KAP Safety

Working with a kite requires consideration of a number of risks which can be ameliorated by 
  • respect of the rules of the air
  • choosing a safe place to fly
  • avoiding exposure of persons or property to risk by adopting a safe procedure
  • having a plan of action to recover the kite quickly
  • checking all equipment is in good order


How high can I fly my kite?

Before considering how high to fly it is important to be clear as to where you can fly. In choosing to fly a kite you are taking responsibility for any risk to life or property and awareness of the nature of that risk is the first step to flying safely. Kites need a lot of space in the sky and you must be aware of the needs of other users of the airspace.  

A kite in the sky can be a serious hazard to other aircraft.

A kite and its line is a significant hazard to other users of the airspace. Any contact between the kite or its line and an aircraft could have fatal consequences. Adding the weight of a camera rig to the line only increases the risk of serious damage. How high you can fly depends largely on where you are and the local rules of the air.

Rules of the air.

In general kites need to conform to the ‘rules of the air’ which are there to protect the safety of all users of the airspace. The key aspect of the rules is the separation of different types of use so that contact is avoided. The lowest height aircraft are allowed to fly is set by the rules and kite flying is usually restricted to the airspace below this. The rules of the air are different according to country and location so it is important to be aware of the rules as they apply to where the kite is flown.

Kite bans.

Flying a kite near airports, heliports and military zones is, if not prohibited outright, is usually restricted to 30m or less. In many cities there are helicopter corridors where pilots are allowed to fly extra low to avoid conflict with other air traffic on approach to airports.  Hospitals and major sporting or newsworthy events attract helicopters whose pilots cannot see your kite: avoid the risk and keep away.

It is common for wildlife conservation sites and bird reserves to prohibit flying kites by law. In many urban public parks kite flying is seen as in conflict with other uses of the park and you will be asked to desist.

Seeking information and permission

The information you need should be available from the local air traffic authority, or the control tower of the nearest airport. Most aviation authorities will have a procedure for granting permission, if possible, to exceed the height stated in the rules; this may be granted for a specific place for a fixed period of time and air traffic notified accordingly.  Remember kite flying is not the first concern of the air traffic authority and it may take some research of the rules for them to respond.

A notice to airmen (NOTAM) advising of permission granted for kite flying to exceed the normal limit.

The table below indicates the typical maximum flying height for kites in the countries listed subject to the local rules of the air:

Typical maximum flying height for kites








KAP forum



Journal Oficiel









Zambia times








New Zealand






S Africa










from http://www.kiteman.co.uk/Kite%20Safty.html

Avoid: overhead lines. Electricity can kill!

Avoid: flying near roads, busy footpaths, railways, canals & rivers.

Choose: an open, clear area for flying away from the public if possible. Fast moving, diving or crashing kites and flying lines can hurt people.

Avoid: flying in stormy, thundery weather, particularly on beaches. Lightning can strike or static electrical charges build up and run to earth down your line and through you, you may receive burns or worse.

Avoid: flying near trees, they can entangle the kite & lines, and may be impossible to retrieve.

Avoid: flying too close to other kites to avoid tangled or cut lines, damaged kites and accidents.

Avoid: startling pets and live-stock, particularly horses when being ridden.

Be aware of: the dangers of tethering your kite, always see that your anchor is secure and clearly visible. Never leave a tethered kite unattended, always be ready to take control.

Be aware of: the pull, lift and speed of some large single line kites.

Do not: fly in winds that are too strong for your kite, make sure that all knots, clips, and spars are secure and that your line is suitable for the wind conditions.

Don't forget a KAP rig will lower the angle of the flying line and require more space for recovery than an unloaded kite.


by Wind Watcher

Use a safety box.

A safety box is an area where your kite or KAP rig could come down in an emergency. The primary purpose of the safety box is to protect people and property (not just your kite, camera or KAP rig). A good example of a safety box in a congested area could be a park, a forest canopy or even a river or body of water. The safety box should include good visibility of the kite and KAP rig throughout the flight envelope, from launch to maximum height and recovery. You need clean sight lines at all times. You may have to “sacrifice” your kite and camera (for example an emergency landing or crash into a lake or river) to avoid harm to others.

A KAP saftey box is bounded by 'no fly' zones. In this case the railway line, roads, fields with livestock and housing. The down wind zone swept by the kite should be contained by the 'box'. The top of the box is determined by the safe maximun flying height for kites according to the local rules of the air.

