Kite + Camera = DRONE in California

At least to a certain law enforcement ranger at Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park it does.

I was KAPing at sunset at Point Cabrillo earlier this week, a place I have KAPed nine times in the past, when at about the end of my session a Park Ranger paid me a visit to advise me that drones are illegal in California State Parks. The law enforcement ranger, with a pair of handcuffs and a Glock on her hip, and an AR-15 mounted in the shotgun rack of her truck.

No big deal, I thought. I don't own any drones.

But she insisted that any aerial photography is a "drone" to her, and she's The Law in those parts.

I was finished snapping photos and I was in the process of winding everything up when I noticed a Park Ranger driving down the dirt road upon which I was flying my 9' Levitation Light with full R/C rig attached. About that time, she activated the blue flashing lights on her truck, which is never a good sign.

I showed her my rig, which she photographed from several angles, including angles which captured both the rig and kite in the same frame, as it hung right in front of her face, while I explained its use and how it's not a drone. She was having none of my explanation. She told me again that drones are outlawed in California State Parks, and that I had to stop what I was doing immediately, or risk being issued a citation.

"Citation for WHAT?" I asked. Illegal drone, she replied.

"This isn't a drone. I don't have any drones." That went nowhere.

I asked if it's legal to fly a kite in her State Park. She replied in the affirmative. I asked if it's OK to take photos in her State Park. That too is legal, she said.

"Then how come I can't do two legal things at the same time, without the police telling me to stop?" I asked. Because "drones are illegal" was her response.

I asked if she had a copy of the text of the law she was trying to enforce with her. She answered by asking me if I was a lawyer. That's another bad sign. I think the police ask if you're a lawyer when they realize that the tool they brought with them isn't the right one for the job they want to do.

(I've been asked by the police if I was a lawyer so many times in the past that my standard answer is "Are you?" We then establish that neither of us are lawyers, and we get back to discussing whatever it was we were talking about before the cop changed the subject.)

I didn't give her the standard answer, because I was still trying to be nice, even though my frustration level was climbing. I replied that I was interested to read the law because I wanted to be in 100% compliance with all rules and regulations. She took my phone number, and promised me she would look up the law, and get back to me on how the law prohibited KAP. She never called. I never expected her to call.

I was flying almost 700 feet away from the scenic and historic Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, and over a hundred yards downwind from any other building or public access road, so this wasn't one of those times when my camera was within a few yards of a lighthouse. Didn't matter to her. She's highly trained, and she knows a drone when she sees one. And she saw one suspended from my kite line!

As she left, she told me "I won't be citing you right now", but that I needed to quit immediately. I was finished anyway, whether she was there to congratulate me on another successful KAP outing or there to take me to jail. I told her so much, and also told her I intended to start up again the next morning at first light.

Later that evening, as I was attempting to get shots of the lighthouse using a normal tripod, the lighthouse docent - Laura - paid me a visit. As we were talking, she mentioned how she had to call the Ranger to deal with "some yahoo flying a kite" earlier. That yahoo was me (I've been called worse) I said.

Turns out, a visitor had seen me KAPing, and had also seen at least one of the dozens of "NO DRONE ZONE" signs plastered all over everything at Point Cabrillo, and told Laura about a drone flying. Laura took a look out the front door of the lighthouse, and because she had no idea of KAP, and kite string is a tough thing to spot from 200m, she assumed "drone" and called in the cops.

That was my fault, for failure to communicate ahead of time.

The next morning - I was staying overnight at one of the rental units on the lighthouse grounds - Steve, the HMFIC of Point Cabrillo Lighthouse paid me a visit to tell me that everything I was doing was OK. I wasn't out of line at all. Steve and I had met several times over the years, and he was hip to what we do. Steve even knows Cris B., so KAP is nothing new to him. "For crying out loud, we SELL kites at the gift shop inside the lighthouse" he said.

Before I took off the following morning, I left both Steve and Laura a couple sacks of California avocados, to kind of let them know I'm not sore with either one of them. And I also left them a few of my cards, with a link to my Flickr page. Lighthouse Laura follows me on Flickr now!

Lesson learned? Communication is key. BEFORE I launched a kite, I should have said something to the docent at the lighthouse about what I was doing. I should never assume just because I've been KAPing somewhere for a decade that anybody else there knows what I'm up to.

The Ranger? She's a lost cause. If she didn't grasp the concept when illustrated for her, she never will. She wrote in her report that she observed a "drone tied to a kite". If she wants avocados, she has to buy them herself. I've been contacted by all kinds of police / security types while KAPing - local cops, county sheriffs, port security, rangers, Border Patrol, etc - at least a dozen times in the past. And every one of them gave me the green light once they saw what I was doing. This one was different.

My biggest regret is that I wasn't snapping pics of her while she was photographing my rig. Next time, I'll try to remember.

That's OK. I got the shot I wanted:


  • Nice story Chaz! Glad you survived and kept your cool.

    Law enforcement and rangers get board and confused at times.

