Fly a Camera from a Kite from a Boat with a Periscope

I have opened up a whole new flying field, by doing KAP from a little boat on the water. I have an inflatable canoe that gets me into some small lakes and rivers, but it was too small to easily launch a kite from it. Its small size was convenient to transport in the trunk of a car.
Then I bought an inflatable 3-man rubber dinghy boat, it is 4 feet wide and 9 feet long, and that is easy to haul and has enough space to assemble an 8-foot delta conyne kite and get it up into the wind. This boat is not big enough to stand up in comfortably, so I planned to do everything from a sitting position. To help with the kite string, I have a reel mounted to a mast, and a pulley at the the top at 4 feet above the water. And I added a sliding periscope pipe, it is a temporary rising topgallant mast, so I can raise the kite string even higher, to 7 feet above the water, and then I wait for a breeze to pull the kite into a flying position. I can't do the usual things that I might do on land, like running or long lining.

I work on rivers and small lakes, too small and shallow for regular metal boats or pontoon boats. The boat landings might be just a trail alongside the stream bank. The trees on shore are 50 feet high and block a lot of the wind. Often, I have to watch the weather forecast and direction of the wind and how it lines up on a map. I take advantage of a wind having 'fetch' and coming down to water level as it comes through the valley between the trees. And then I have to get the kite flying so it ends up 6 times higher than the trees, where the wind is steady and predictable.

In one place, the river was 30 feet wide and surrounded by marsh grass that was 5 feet tall. My method holds the kite at 7 feet, just high enough to catch a little gust that came by after waiting 10 minutes. Sometimes I have to wait longer to catch a breeze near water level, or move the boat while the kite is just hanging from the highest pulley, not flying, and search for some wind. The breeze might swirl and threaten to make the kite and bridle string turn and wrap around the mast. This is not the place to launch a Rokkaku with a long 4 string bridle.

My mast is just PVC plastic pipe that needs support at the top, so I have two guy lines or running backstays from the boat to the
top of the mast. And I have anchor rope underfoot in the bottom of the boat, and all that makes me a sailor to keep the lines all

The sliding periscope gains some height, 7 feet above the boat, and keeps the kite dry during the launch. I hang it high, and then wait for a puff of wind to carry it away. Sometimes the kite sails away 80 feet horizontally but doesn't gain enough height to really fly nor even keep the string from sagging into the water. It may be just barely flying in ground effect at 7 feet above the water, and then I have to quickly reel it back. The reel is large enough in diameter that it can add 2 mph to the kite speed, which helps keep the string and kite above the water. And if the string is still on the highest pulley, that also helps to pull the kite up away from the water.

I have had the kite string fall into the water many times during a kite launch, it is not thrilling and all I can do is retrieve it and hope the kite is still flying so the string can get back up in the air and become dry during the flight. Otherwise, I reel it wet and later unwind it in my backyard to dry it and reel it up properly.

After I find a windy area for a good launch and then get the kite up to altitude, I usually have to move the boat to position the line and camera so I get closer to the subject. Sometimes I travel half a mile, and hopefully the wind and kite move my little boat into position. It's like a sailboat; this small kite can pull 6 pounds and move the boat upstream against the current. Or cross-wise to it and threaten to pull my string to the trees. Then I drop an anchor to hold me there. I have also prepared a second anchor for the other end of the boat, to keep control of the boat because the current and wind might be making the boat drift and turn every minute, which changes the angle of the kite string to the reel and mast. I can pivot the mast and reel that is attached to it, so I keep the pulleys and reel lined up with the kite string, and I can reel with one hand, but why fight the boat turning as well.

I use a picavet to attach the camera to the string. I like the quality of the pictures from a picavet, as compared to a pendulum. A
pendulum would be easier to attach to the line in the limited space that I am working from, and considering that I do it from a sitting position. I like using the mast pulleys to hold the string and picavet a few extra feet above the water when I launch and retrieve the camera.
I use my usual cameras, but they are not waterproof models. Waterproof models can add weight, or have less choice of zoom

The mast pulleys help control the line when it is time to retrieve the kite. By this time, I have already removed the picavet from the line. If the wind is poor at water level, I will place the line on the pulley that is 4 feet above the water. If the wind is good and the kite stays flying safely down to me, then I don't need to go on the highest pulley, and I just reel it in and catch the kite by the string when it is close. It helps if I can maneuver the boat to a good wind area to help keep the kite flying right to me. I don't like lulls in the wind and then the kite overflys and has to turn back to me. My reel might be fast, but not fast enough to keep a kite flying in no wind.

Splashing a kite in the water is not encouraging. It takes ten minutes to dry out and lose the weight of the water before I can try
another launch. If it comes down over 30 feet away from the boat, it might sink. I find that kites float about a minute and then slowly sink. And they like to turn upside down as they sink. Kites like to 'fly' under water, and they like to do it upside down and 'fly' to the bottom, making it harder to pull them in.. It might snag on rocks and that makes the work difficult. I have watched my kite on the bottom of Lake Superior, bouncing along and around the boulders, 20 feet underwater. I was flying it from shore, so I didn't have the advantage of parking a boat directly above it to pull it straight up. But even in the river from a boat in a current, it is work to get a kite out of the water.

I tied an empty water bottle inside my delta conyne kite in a place that is out of the air flow. That's enough flotation to keep the kite on the surface if there's a splash down. It is a life preserver flotation device. I have a pint water bottle that is very light weight. Not a thick walled soda pop bottle. To help the bottle keep its shape and at full volume, I put it in the freezer at -10F, with the cap off. After it is cold, I screw the cap on while it is in the bottom of the freezer, to trap cold air in it. When it warms up, the air is pressurized enough that the bottle holds it full size and shape; even if I accidentally squash it; it instantly pops and crackles back to its full size.

My boat and kite mast are like my other photography projects, where I combine ordinary things in extraordinary ways. This method with a mast and periscope might also be useful from a wheelchair, where you might have to do everything from a seated position.

Here's a link to my trainweb page with pictures of this boat and reel and mast with a periscope:
Fly a Camera from a Kite from a Boat with a Periscope


  • SueSue
    edited October 2019
    That's ingenious. I enjoyed reading about your "boat cam" adventures. I'm glad you're enjoying your KAP with a difference.

    Fly High

  • An interesting approach. I have an inflatable kayak, but as you pointed out, it's not large enough to safely assemble and launch my Levitation Delta from. I would also be concerned about the kite dragging me around the water too much with no way to reel it in, as the tail wagged the dog. Kudos for coming up with a solution that works for you.
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