowering mechanism in an imagined emergency situation. Make sure your flying lines are equal as they will stretch unevenly with use. If they have knots that can’t be easily untied, replace your flight lines. Do not casually make changes to manufactured equipment. What ever you do must work reliably in what conditions may come.
4. AVOID SOLO LAUNCHING. Solo launching and landing are NOT recommended and should be avoided particularly in stronger winds. Launch with a trained assistant, using reliable audible and visual signals. If solo launching, make sure your C kite is properly anchored with a substantial quantity of sand to avoid premature launch. Flat kites require different techniques are should not be undertaken without training or at all in higher winds. Never use untrained bystanders to help you launch or land. Riders have been severely injured by making this easy mistake. Rig your kite for solo launch at the last minute and launch without delay AFTER CAREFUL PREFLIGHTING as serious accidents have happened in only minutes during this stage. If you leave the kite unattended, wrap up your lines, deflate the kite’s leading edge and roll it up. It is best to place the kite in a bag to avoid UV and wind damage. Strumming of lines, litter can cause tangles that could cause an accident on launch. Solo launching of flat kites may cause tangling of wing tips and out of control spinning. Solo launching techniques may differ for C and Flat kites; KNOW what proper techniques apply to your kite.
5. CROSSED KITE LINES CAN WRECK YOUR DAY. Launching with crossed or snagged lines has maimed quite a few kiteboarders as the kite tends to fly up at very high speed, dragging or lofting the rider into a nearby hard objects faster than they can react. Walk down your lines and examine them carefully. Pick your bar up and carefully look down the lines for twists, tangles or snags that could cause the kite to be dangerously uncontrollable. While you are holding your bar up look down the lines, shake your bar to make sure the center lines are connected to the leading edge of the kite. Your assistant should check the lines from his end as well. Be particularly careful, slow and methodical in high winds. Multiple, careful preflighting in higher winds is strongly advised. "Kook Proof" connectors are standard on most new kites. Do not use snaps or connectors that can readily open and catch lines under tension. Do not use side release snap shackles for kitesurfing in ANY application.
LAUNCHING AND GETTING UNDERWAY
1. LAUNCH & LAND YOUR C KITE UNHOOKED WITH A GOOD BUFFER ZONE WITH C KITE. BE PREPARED TO TOTALLY DEPOWER YOUR FLAT KITE BY SHEETING OUT YOUR HOOKED IN FLAT KITE. Avoid hooking in or connecting with your quick release, while onshore or near hard objects WITH C KITES, practice LAUNCHING AND LANDING "UNHOOKED" or not connected to your chicken loop. Pull in your trim strap or rope entirely or to a point that will allow stable kite flight with existing wind conditions, to properly depower the kite before launching and so that you can readily hold the bar and release it if necessary with C kites. Always maintain minimum clear downwind buffer zones, particularly while flying unhooked. Physically and mentally rehearse managing emergency situations including just "letting go" of your bar. Connect to your quick release once you are well offshore with C kites. KNOW where your kite leash attachment Quick Release is at ALL TIMES; make sure it works with regular practice. If a flat kite goes into a spin releasing the kite entirely may be your only option. MAKE SURE YOUR LEASH HAS A QUICK RELEASE!
2. KEEP IT LOW & GO! … to try to avoid lofting or involuntary lifting unless directed otherwise by good, proven local practice in appropriate conditions. In general, Do not bring your kite very high up or to the vertical, within 300 ft. (100 m) of shore or any hard object at most launch areas. Never launch, fly or land upwind and close to the shore or hard objects or stand on the beach for extended with your kite in the air. This careless practice has killed and maimed riders. This practice MAY reduce the chance of lofting but may also promote dragging and serious injury or death in gusty/strong wind conditions. So, if you are dragged be ready to totally depower instantly, i.e. using your kite leash or effectively sheeting out your flat kite control bar and ideally before the dragging starts in the first place. HAZARD AVOIDANCE IS THE KEY along with rapid preemptive, rehearsed actions. Do not fly your kite near vertical or sloped surfaces that can cause uplift and sudden dragging/lofting (walls, buildings, hills, tree lines, etc,). Launch in the appropriate part of the wind window to avoid “hot” or over-powered downwind launches. Make sure that there are no bystanders within your downwind buffer zone or close by in general.
3. GET OFFSHORE AND STAY THERE. Go offshore at least 300 ft. (100 M) WITHOUT DELAY after launch. Stay beyond 300 ft. until time to come in. If there are substantial waves where you need to put on your board consider body dragging outside the breaker zone first. The fun is offshore; danger to the rider & bystanders is elevated near shore where most of the hard stuff is located. Riders have been killed and severely injured by impacting water at speed as a result of strong wind gusts.