    Having many similar encounters....several which have still have not written up ( story of being confined in a police station and then having my hotel room India comes to mind....) .... I have developed a few recommendations:
    - smile
    - ask if the police person or ranger would like to hold the kite line.....(this always softens their response....and if you are quick you can snap a photo of them holding the kite line....which can be useful.... if need to show their supervisor who was actually flying the kite See photos below from an encounter with 7 police cars ;-)
    - refer or carry a copy of the FAA regs which have separate sections for kite and drones (proof that kites are not drones)

    - Fly higher....can't see the kite or the KAP rig
    - Use very thin kite line ... hard to find who is holding the line...if you can't see the line....very useful
    - I am looking into getting a bird kite and flying it high.....birds can fly anywhere... ;-)


    Ground Work - New Learnings
    Ground Work - New Learnings
  • Fantastic story. I will go to Venice tonight again. Tomorrow I'll give it a try again to take pics. Hopefully this time I'll not get arrested :)
    People ask me often "Why I don't like drones?" --The reason is that drones make KAP harder because people get frustrated of unknown :(

    Smooth winds for you,

    Thanks for sharing :)
  • Great Photo Chaz. It's good to see you are still KAPing with great results.
    I have happy memories of our time at KAPiCa16

    Fly High

  • Agreed Sue, a great photo. And KAPiCa16 is full of happy memories for me too
  • Nice story Chaz! It shows that KAP is still uncommon and many people needs to be educated.
  • Hey Chaz, this is such a timely story for me because I would have just put my kite up like you did. It so happens I will be staying overnight at Point Cabrillo Light Station on 8/22/18 and hope to KAP. I will be also staying overnight at Point Arena Light Station on 8/25/18 hoping for good wind those days. I will definitely let the docents know my intentions I hate dealing with drama from law enforcement. I will also be trying to KAP lighthouses at Trinidad and Crescent City if you have info and rules about them please let me know, thanks.
  • You have an excellent trip planned, my friend!

    I stayed at the first two places earlier this month. I was in The Lighthouse Keeper's Apartment at Point Arena, and the East Cottage at Point Cabrillo. Both places were absolutely perfect. No phone, TV, or internet at Point Cabrillo, which was great because it gave me time to catch up on my reading.

    The normal winds at Point Cabrillo and at Point Arena are fine. Unless some sort of atmospheric disturbance is moving through, you'll find good smooth breezes blowing generally from the west or northwest.

    The staff at Point Arena is kite friendly. Ignore the "NO DRONE ZONE" signs there. Mark, the head guy there, knows and appreciates what we do. There's a Coast Guard helicopter refueling station there, so keep your ears open for choppers and be ready to bring the kite down if you hear one. I was there four days this year, and I never saw one, but last year one landed, gassed up, and took off. They have a kite festival there every April, so kites are OK and not something that really concerns anyone.

    And of course, the staff at Point Caabrillo are kite friendly too. Take along some examples of your work, and if you see Lighthouse Laura or Steve there, show them what you can do. They'll love it.

    The bartender at a place called "Patterson's" in Mendocino is an interesting guy. One time roommate of Bob Dylan, and brother to Broadway choreographer Bob Fosse. I didn't hear any of that from him, though, I found that out from the owner of the new brewery in Fort Bragg.

    I drive up the coast to visit my parents every year, and with one notable exception, Crescent City is where I always stay overnight. That exception year I stayed in Eureka - more on Eureka later.

    The winds in Crescent City aren't always blowing my way, making for challenging (for me) conditions. The wind usually comes in from the north, and something stirs it up good, to the point I can't do anything with it there. I always try, though, because if I didn't try, I'd always wonder. You may have better results than me, though, so give it a go! I noticed on a couple occasions at KAPiCA that others were having a fine time in the same conditions I found challenging.

    My best luck in Crescent City came last year, when the winds were turned around and were blowing up from the south. I KAPed some of the working boats in the harbor and even a stack of crab pots.

    Interesting story about the harbor, its boats, KAP, and the folks working there. In 2011, a few months after the docks at Crescent City Harbor were destroyed by the Japanese Tsunami, I was walking my dog around the harbor, looking to all the world like the tourist I am, scouting potential KAP subjects, when I spotted a guy on one of the only boats left in the harbor, a boat named "Flo". A rough looking guy, no taller than me, but about 100 lbs heavier. Not a fat guy, either. Looked like a body builder type, but for his "workout", he works outside, fishing. I asked if that was his boat. He says "what's it to you?" I told him I was interested in taking aerial pics of his boat, using a kite to fly the camera, and asked him if it was OK. His eyes lit up. He says "You take aerial pictures, with a kite? You should have been with me this morning. There was a Blue Whale right off my boat. That would have made an awesome picture!" Then he says "What are you doing tomorrow? Do you want go fishing with me?" I should have taken him up on it, but I had a series of reservations up the Oregon Coast and into Washington I was reluctant to re-arrange.


    And the Harbor, in ruins:

    The one big obstacle to overcome at Battery Point Lighthouse in Crescent City are the electrical wires running from the mainland to the lighthouse. It's also on an island when the tide is in, but you can walk right up to it when the tide is out.

    The place I like to stay in Crescent City is the Curly Redwood Lodge, right across the street from the Harbor. Cheap, clean, quiet, view of the lighthouse, and it reminds me of the joints we stayed at when I was a kid on our cross-country family trips.

    About Eureka, California: Do not stop the car in Eureka (that goes for Garberville and Redway, in that area, too) If you stop the car in Eureka anyway, do not turn your back on it. Recent changes in California law that decriminalizes auto burglary and a huge homeless population in Eureka go together to create a place where you're almost certain to have someone smash your car window and help themselves to whatever they can carry off. The police are no help, because even if the thief is caught, all they can do is write the thief a ticket, so the police don't respond to car break in calls. You can thank/blame the California voters for that law. Gas up in either Fort Bragg or Crescent City - depending on which way you're traveling, and drive straight through Eureka.

    You're going to have a great trip, Nestor. I know it. I'll keep my eye on your Flickr page.

    Jim, you were the one I was specifically thinking of when the Park Ranger was driving away and I realized that I had missed my chance for a unique KAP shot of her inspecting my rig. I like that shot you posted here of the policeman holding your rig by the Picavet lines. The look on Officer Parker's face is as if he's holding some roadkill he found in the street.

    All you guys, I just had the time of my life at KAPiCA '16. Happy memories here too. I'd do it again tomorrow!

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