…..To me, the safety box is simply an awareness of what lies downwind, so that if things go wrong the gear can come down in an area where it doesn't risk damage or injuries to yourself or others. When things go wrong sometimes it involves letting out line fast to bring the gear down beyond a subject or obstruction. Sometimes we run swiftly to one side or the other. A tower in a park is an example where everywhere except the subject is the "safety box". So often, in places like fishing harbours I will walk all around with a rig in the air, with no "safety box". Nonetheless, always acutely aware of strategies if things start to go pear-shaped.

Simon Harbord

Ten Practical steps to a fun and safe KAP session:

1: Advance Planning: check out wind, weather and launch site selection prior to launch. Use a large scale map to research the launch site, identify a safety box and any nearby airport, helipad etc. Use on-line weather data for last minute information.

2: Go / No Go fly decision. Walk the site to define a safety box and assess conditions prior to kite launch. This is step that is skipped by many. Sometimes you just need to find a different location or walk a way to fly another day.

3: Kite selection. Based on pre-flight research and observation of conditions select the appropriate kite and line for the flight. A kite that easily lifts your rig and camera without over powering the kite or line is needed. Bring multiple kites that cover a range of wind speeds (forecasts are often incorrect!).

4: Pre-flight Kite inspection. Including kite frame, spar pockets, attachment points, line, bridle settings, reel for kite line and tie off points. Look for any damaged spars or kite fabric damage, especially in the high stress areas around the spar pockets and bridle attachment points. The use of a stratospool or similar kite reel also provides additional safety through improved line control.

5: Launch the kite. Raise the kite up quickly into clear air. This is one of the high risk steps (launch) due to the presence of ground turbulence. The best strategy I have found is to quickly raise the height of the kite to limit the time it is flying in the  turbulent zone. Fly the kite for several minutes to assess wind speed, its shifts in direction and the position of kite in the safety box. Confirm the kite selection as wind speed and direction change with altitude. Switch kites or position in the safety box if required.

6: Get the kite up into a clean airflow. Wind turbulence near the ground is one of the most common causes of “kite crashes”. Too much wind and too little wind are the second and third most common causes of “kite crashes”. You need to know this. Wind tumbles and turns as it passes by and over ground objects. A good rule of thumb in estimating how high you have to fly to get free of ground turbulence is to take the highest objects upwind of your launch area and multiply by a minimum of 2 to 3 times the height. Bottom line, you need to fly higher than the ground turbulence zone to obtain a stable kite and platform for safe KAPing. Sometimes this means flying several hundred feet off the ground to get clean air.

Tragedy can be avoided if the local airflow is understood. The down draught from a rotor will end all but the luckiest of kite flights. Always test the flow well above before commiting the payload. Photo by Larry Cole, location Aspen Park Colorado.

7: KAP Rig Attachment, Camera Settings and Activation. Now the fun begins! While keeping a constant eye on the flying kite, tie off the kite line to an anchor or other suitable object (this is so you can have both hands free to attach the rig to the line). I use a modified stratospool reel to tie off the kite. The KAP rig needs to have a final inspection for any broken parts, missing or loose nuts, Picavet Cross, lines and attachment points. The camera attachments to the rig along with a safety line need to be confirmed. Attachment of the rig to the kite line needs to be confirmed.

Non safety related checks include

  • camera  batteries, memory cards
  • CHDK/SDM scripts loaded and running
  • proper estimate of photographic exposure settings
  • level the rig, check the Picavet for snags
  • check the shutter trigger and / or rig servos

… all while watching the kite. Think multitasking…think risks….that must be managed. A few additional thoughts on step 7 are listed below.

  • Rushing or skipping the steps outlined here have resulted in many inflight failures. Variations on the above steps include multiple cameras, multiple KAP rigs, multiple kites (trains). These variations add complexity and need to be accounted for.
  • The weight of the camera(s) and rig is important. A simple rule here. Larger, heavier cameras carry more risk than lighter cameras. A DSLR camera body and lens can weigh well over 600-900+ grams and thus drive the need for larger kites and higher strength kite line and thus higher risks compared to lighter point and shoot cameras that weigh ~200-400 grams and can use lighter kites and line.
  • Radio Controlled (RC)-Video KAP Rigs have higher risks than Auto KAP Rigs - why?  RC/Video down link takes your eyes off the kite to look at the video which distracts from flying. The ground controller also uses up a free hand adding more risk. Picture holding a reel with a kite pulling hard in one hand, a RC transmitter in the other hand, trying to frame a shot by aiming the camera  with a third hand….oh and also watching the kite…..let’s just say there is a bit of risk here. Can you do KAP safely with a RC Rig and transmitter? Absolutely yes! Is there more risk compared to Auto KAP….yep….and you need to understand the extra risks and mitigate them (by tying off the kite to shoot or getting an assistant to operate the camera)  to keep focus on flying the kite.

