KAP Safety - 2013 - Request for Help

edited July 2013 in Safety
Need some help from my fellow KAPers.

As a few of you know, I scratch together a few words for the AKA Kitting magazine’s KAPtions column. The last issue featured an interview with Brooks Leffler. The next KAPtion article will focus on KAP safety.

Here is where the help request comes in.

I have 14 days to pull together the article on KAP safety….while on the road ….working in Europe.

A bit of crowd sourcing (from my fellow KAPers on this forum and others) is requested to gather your input into this article. Please add your thoughts on KAP safety and post them here on this thread.

To get us started I propose the following categories. Please feel free to add your own ideas on this important subject of safety.

- Regulations (in different countries)
- KAPers perspective
- Pilot(s) perspective
- Public and property perspective on KAP safety
- Practical considerations
- How to lower the risks
o Line safety
o Kite flying safety
o Camera / Rig safety
o Top 10 safety tips



  • edited July 2013
    I have 2 recent projects which required risk assesments (RA) for KAP . The first required a detailed site specific schedule:

    RA 2

    And the second a more general one covering KAP with local site RAs to follow the proforma of the 1st:

    RA 1 1Kwide

    Hope they are useful!

  • Very interesting risk assessments, Bill. I only ever wrote one risk assessment in my career for a computerized financial system. I remember including the potential cost that might be incurred when the various risks actually happen. I guess that your "Impact" column is similar.

    I would add a risk that I learned about in this forum when I first started in KAP. It was the risk of accidents caused by distracting people, mainly drivers, from the safe operation of their vehicles, power tools, etc. I have declined to fly in situations where I thought drivers might get into accidents while trying to watch my kite.

    There is also the risk of startling livestock (and potentially being killed by the farmer before I can get my kite down and run away). :-)

  • Bill, interesting that you have produced this, not done one for 9 years and that was for a small factory unit. Tom, that last line had me laughing out loud. As someone wonders around field with permission that is near to my heart!
    Keep an eye on what's behind you in the sky.
    RAIN would only be a bother to the KAPer
    STORM CLOUDS can bring high winds which can cause the kites to misbehave and land outside your safety box if there's also a change in direction.
    LIGHTNING you could be dead very quickly.

    Fly High

  • My contributions are modest, but I have found them essential in my KAPing for safety purposes:
    1. Always deploy a sand anchor or other hard-and-fast attachment point prior to unfurling/assembly/launching of even the most manageable of kites. A "Henry's Handle" or comparable tie-off device for the kite line makes the anchor or attachment point easy to access. A figure-8 device is nice to have for ease of deployment of a strong-pulling kite or for a necessary walk-down when the winds pick up.
    2. Use leather gloves (cut the ends off of the fingers for finger access for close manipulations of string, clips, etc.) on any kite line. Winds are unpredictable and kite lines cut and hurt.
    3. Once a kite is launched and the line is anchored, attach a flag at eye-level so that the inattentive passer-by will see the line and have the chance to avoid it.

  • I've written on this before and my thoughts on this are well known among some here. I talked on this at KAPiNed and my old website, basically risk needs to be thought of in terms of probability and consequence. The mitigative actions you do to reduce risk can be aimed towards reducing probability ( example: flying with good tested equipment in moderate wind conditions) or towards reducing consequence, (example: flying away from sensitive locations, downwind of people roads railways etc.) ultimately after taking mitigative actions what you are left with is residual risk. This is the risk you have to decide whether you are prepared to tolerate. Very often in well-managed KAP, the residual risk lies largely with your own equipment rather than third parties or property. It can be perfectly acceptable to fly in difficult conditions where you are fairly likely to crash a rig in a field. That is your residual risk, your consequences. It is not acceptable to fly in difficult conditions over a roller coaster in operation. And when you look further at it, it is not acceptable to fly over an active roller coaster in any conditions. There are not enough mitigative actions that can be taken to get the residual risk down to acceptable levels. An abandoned roller coaster? That's your risk to take.

    Classic risk assessment as per Bill's approach is fine, it gets you thinking about probability, consequence (impact) and mitigation. But the decision process needs to be iterative. Once the mitigations are in place, how does the residual risk look? Are there further actions that might let the shoot go ahead.

