This article is aimed to help educate everyone (including myself) about on the water etiquette and the right of way when kite surfing / kite boarding. As we are Northern Beaches focused and constantly have issues at a few of our common spots I thought I’d use these as examples.
For reference I suggest reading this post on Seabreeze ‘Right of Way Rules’ as it has some good info and adopts the ‘common sense’ approach that I will hope to elaborate on here. Ok, lets get some fundamentals out the way. Also the CLEAR system by NSWKBA / AKA should be adopted at all times.
Port & Starboard
Hmm, two slippery nautical terms for left and right. If you don’t know, PORT is LEFT and RED and STARBOARD is GREEN and RIGHT. But what does that actually mean when we are on the water. To be honest, I think the terms are almost irrelevant to kite surfing unless you are RACING. These guys know the rules, they have to. They’re are all trying to get to a common point as fast as possible at the same time (an upwind mark) and without very clear rules it would be carnage.
So how do we apply the basis of Port and Starboard to our general kiting so that it helps us?
Let’s look at what PORT and STARBOARD technically means. In theory if you are on STARBOARD tack you have the right of way over a boat on PORT. YEAH,, but how do I know on a kite if I’m on Port or Starboard? In a boat its easy, if you are sailing in a boat and the SAIL is the left hand side of the boat you are on STARBOARD tack, if its on the right you are on PORT tack. OR you could say that if the wind is falling onto the STARBOARD side of the vessel (board) you are on STARBOARD tack, likewise if the wind is hitting the PORT (left) side of the board you are on PORT tack. Now STARBOARD should have right of way but this sometimes fails in kiting because of all the differences to us and boats. I’ve heard LOTS of different explanations of how to work out PORT and STARBOARD on a kite, a certain foot forward, holding the bar with a certain hand etc etc. But its messy. What if I’m riding toeside, or backwards (blind) or I’m body dragging and don’t have a board!
Look at the following diagram and see where this does and doesn’t work.
In this diagram both kiters are heading directly at each other, if they keep going its going to be a mess. Working out the boards is easy but the kites are the issue here they can’t occupy the same space easily so someone HAS to do something. This is quite common in the ‘learner’ spots where a group of people will go back and forth ‘mowing’ the lawn. So who is going to do what? In theory the kite on PORT would need to take avoiding action, this would mean turning AWAY from the wind. By doing this you will end up in the much more common situation below where things start to become simpler.
OK, so this is what you are more likely to see when kiting: One rider slightly more upwind than the other rider, by this we mean that ONE of you is closer to that big invisible arrow where the wind is coming FROM. One rider, in our case here the PORT tack rider (BTW, when you hear the term ‘tack’ it just means the current direction you are heading, when you change direction and cross through the wind you have ‘tacked’ or ‘gybed’ depending which way you crossed through the wind and you are now on a new ‘tack’) MUST lower his/her kite and should keep it steady whilst the UPWIND rider must give him room for his kite by raising his kite higher in the sky and keep it steady.
In some cases you will have a better rider who is able to ride better upwind that another rider, this means that the two approaching kiters are heading at different angles and from a distance a rider may be downwind 100m away but at 50m he could be upwind. If he intends to cross you he will RAISE his kite higher in the sky as a sign that this is his intention. (FYI, trying to shout at another kiter on the water is pretty pointless, you won’t likely be heard!)
OK, so what about this then?
In this example we are all doing the same thing BUT the PORT tack rider is more UPWIND that the starboard tack rider. The dotted line shows what the PORT tack rider would have to go through to ‘avoid’ the STARBOARD tack rider thats pretty silly so as always the UPWIND rider must RAISE his kite and the DOWNWIND rider should LOWER his kite and pass DOWNWIND of the PORT rider. Pretty simple stuff really.
Ooh, and as a side note. If you are EVER considering playing the ‘I have right of way on starboard’ or the ‘power gives way to sail’ on a boat of ANY description then you should go away and re-assess your life on this planet. And don’t forget your first obligation as a skipper of a vessel under Waterways regulations (YES, you are a “skipper” and your kiteboard is designated as a “vessel) –that obligation is to avoid a collision at all costs. Having right of way and not avoiding a collision when you could will not allow you to escape any liabilities if you end up at the mercy of the Water Police
It’s pretty simple, we are small, they are HUGE! UNLESS you are in a position where you simply cannot do anything else to avoid the other craft (downed kite, broken leg etc etc) then simply go behind them or turn and go the other way until it’s safe to proceed. Remember, no-one can hear you shouting and ‘they’ may not have seen you but you should have seen them! This brings us nicely onto the next big issue.
Observation & Awareness
When we are out on the water we have a responsibility to be aware of our surroundings, unlike driving a car on a freeway people are not all traveling in the same direction, you can’t just look ahead and we certainly don’t have mirrors to look behind us.
It’s a common problem in any sport or activity, when the brain is concentrating so hard on learning a new activity we can only focus on one thing and in essence we get tunnel vision. I’ve ridden up underneath someone whilst coaching so close that I could physically touch them and they had no idea that I was there even though I was shouting at them from a foot away. This to me shows that that person was solely occupied in going forward and unaware of anything else beyond the bar.
MAKE A MENTAL NOTE BEFORE YOU GO OUT TO LOOK AROUND AND TAKE THE VIEW IN EVERY 10-15 SECONDS WHILST RIDING.
It doesn’t take long, we’re not trying to read the serial numbers on peoples kites, you should be aware of who is behind you, in front of you, downwind of you and up wind of you at all times. it’s a glance, a check, am I safe? Is anyone else going to hit me? Am I safe to do a trick? (That’s another story)
Heading out and Heading in.
Here is another interesting point that I’ve heard different versions of over time. Does the person leaving the beach always have right of way over a rider coming in? This one falls into the common sense basket. For this I’ll use an example.
In this example of our own lovely Fishermans Beach, I’ve highlighted the great big rocks that stick out and have a tendency to munch kites, boards and feet. I’ve stuck some boards on it for an example. The rider trying to leave that very tight spot HAS to make it above the long rock out from the beach but below the flat rock section slightly further out all whilst not tripping up on the small one in the middle, there isn’t much wind in that little section of water so IF the rider coming in were to insist that the rider coming out lowers his kite (he might have to be working it to get enough power to get out) then the rider trying to leave the beach is probably going to get pinned on the rock.
So what does this mean? COMMON SENSE must prevail, the rider coming in (unless shark bite prevails) should use his new found OBSERVATION skills before he comes in to check that no-one else is just launching before he commits to riding into the beach, have a look back and tack back if clear to allow time for that person to get off the beach.
As another example let’s use Long Reef, we’ve got heaps of room at Longy, so who has the right of way? The guy riding in or the guy riding out? Well, if you are riding in, AND you see someone trying to set off why would you just ride at him? Chances are that the rider coming out will loose a bit of ground downwind starting off but with your new OBSERVATION skills you saw him way before you got close enough for it to be an issue, you could just stay upwind a little or not insist on landing exactly where you launched from. 30m upwind or downwind would probably be fine.
So what if you are about to launch and you see someone heading for you? Did you have a look before you walked into the water to see if anyone was coming in? Maybe a quick look out from where you are about to launch from is a good idea? Lets use our Fishermans example again:
In this example the rider coming in is already committed, maybe he saw the guy standing at the waters edge and maybe he didn’t, there isn’t a lot of room here so what’s the most sensible thing to do? (I really hope you are starting to get this). Are you going to just blindly head out with no speed, and get in the way of the guy coming in? Are you going to launch and CLAIM the ‘I’m leaving the beach, I have right of way’ card? Again, common sense is your guide, along with avoiding a collision at all costs.
In future parts we’ll talk about the surf! wave riding, tricks and jumping.
And just as a quick closing note whilst I think about it,
Your right of way as a kiter on the beach.
This one is really simple. When you are on the beach YOU HAVE NO RIGHT OF WAY! Nothing, not even an inch. This applies to certainly every beach in Australia EVEN if there is a designated kite launch zone. Members of the public and other beach users have the right of way, period! Even if you were there first.
Kite safe! watch out for part 2.