8: Confirm kite flight stability. Confirm the kite stability with the rig and camera attached while raising the kite to the desired height. Bring the KAP rig and kite down if you need to make adjustments for any reason (e.g., higher winds aloft). Do not continue to fly if your kite is misbehaving or the conditions are changing where your KAP flight could be at risk.

9: Fly your kite! Take action if needed due to changes in wind speed or other conditions. This is where I like the advantages of Auto KAP. Bring the KAP rig and kite down if conditions change to a point where the risks are too high. Keep an eye on the weather behind you (as you are properly focusing on the kite). If you walk your kite around during a flight take time to verify the kite and KAP rig continue to have safety box under them and watch out for any unexpected power lines nearby.

10: Recovery. Reverse the above steps by bringing in the kite line with a reel, by hand, by walking down the kite. Keep an eye on the kite while this process is underway. Common pitfalls during the recovery phase include lower wind speeds and ground turbulence as the kite nears the ground combined with a focus on the KAP rig (and not the kite) which leads to crashes. Recovery of the KAP rig brings an increase in activity (distractions from kite flying) as the multitasking factors increase. Takeoffs and landings are the high risk times for airplanes and for kites. Just like pilots take special care for takeoffs and landings (including checklists), KAPers need to do the same. Carefully pack away the camera and KAP rig but still keep attention on the kite. Take care to keep others clear of the immediate landing area as kites tend to “dance” in the ground turbulence. Recover the kite line and kite. Carefully pack up the kite, kite line and KAP equipment. Double check that you have not left a dogstake in the ground or loop strap attached to a fence post.

Last but not least….enjoy and share the pictures.


The options for getting the kite and rig out of the sky rapidly are limited. Making a mental note of secure attachment points upwind, and having the kit to fix the line is important.

Anchor, tie off and walk down The most common method requires the line to be securely attached to an anchor and the kite descended by walking a gloved hand or pulley along the line. Care is needed to avoid  the heat buildup caused by friction on the line melting through the line.

Line dump It is possible to get the kite to drop by letting out as much line as possible as quickly as possible. This is not an ideal method as the line will tighten and the kite rise as soon as the slack is taken up.

Cut away If the line is a danger it can be cut but the kite may well continue to fly balanced by the load of the rig, presenting a new hazard of line trailing over ground obstructions as it races away down wind. Not recommended.


The important thing is to have  what you need with you, it's a big risk to fly a load lifter if you have left your gloves at home- keeping the basics of

  • gloves
  • tie off loop
  • dog stake
  • carabineers
  • emergency knife

with you is important. You may not need them every time you fly but if you are caught out by a rising wind recovering the kite will be difficult without them!

Load lifting kites need recovery tools: it may be necessary to tie off to a climbers 'figure of eight' on a harness or to a loop strap (a good sized dog collar will do). A dog stake will hold most smaller (up to 3m) kites provided there is soft ground to screw it into. The fluorescent ribbon helps to find the stake if you walk away.

High visibility streamers. 5m lengths of reflective Mylar tape fixed at 20-30m intervals along the flying line (above and below the rig) is a recomended action to make the line visible from a distance by low flying aircraft. This may be required if you are flying in shared airspace under local rules of the air or under specific permission to exceed the usual maximum flying height for kites. If permission is granted for high altitude dusk or night flying you may be advised that high intensity lights will be required, attached in a similar manner.

Things to check for before you fly:

Seam stitching. Sparless kites tend to stress the stitching on the top side of the aerofoil, if a cell bursts in flight the kite will become unstable.

Worn pockets. The corners and edges of the kite can take a bashing at the spar ends. If a spar can poke through a pocket the kite will crash.

Split or damaged spars. Glassfibre spars can crack unseen, flex them and get used to the feel of the spar before they break and then you will spot the feel of the 'greenstick' fracture.

Frayed line, if the line has been subject to any stress (run over by a car, crossed over another kite line or dragged through sand on a beach) do not use it!

Contact of any object with the flying line when it is under load can cause abrasion and unseen damage that might lead to failure. Check the line condition by feel as it's paid out and wound in and qurantine any suspect line. Better to cut away damage and tie with a knot of known strength than gamble.
Subpages (1): KAP Risk assessment