    Most times these approaches are intuitive to KAPpers and don't need documenting, other times, particularly where there are commercial aspects and public interfaces, documenting is a good way to approach a subject professionally. Sometimes doing this allows you to separate out the personal aspects of residual risk that allow you to consider getting the shot you wouldn't have thought of. I've allowed myself occasional risky shoots by allowing old cameras to fly into danger. Knowing that damaging the camera isn't a complete disaster can be quite liberating.

  • edited July 2013
    Simon..you are spot on: the RAs have been prepped for projects based on templates supplied by the customer as fit for construction site process or archaeology. If a residual risk column was added to indicate confidence in an ameliorating action it would be a good guide for a client to evaluate if they want to go ahead in a given set of circumstances.

    For example:

    RISK: Grass cutting in KAP zone.

    LIKELYHOOD: High...kite flying will probably want the same good weather as grass cutting

    NATURE OF RISK: A grass cutting programme might present a high risk to KAP safety as the mowing machine driver can't hear shouted instructions..or a kite flyer might walk backwards ( we do that a lot don't we!) into the path of a passing machine without warning.

    Frequency= high ( in parkland they cut the grass all day long in the summer)

    Liabilty= both kapper and client

    Amelioration procedure= ask for a ban on grass cutting during KAP operations. Zone the site and agree on which days KAP is possible etc etc

    RESIDUAL RISK=accidental entry of grass cutting zone by kite flier, accidental entry of KAP zone by grass cutters.

    Identifying the strength and weakness of the amelioration action makes it very clear on who needs to be briefed and why!

  • Lots of good stuff here. Here's my 2 cents:

    - I always used a kite line oversize to make sure it never breaks
    - When the kite line is starting to get old or show signs of wear and tear, I retire it and use a new one
    - I pick a kite according to the wind condition.
    - If the wind is too rough and/or too strong, I don't put the KAP rig.
    - Most of the time I always anchor my kite line but I always stay close to the anchor point.
    - Sometimes, if the wind allows it, I will walk with the kite line tied to a strap around me. I make sure that there's always an anchor point not far. If something goes wrong, I can always release the strap quickly and free myself.
    - My KAP rigs are designed to make sure that it is impossible for a component to fell off while flying.

    Good luck with your article.
  • Good feedback from the KAPers above. Keep the ideas coming.

    Bill - like the risk assessment layouts. I use and teach RA weekly and have done similar efforts.

    Tom - agree the "distraction effect" needs to be considered.

    Sue - excellent point on the weather - especially for kite fliers who always (for good reason) are looking down wind (at their kite) vs. upwind where the weather is coming from.

    - rrllewellyn - like the flag at eye height - use this all the time at the beach

    - Simon - like the additional thoughts that come with commercial application of KAP and the lowering of the risk (at least to the KAPer) by using old equipment.

    - YvonH - Good reminder to error proof your equipment so things can't fall off the line (no single point of failure).

    Back to the risk assessment ideas. I have found for RA to be effective, good definitions are critical....and over time....acceptance of definitions by a broader impacted group can provide even better understanding. Examples include aircraft and nuclear industries.

    Perhaps we KAPers can take a shot at defining a few terms (as always - heavily impacted by the context). Try and define the following (you will see it is not easy).

    Potential Frequency:
    - High (frequent) : 1 / 10 kite flying / KAPing sessions
    - Medium: 1/1000 kite flying / KAPing sessions
    - Low (seldom): 1/100,000 kite flying / KAPing sessions

    Now apply this rough definition and compare to Bill's 1st table above: (3rd row (frequent probability) and 4th row (seldom) and see if the definitions fit.

    Last, I have refreshed a post from the old KAP forum on safety. The post got trimmed during the move to the new forum a few months back. Please take a look at a few ideas there. Comments welcomed and will help me put this article together!