4. YIELD THE RIGHT OF WAY. Yield the right of way to all others in the water. Riders must yield to others when jumping, to anyone on your right hand side and to launching riders. When in doubt, STOP. Kiteboarders should not jump within a buffer zone of at least two hundred feet (60 m) of others and objects that are downwind. Always be aware of the position of your lines relative to others, line cuts can be severe and tangled lines with another kite, deadly.
5. BOARD LEASHES ARE DANGEROUS. All kiteboarders are encouraged to master body dragging for board recovery. Use of a board leash is dangerous and is generally discouraged due to the hazards of board rebound or wave driven impact. Injuries have happened with both fixed length and reel leashes. Wearing a helmet and impact vest is always advised but may not provide adequate projection against board impact as the boards can and have violently hit any part of the rider and have penetrated helmets. If there is risk of your loose board hitting bathers, find another launch. Some areas with adverse currents, hypothermic or other special conditions may dictate the use of reel leashes. Riders choosing to kite in such conditions must accept the higher likelihood of injury due to board leash use.
6. DON’T GET LOFTED! Lofting or involuntarily lifting is one of the greatest hazards of kiteboarding. The majority of loftings appear to have been readily avoidable as well. Avoiding unstable weather, keeping your kite low and getting offshore without delay are only a few of the measures necessary to avoid this threat. If despite all precautions you are dragged or lofted a short distance AND have time to react, depower your kite as soon as you start to pause. You will likely be dulled by shock so mentally rehearse totally depowering sheeting your flat kite out or using your kite leash immediately under such circumstances. After initial impact you may not have sufficient awareness or even be conscious to act so when in doubt ACT EARLY, don't wait. Total depowering by sheeting out your flat kite or using your kite leash on C kites, ideally should occur before you are lofted, still offshore and away from hard objects. Multiple gusts can hit over a short period and you may be lofted a second or third time, so ACT to totally depower your kite as soon as you can. DO NOT ASSUME that you will have a lull between loftings, sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. If you are air born over land, it is uncertain how and if you will come out of things. Focus on controlling your kite with small control inputs to avoid stalling the kite. Some have advised keeping the kite overhead AFTER you are lofted and to try to gently steer towards the least hazardous are to impact. Other riders have said that reversing direction or transitioning after lofting has helped to reduce forward speed. It would be wise to accept and plan for the fact that YOU CAN BE LOFTED AT ANYTIME you have a kite in the air.
7. Avoid line tangles at all costs, If you stall your kite or if it is hit by a lull, you may receive a shower of line. If your kite is on the water and you are in waves, an adverse current or aren't paying attention you can be tangled below water and not even realize it. If the kite powers up and relaunches, is caught be a wave or is propelled by current you could be badly cut, drowned or otherwise seriously hurt. If your kite lines are tangled by a submerged object like a rock or pile fouling and the kite is loaded up by current or waves you may be held underwater. Strive to avoid tangles and carry knives(s) in good locations to increase the odds of being able to cut free. Sometimes, cutting free is not feasible leaving the rider in a very bad way. Anticipate the emergency and work to AVOID it.
1. USE ASSISTED LANDINGS BUT … SOLO DEPOWER YOUR KITE IMMEDIATELY IF NECESSARY! Solo depowering means to fully depower your kite by sheeting out your Flat Kite or dropping your control bar to activate your kite leash on C kites. Approach the shore slowly with caution. Keep your kite low, to try avoid lofting in many circumstances. Take care to avoid causing an accidental jump in well powered conditions while approaching the shore. Arrange for assisted landings at least 300 ft. (100 m) from bystanders, power lines, vertical surfaces, etc.. NEVER use non-kiteboarders for assisted launches or landings, as use of bystanders has resulted in severe rider injuries. Use mutually understood hand and voice signals to improve launch and landing safety. Riders have been killed standing around looking for an assisted landing when gusts have hit. IF IN ANY DOUBT, TOTALLY DEPOWER YOUR KITE even if you are still offshore. ALL riders should be comfortable with depowering their kite using their leash immediately even in deep water and swimming in to avoid being lofted or dragged in sudden gusting winds. MAKE SURE you know how to and have PRACTICED self-rescue using your kite as a sail. ALL kiters should possess this skill through practice.
2. PROPERLY STOW YOUR GEAR. Properly anchor (or ideally deflate your leading edge and roll up your kite), disconnect and wind up your kite lines. Do not allow your kite to be accidentally launched. Kites should be placed in a safe area well out of bystander and vehicular traffic.
Kiteboarding Guidelines courtesy of: