Kitesurfers School | Kiteboarding Lessons

Kitesurfing Rules | Right of Way and Kiteboarding Priority

Table of Contents

The rules described on this page may be common knowledge to kitesurfers but may not be so to other water users. When in doubt, a kitesurfer should try to avoid other water users at all costs.

Kiteboarding Safety Rules Explained

As on land or in the air, there is a need for some basic right-of-way rules that all watercrafts must observe to avoid collision on the water. There is a need for some standard kitesurfing safety rules applicable to all surfers and other water users. Similar to windsurfing, one can kitesurf on flat water or in waves. There should be 2 sets of rules for kitesurfing, one set for traditional sailing on flat water and another set for wave sailing (they could be contradicting each other).

More and more kiters are sharing limited playing grounds. 

As a general rule-of-thumb, all traditional sailing and wave sailing rules should be applicable for kitesurfing. 

Kitesurfers' Right Of Way Rules

All right-of-way rules require a water-craft to keep clear of another. The distance to keep clear is not quite exactly specified; however, the racing rules do specify some restrictions for the two sailing boats when they are approaching within two hull lengths of each other.

Thus, as a rule of thumb, it’s wise to keep a distance of twice the hull length from the water-craft to be cleared. This is fairly straightforward for all water-crafts except kitesurfing crafts. For a kitesurfing craft, the kite and the lines make this much more complicated. We will discuss this “keep clear” requirement in detail after reviewing the common sense, traditional sailing, and wave sailing rules.

General Common Sense Rules on the Water

Following are the general common sense rules on the water:
  • Avoid collision at all cost, even when you have the right of way.
  • Keep clear of less manoeuvrable water-crafts:
    • All recreational watercraft shall keep clear of commercial ships.
    • More manoeuvrable motorized watercraft shall keep clear of all sailing watercraft.
  • [When it seems that a boater is having a problem controlling the boat properly, all other boaters should keep clear (a boat in distress or directed by an incapable captain should be considered as a less manoeuvrable water-craft)]

Traditional Sailing Rules

There are three main rules to be observed when two sailing water-crafts approaching each other on the water:
  1. Opposite tack rule: A boat on port tack (left leg going forward for kitesurfer) shall keep clear of a boat on starboard tack (right leg going forward for kitesurfer).
  2. Same tack rule: A boat to windward (upwind) shall keep clear of a boat to leeward (downwind).
  3. Overtaking rule: An overtaking boat shall keep clear of the boat being overtaken.  (when you pass someone, you have to keep clear).

Wave Sailing Rules

These are the main rules when wave sailors approaching each other in the wave:
  1. Opposite tack rule: A wave sailor coming in (surfing the wave in) shall keep clear of a wave sailor heading out (jumping the wave).
  2. Same tack rule (on the wave): All wave sailors shall keep clear of a wave sailor in front of or nearest to the peak of the wave (the breaking part of the wave).
  3. All kitesurfers shall keep clear of all surfers (surfers are less maneuverable than kitesurfers).

Kitesurfing Enhancement to the Sailing Rules

All the rules above are applicable to kitesurfing. The only enhancement we need to define is how a water-craft shall keep clear of the other if one or both of the water-crafts is a kitesurf craft.

When kite surfing, you can fly the kite anywhere in the forward half portion of the wind window. This means that you occupy a space equal to a quarter-of-the-sphere that has you at the center and the radius is the line length.

If we consider that to be the space to be kept clear or the “hull” of a kiteboarding craft then it could be up to 25 m in length and 25 m in width (25 m is the average modern line length). If we apply the rule-of-thumb keeping a clear distance of two hull lengths, this means that we have to keep clear a distance of up to 50 m. This would drastically reduce the number of surfers sailing at a certain place.

Fortunately, the angle where a surfer normally flies the kite is between 30 and 60 degrees vertically. At these angles, it is normally high enough in the air that the clearing distance is more or less dependent on the highest point of the other watercraft.

Upwind And Downwind Safety Rules

If the clearing distance is set at a distance equals to 3 times the height of the highest point of the other water-craft, that will allow the upwind surfer to sail with the kite as low as 20 degrees vertically (regardless of the line length).

As two kiteboarders approach each other, the highest points could be equal to the line length of 25m. Even if both keep the kites stationary in a moving forward position at 45 degrees vertical, the lines should never collide. However, the upwind surfer should fly the kite high and the downwind surfer should fly the kite low. 

This way, the two kites will never collide and both have a large margin of error. In such a case, the highest point would only be 2.5 m and the minimum clearing distance is only 7.5 m.

The following table summarizes the minimum clearing distance for most water-crafts (either the kitesurfer has to keep clear or the other water-craft has to keep clear) when they approach:

Water-craftHighest PointsMinimum Clearing DistanceOther Requirements       
Surfers2.5 m7.5 mKitesurfers have to keep clear of surfers all the times
Personal Water-crafts2 - 3 m9 mPWCs have to keep clear of the kitesurfer all the times
Small to Medium Motorized Boats5 m15 mMotorized boats have to keep clear of the kitesurfer all the times
Windsurfers and Small Sailboats5 m15 mTraditional and wave sailing rules should be applied
Kitesurfers2.5 m (upwind kite is high and downwind kite is low)7.5 mTraditional and wave sailing rule should be applied. Furthermore, the upwind kitesurfer should fly the kite higher than 45 degrees vertically and the downwind kitesurfer should fly the kite lower than 45 degree vertically
Large Motorized Boats10 - 15 m30 - 45 mMotorized boats have to keep clear of the kitesurfer all the time. If the large motorized boat is in narrow, restricted water for its size, the kitesurfer has to keep clear.
Medium Sailboats10 - 15 m30 - 45 mTraditional sailing rules should be applied
Large SailboatsVery highLine lengthTraditional sailing rules should be applied. If the large sailboat is in narrow, restricted water for its size, the kitesurfer has to keep clear.
Commercial ShipsVery highLine lengthKitesurfer has to keep clear of commercial ships all the times

Without the presence of large boats, the minimum clearing distance is normally 15 m.

The minimum clearing distance as described in the above table is only applicable if you are upwind of the other watercraft. If you are downwind of the other water-craft, the rule-of-thumb clearing distance of two hull lengths should be applied (unless the other water-craft is also a surfer).

Additional Kite Surfing Etiquette

  • All watercraft shall keep clear of water re-launching. The area to be kept clear shall be a semi-circle downwind (at the center of the circle) with a radius equals 1.5 times the line length of 40 m (to allow for a downwind drifting margin).
  • When jumping, you can travel downwind up to 25m or 1 line length. You must not jump if there is an obstacle within a semi-circle downwind (at the center of the circle) with the radius equals 1.5 times the line length (40m, to allow for a downwind drift margin).

Kiteboarding Priority Rules - A Summary

  • All common sense, traditional flat water, and wave sailing rules should be applied to kitesurfers.
  • If you are upwind, the distance to be kept clear is dependent on the highest point of the downwind watercraft (as described in the table above).
  • If you are not upwind, the distance to be kept clear is the rule-of-thumb two-hull-length distance.
  • When two kitesurfers are approaching each other, the upwind surfer should fly the kite high, the downwind surfer should fly it low, and a minimum clearing distance of 7.5 m.  
  • Without the presence of large boats, the minimum clearing distance is about 15 m. This is about 2.5 times the rule-of-thumb clearing distance of 6 m for windsurfers. This would allow up to 40 kiteboarders in the same space that normally accommodates 100 windsurfers.
  • You should only jump if there is no obstacle within the 1.5 line length (40 m) radius semi-circle downwind.

Special Considerations On Iceboating Safety

There is a special consideration regarding iceboating as per the following email:

“Many kiters also go out in the winter. Most rules should be the same except for the fact that we may be sharing the frozen lake with the iceboats, that have been hard water sailing for over 100 years. Their sailing rules are slightly different and not being aware of the differences can have serious consequences. When ice boats sail off the wind the leeward boat does NOT have luffing rights. The ice-boats are going several times the wind speed often upon two runners. Should another iceboat or unwary kite skier get in the way and assume they have luffing rights the windward iceboat would tip over to give right of way. Luffing up an ice boat that is sailing off the wind is very dangerous and against the New England Ice Yacht Association rules. We as ice surfers sail the same ice with the ice-boats. We sail by their rules when we share the same ice. Sailing safely on ice is more important than following the same rules that would apply to water. I have raced on ice in many countries in including world championships and been part of the organizing committees of some events. Although ice surfer and kite surfer do not tip over when being luffed up we have adopted the ice boaters rules for most racing that we have done over the last 20 years. There has been some exception to these rules in some of our races. The Ontario Sailing Association has helped to organize and officiate some of our races which has been greatly appreciated by all, but to get their sponsorship and help we had to sail by all the rules that apply to sailing on the water. Sailing by different rules for different races is generally not a good idea, but there were no ice boats allowed on our racecourse through prior agreement with them, and any help in promoting a new sport is always appreciated and we accepted their decision on rules for that reason. The ice boaters’ rules should be debated for our new sport of snowkiting now and choose a direction while the sport is in its development stages.  Search for NEIYA on the net for the complete rules for iceboat racing.”

Safe Surfing
Bert Rufenach (ICEHAWK)

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