  • Wow, I’ve found it very helpful to read all these safety tips. I tend to be perhaps more cautious than most because: a) I’m relatively new at this (3 years); and b) I live in an area (New England) that is predominately forested and hilly, making for sometimes challenging and unpredictable kite flying conditions. I generally do autoKAP with an AuRiCo setup on a Brooks deluxe KAP rig with a camera running CHDK scripts. So fwiw here are some simple rules I have developed. They are not as analytically rigorous or insightful as what I’ve been reading above on the board. My perspective reflects simple practices, and it continues to evolve thanks to the wisdom of those on this board and my own slowly accumulating experience…

    Preflight briefing: being a pilot I will usually follow procedures similar to those I would follow when flying an airplane. This starts with a weather briefing. For KAP I look at the wind forecasts, noting expected speeds, direction, and gust potential. In the summer, I am attentive to the possibility of atmospheric instability and the potential for thermals—this can make for challenging kite flying in the heat of a summer afternoon. I’ll check ground reporting stations in the area to get current wind conditions. I’ll also consider the season and terrain in making initial plans. Over the years I’ve learned that each season has its own peculiar personality as far as wind and stability go. A winter wind is very different than a summer wind. With this and the intended location in mind, I’ll think through the best strategy for launch and recovery, kite selection, how to get the camera where I want it if the KAP objective is not in the launch area itself, and risks—what is around and near the site I’ll be working in. And I’ll consider whether permissions may be necessary to access and use the location. Finally, just as a precaution I’ll quickly check for any FAA Notams (Notices To Airmen) for special situations such as TFR’s (Temporary Flight Restrictions), etc. If, for instance, I learn that the president is going to be within 30 miles of my intended KAP location, I will wait for another day. That has actually happened more than once.

    Preflight inspection: before launch, I carefully inspect everything that is going in the air or controlling what is in the air: kites, lines, rigs, line attach hardware, bridles, swivel clips, winders, camera…everything. And I mean really look it over. I’ve aborted flights because of worn picavet lines, frayed kite lines, cracks in the rig frame, rips in the kite fabric, mechanical issues with a winder, loose nuts and screws, and more. Each halted flight might have turned into an incident had I not found the issue before launch. This is also the time to make sure that the camera and rig (if necessary) have fresh batteries, and that the camera settings are where you want them to be and the lens is clean.

    Safety Box: the safety box is a concept that I first read about on the board, thanks to WW. My own rule here is that I must have a wide-open, unoccupied area in which to launch and recover. No exceptions. I want no trees, powerlines, light poles, people, roads, cars, or buildings under or near the kite, line and rig while launching and recovering. This limits me for sure, but I’ve experienced enough instances of uncontrolled/unexpected descents due to things like shifty winds and low-altitude erratic kite behavior to make this a hard rule. Remember I’m dealing with forests and hills around here. My experience so far is that if something bad is going to happen, the odds are greatest that it happens during some phase of the launch or the recovery (not unlike an airplane). And in my experience (yours may be different), the most critical moments of all are those when my attention is turned to attaching the rig to the kite line during launch and detaching it during recovery. That is in part because I’m not watching the kite when doing this. Once the rig is on and up in the air, I feel a little better. Only once, out of maybe 40 KAP sessions over the last 3 years, have I experienced an uncontrolled descent from full altitude when the kite was otherwise stable. That was when the cross spar failed on my Levitation Delta. An unexpected and strong surge of wind simply overpowered the kite and it folded up and fluttered 500 feet to the ground, without damage to rig or camera. Fortunately I was still within my self-imposed safety box at the time. That issue has now been corrected with a stronger and slightly shorter single-piece spar.

    Once the kite and rig is at altitude and stabilized, I will often walk the kite to a different location in order to reposition the camera. I will continually assess the level of risk I’m taking on by moving the kite around based on what I’m seeing and feeling with the line. I’m very conscious of what is underneath the kite and rig at all times. Even under the most stable conditions, I will not place the kite or camera over big groups of people, or a highway, or power lines, or certain kinds of buildings. If I want to photograph these kinds of things, I’ll keep the kite and rig just off to the side. Also, I’m always keeping a retreat/escape path available should I need to quickly take up slack in the line or get the kite out of the position/location in a hurry. I like the idea of tying strips of ribbon to the line for better visibility, but have not done that as of yet. Even if the kite is nailed to the sky and the rig is stable, I’ll be on edge without a full safety box underneath it all.

    When flying solo, I keep all my critical equipment with me and within easy reach at all times—anchors, carabiners, extra straps, extra gloves, etc. –so that I can respond to whatever comes up and enlist the help of others if needed. Also, I generally keep the kite line/reel attached to my body when flying. I realize this may pose some additional level of risk, but I find my ability to rapidly respond to changing conditions is greater when I have the reel in hand, plus I tend to move the kite around a lot during a flight. I generally run the kite line through a climber’s 8 attached to a strap around my waist for comfort. I will only anchor the line when there is a good safety box under the kite.

    Final thought: I keep a Leatherman multi-tool in a pouch on my belt loop when KAPing. It has come in handy for field repairs and adjustments. But I also keep it within easy reach to serve as an emergency release tool. It has a sharp knife that can be used to cut the kite line in an instant if necessary. Have not had to do that so far, thank goodness.

  • All, Thank you for the contributions above. This helps a lot. I will use much of this information as I gather my thoughts for the AKA KAPtions article.

    Separately I am looking for a few good pictures of kite failures, crashes, things going wrong to include in the article. If you are interested in contributing please post the photo here or a link to flickr or other source. Reminder this a totaly voluntary effort and AKA Kitting will need your permission to publish if the pictures are selected by the editor.

    To get us started, I am posting the following crash from a spar failure with my big BKT 8' Rokkaku over Flagstaff Mountain, Colorado.


    In Flight Spar Failure with KAP Rig - Flagstaff Mt CO
  • I would like to add one aspect. Since I am a typical "Urban Kiter" I am often flying where there is traffic, sometimes heavy traffic.
    Flying on low altitude over main roads makes people act strange.

    It seems to be very common that drivers lean forward watching the kite through the wind shield. Besides the fact that they don´t look on the road, they are some times reducing speed. All together we should be aware of that a large beatuiful kite over a highway may be of more intrerest to people than we can imagine.
  • "Flying on low altitude over main roads makes people act strange"

    Well stop doing it. It's dangerous.
  • I think it's the silliest thing in the world. Flying low. Heavy traffic
  • SKYHIGH, you are of course free to think what ever you want, I can list at least a thousand more silly things to do so I don't agree.
    In practice there is no particular danger related to flying over safe areas visible from roads. On the contrary it is a very common way of KAPing.

    The danger comes from curious people that want to SEE the kite and starts to act strange. I wonder if they act the same for every hot air baloon...?

  • Sorry. I rest my case
  • Just to clearfy; I hope no one thought I meant flying 10 meters over multi-lane highways. The key thing is that the kite is low enough to bee seen from the driver seat and therefore draw the attention.
    Yesterday a teenager crashed with his bike in a park when he was trying to follow my kite with his eyes but fell into a bush...;-)
  • edited July 2013
    I have been shut down by police on 2 occasions ( same site, same officer) in the UK for flying a kite within 500m of a trunk (70mph) road. No reason was given at the time but it was suggested 'failure to comply with police direction' and ' trespass’ was all that was needed to convict me. I was tempted to push the case (the police cannot enforce action on trespass unless the landowner invites them to do so and I was sure in this instance that was NOT the case) just to see what the basis for the argument would be but decided this could be a costly waste of time and packed up and went home.

    On reflection what was the safety aspect of flying a kite next to a busy road? I was confident I was well clear (wind direction was AWAY from the road) and plenty high enough not be in the eye line of passing drivers.

    There are 2 legal aspects I considered relevant:
    1. Responsibility for a roadside distraction hazard: if I stood by the highway shining a laser pointer into drivers faces I'd be liable for the ensuing chaos: I would be responsible for the roadside distraction of drivers. My kite could be classed in the same way, it's not static and its not the class of object drivers might be expected to deal with. Firework displays, advertisements (there is the famous case of the 'Hello boys' Wonderbra advert) , smoky bonfires etc can all be shut down for similar reasons.

    2. Responsibility for an 'Attractive Nuisance' whereby one can be held responsible for causing children to be led into danger if a hazard can be reached by them and you did not do enough to prevent this. This has been upheld as law in the states. So far it has not been found to apply to adults but I can see how it could be applied to a kite flier who caused a pile up because a driver was distracted by the sight of an unusual object in the sky.

    Flying a kite in an urban park where kite flying happens a lot next to roads with controlled speeds may be a reasonable prospect, drivers will be unsurprised by the kite and moving slowly enough to react safely but the same action next to a fast section of main road is a different thing.

  • Ok, can we get back to Windwatchers request on risks or hazards during KAP'in?
    With some extrapolation we should never fly a Kite if it can be seen by and surprise any car/bicycle/truckdriver...

    Since that reduces avaliable places significant we may reduce it to that we should be aware of the effect and that there might be local regulations that should be considered. (Luckily not so many in Sweden :)
  • Luckily I haven't had too many really catastrophic events. And when I did, I was usually so preoccupied with righting the wrong, I didn't take the time to photograph it. But here are a couple:

    KAP Rig Crash 1

    Post-crash rig damage.


    The results of a fast hand-over-hand landing when the wind failed. (CRIPES I had less gray hair back then!)

    Gloves are good, but...

    Lower-arm line burn from an over-powered Flow Form 8. (Yes, I was wearing gloves. No, I wasn't wearing gauntlets.)

    I've put a couple of kites in trees, but I got them back out. I've flown over water, but never put a camera in the drink. I've flown off of cliffs, but never clipped in so I could let go in case things went wrong. (They never did.) I guess I've been pretty careful.

  • I would say that KAP is just a matter of common sense and to know and apprehend your limits, it is true that the more you KAP the more you tend to take risks, but at the same time, the more you KAP the more you understand the risks and therefore you do not take them even for the sake of a unique picture (almost true)
    I differentiate risk to others from material risks to my equipement, I will always push the risk on my equipement as long as there is no risk to others.. I am always more comfortable flying above lagoons than flying in urban environments, the consequences are just a camera and a rig in the water not a kite falling on a highway.
    I just had a look at my most streesfull KAP sessions, there were the ones in urban environments but to be really honest, KAPing the Sydney opera House or the Concorde in Paris or the coliseum in Rome were also among the most rewarding sessions because I had stress, results and no crash.
    Sorry Jim If I did not bring any more elements to your research, but I would just add that kaping with Heidy, my wife, is always risk free, she is the one in charge of reeling the line in and we never realy fly to high…(together)
  • edited July 2013
    Damn, just remembered the horses...and the cows...and the birds!

    I have spooked horses with a kite. It doesn’t hurt them but their humans get upset and angry. I have spooked cows too...but they spooked me back!

    I have noticed the cows ignore the kite once its above their eye level. They are smart; over time they get used to seeing a kite. Same for horses but I was surprised when I was told they were upset with the kite high in the sky 'on their horizon'. I was unaware, until the angry man appeared, that there were horses in the next field but one to my flying field (800m away) at the time.

    The birds thing I'm still trying to learn about. I have been shut down by bird people in a very aggressive manner (as soon as I spot this behaviour I reckon its best to say nothing and pack up- persons in a state of rage, particularly about wildlife, are beyond reasoning with). Apparently small ground nesting birds can be killed by their fear reaction to seeing a big thing in the sky that won't go away. I'm not convinced: the bird people are though.


  • edited July 2013
    Here's my rig (and dead Canon s95) after it fell in a park in Bologna due to a missing split pin (I hadn't noticed it had fallen out in the box I carry my rig in).
    after the fall
  • My GoPro caught my Levitation Delta just as it started to dive after a wind gust. I wisely had stayed far enough from the power lines barely visible along the tree line. Kite and rig survived just fine.
  • Unfortunately, Common Sense is not that common and is a bit of a misnomer! As I get older the more aware I am of what is going on around me and I will react accordingly.
  • Bill, I had a talk with someone about birds. It was enlightening!

    This is someone who was getting into KAP at the time, and had a planned trip to Midway Island in the very near future. He brought his KAP gear, but wound up not flying it.

    Midway is a major nesting location for a number of species. They've had problems with supply planes during nesting season. Apparently the birds will spot a supply plane several thousand feet up and take to the wing in order to attack it. This essentially cloaks Midway in a cloud of birds. Even planes certified for bird strike can handle a couple of hits, but not a hundred. And considering most of these birds are on the endangered species list, that's a no-no anyway. So it makes things... interesting.

    When he asked about doing KAP, the folks on Midway were more than a little cautious. I suggested launching from a boat a mile out in the water, bringing it back toward shore to do the KAP, then bringing it back out in the water to land. In the end he kept his KAP gear in the bag and did ground photography instead.

    So far I've had no real run-ins with birds. Pidgeons, doves, mynahs, sparrows, geese, and most of the native species here in Hawaii ignore the kite altogether. Most of them are excellent at dodging the line as well (I've never had a bird strike on my line). But apparently some species aren't keen on the idea. Go figure.

  • Birds have hit my line twice. One was a good sized bird, too - Brown pelican. It had just flown north across the Mexican border when it hit the line with its wing, spun 360*, and kept flying like nothing happened.

    The other one was a gull. Same thing with that one - the 360 spin. It was in a bit of a rush when it hit the line - past the lighthouse on its way from Mukilteo Beach to Ivar's greasy spoon.

    Both times I held the line tight ( 100# ITW braided Dacron ) which apparently caused the bird to bounce off. After flight inspection turned up no sign of damage to the line.

  • Jim, since you are looking for images of crashes, here are two from a Ricoh GX 100 and a servo that went swimming in the lagoon :
  • edited July 2013
    So far I have only experienced only 2 crashes while flying a camera from a kite; both events were very instructive. Both of these episodes were with Flowform kites and knowing what can be done with an overblown Flowform when it looses lift and starts to spin is something I learned from the bitter memory of the first episode and applied in the 2nd.

    1st instance was a case of not reading the local airflow properly. I was under pressure to get aerial shots, the wind was tugging fairly hard, I launched the kite and gave it a good lead over the rig. The kite rose and pulled the rig upward nicely. I noticed the pull on the kite was getting pretty hard and realised I would need to tie the line off to something solid to save my hands. This was the first danger warning: I had launched into a rising wind. Determined to get my shots I fed out more line. As the kite flew down wind it suddenly began to spin and then drop. I had never seen this happen before. I let the line go slack but the spin continued. I decided to haul in line in the hope the rig could be recovered safely. With only 30 seconds or so before the kite grounded the rig reached the ground safely. Leaving me standing in a pile of line, the kite out of sight and a rising din of howling dogs coming from the site of the kite crash.

    The outcome was pretty awful from a personal point of view; I had failed. Recovering the kite required cutting loose a fair amount of precious DuPont 250DaN Dacron line as it was draped across trees, roads, telephone and power lines. I was very lucky: everything was dry, I was in a quiet village at a quiet time and no damage to persons or property occurred.

    The one thing I’d got right was keeping just enough separation between the kite and the rig.

    2nd instance was a near carbon copy of the first but this time I’d had some experience of what to do when the kite starts to spin. I was feeding line out to the kite with the rig attached and watched with satisfaction as the rig cleared the tree tops down wind. With the kite gaining height I prepared to walk in to photograph my subject when a jerk on the line alerted me to trouble: the kite began to yaw to left and right , feeding it line slowed this but didn’t stop it, within seconds it was spinning out of control. Despite knowing hauling on the line would speed up the spin I knew this would be the only way to get the falling mess clear of the trees between me and the kite. On the run and hauling line at the same time I managed to get the rig back on the ground with the line still taught and the kite snagged on the lower braches of the trees.

    I could have avoided the grief if I’d been more aware of how rotors form and what they can do to a Flowform kite. All kites have an upper wind speed limit it's easy to forget smooth airflow in one part of the sky doesn’t mean smooth everywhere!

    I wrote this up, fresh from the events here:



    The simple procedure of keeping a good distance between the kite and camera saved the camera in both cases.

  • Ugh, this thread has turned into the graveyard of rigs past!

    From the pictures of failures department, here's one of my HQ Delta in a powered dive from which I was unable to recover. It's like the rig snapped one last pic to say goodbye:

    Uh Oh...

    And here it is in its final resting place where it still rots:


    I think it's been mentioned above, but have a plan on how you'd get your kite down quickly if required for any reason. I posted a story last year about an experience at the Washington Monument where a park police officer asked me to bring down my kite, followed shortly thereafter by the President's helocopters passing directly over where I had been flying, and well below the height at which I had been flying:



    I was fortunate that the wind wasn't really blowing very hard and it was quite easy to wind it down rapidly. I've since made Henry's Handle after a hard pulling session at the beach with a rok and could probably pull down just about anything I'd fly within a minute, as long as I had some kind of tie down point.
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