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Kite Boats: What You Need to Know

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on July 9, 2021. In Boats

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Kite boating is not a new concept by any means. However, to many, kite boats are still a novelty. You don’t see them that often out on the water. But kite boating can be a lot of fun. And also a challenge. Plus there are some hidden benefits to kite boating. It can have an impressive impact on costs and performance. If you’re looking to try something a little different, it’s worth your time. Let’s dig into what kite boating is all about.

What is a Kite Boat?

In simple terms, a kite boat is a boat pulled by a kite. Think of it like a sailboat or a motorboat. Any boat you put a motor on is now a motorboat. Doesn’t matter how big it is or what shape it is. Likewise, if you put a mast and a sail on anything in the water, it’s now a sailboat.

Kite boating is similar in many ways to sailing. Also to kite surfing. But there are some clear differences. Obviously it’s different from kite surfing because you’re on an actual boat. A boat of almost any size can be turned into a kite boat. Just remember, the size of the boat dictates the size of the kite. The kite system needs to be able to move the whole boat with ease. Such a boat will have to meet size and weight requirements. If not, the kite will need to be bigger.

A kite boat uses a large kite to propel the boat forward. The kite is extended out from the boat just like it is with kite surfing. And, like sailing, once it catches the wind the boat can move forward. A 323 square foot kite can fully power a 100 ton boat in 20 knot winds.

Kites fly higher than the sail on a traditional sailing boat. This is important because, at that height, the wind is stronger. In fact, you can expect the wind to be twice as strong. That’s part of the reason why a kite system can offer so much power. Also, the shape of a kite lifts much better than a sail. When the apparent wind is twice as strong, the power generated can be ten times as strong. That’s quite an advantage over sailboats using the same wind.

A simple way to look at it is to consider a 10 square foot kite. If you use a kite rig of that size, it can be equal in power to a 100 square foot sail.

Who Created Kite Boats?

Kite boating can be traced back to kite surfing. A Canadian named Don Montague innovated both sports. You can check out Youtube videos of him and his team at work. It’s pretty cool stuff. Montague’s innovations drastically improved kite performance and durability. He made them easier to use and increased kite power.

Operating a Kite System

Operating a kite system is easier than it may sound. Compared to learning the ins and outs of sailing, this is especially true. You only need a handful of items to run a kite system from your boat. This includes:

Kite control unit which can be screwed to the deck of a boat. It houses the line that lets the kite out and can reel it back in.
Remote control. This controls the kite control unit. Modern kite systems use a simple, intuitive remote control. It has joysticks like a drone or RC car.
The kite itself
An autopilot which consists of a line sensor and a kite sensor as well as a controller extension.
Apps. Most kite control technology is paired with an app. This lets you do things like switch to autopilot and observe speed and course.

A handful of factors affect the way a kite boat system operates. Chiefly there are two main ones that need to be considered.

  • Hull shape, length, and size
  • Kite shape and size

The hull shape and size can greatly affect upwind performance. A sailboat hull with a big centerboard and rudder can go up to degrees against the wind with a kite.

A boat with a smaller keel can manage up to 90 degrees against the wind.

A motorboat with a planing hull and small outboard engine can go up to 130 degrees against the wind. A kite system can very clearly affect the course you sail.

Kite Boating vs Other Boating

There are some advantages to operating a kite system. Not all of these are readily apparent. Let’s take a look at a few.

  • Costs: A kite system is cheaper than a conventional rig. You don’t need a mast at all. There are fewer working parts. You don’t need to worry about nearly as much rigging. Less material and less investment overall.
  • Performance: There’s more to a kite boat than just speed. There are also other performance benefits. For instance, kite boats need less ballast. You don’t need a heavy keel on a kite boat. That makes trailering much easier. Kite boats offer higher speeds in the same wind. A solid kite system can pull a yacht. When a kite is flying at the right height it makes for a smooth, fun, fast ride.
  • No heeling: One of the worst parts of sailing is dealing with heeling. The wind pushes the sail of a sailboat one way or another. That makes the boat lean heavily to one side or another. This can make it a rough trip. Especially for new sailors. But a kite boat has no heeling issue. Because of how the rig is set up, the boat remains much steadier.
  • Clean: Like sailing, kite boating is a clean method of boating. No wasted energy or resources. This is better for the environment and for you. Not needing fuel or a hefty motor can free up more room on your boat as well. This ties back into both costs and performance. A kite boat will always be cleaner than a conventional boat with a motor.
  • Energy: Wind energy can be harnessed to power the boat. At 100 meters high, wind above the sea is constant and reliable. A kite moving at that height works in a figure 8 pattern. The energy generated is up to 25 times what can be produced by traditional sails.
  • Security: The idea of kite boating seems like a lot of fun. And it is. But it’s also a smart move. Kite boating offers a backup plan. Traditionally, what were your options if your engine died? On a small enough boat, you could paddle. On a sailboat, you can use the sails. But if it’s an emergency, both of those could be a hassle. Paddling takes forever. If the wind isn’t favorable, sailing could be slow. A kite system one ups all of that. As we have seen, the performance versus sails is far superior. If you use a kite system as back up, you will move faster. In a pinch, the time you save could be invaluable.

The most obvious comparison to kite boating is sailing. Sailing is great and cruising speed in a sailboat can be impressive. It’s best to consider kite boating similar but different. One doesn’t have to be better than the other. Sailing is a skill, after all. It’s a challenge all on its own. But what you are not interested in worrying about sail area or how to tack downwind and upwind? That’s part of the fun of kite boating. It’s much less technical than sailing. You only have one line to worry about. You don’t have to worry about the beam and the mast and all that.

Power is another thing that makes kite boating different. Don Montague created a rig that would actually generate power. Kites are able to operate turbines on the boat. That in turn generates enough power to keep the rest of the boat’s system’s running.

How Do You Find Such a Boat?

One of the big advantages to kite boating is ease of use. You don’t technically need to buy a kite boat. Any boat can arguably become a kite boat. You can run a rig from a catamaran, a hobie cat, or even a dinghy. A kit rig can be a permanent fixture or just something you set up quickly on the beach.

Kites have been very successfully used on nearly any kind of boat.

  • Motor boats outfitted with kites can save fuel and money. That makes them better for the environment overall. If you’re interested in reducing your carbon footprint, it’s a good option.
  • Electric boats are able to charge their batteries with wind power. Using a kite can therefore increase your range and time at sea.
  • Sail boats can see increased performance. If the wind is being too finicky for traditional sailing, a kite can help. Likewise, if you want to see a boost in speed and performance, try a kite. It also really changes the dynamic of traditional sailing. If you like to sail for the fun of it, this could be a great tweak to your current rigging.
  • Beach boating with a kite has become very popular. You don’t need to commit to a long trip out in open water. Even small boats like dinghies and canoes can be outfitted with a kite. You can keep close to shore and enjoy the speed increase a kite offers. In this way it’s similar to kite surfing.

A catamaran or hobie cat is often the best choice for making a kite boat. Converting the older bite to a kite boat is actually very easy. If you don’t want to invest in a more technical rig, you can go a little more old school. The kite system does not necessarily need to be mounted on the deck of the boat. You could use a traditional kite surfing kite for the same effect.

Kite boating from something like a kayak or a canoe can be done just by securing the lines. You should be able to anchor the kite by connecting lines on the sides of your boat. The controls of the kite can be managed by hand. At this size, the kite should offer a strong line tension. But not so strong that you can’t handle it. It’s essentially on par with kite surfing at this level. If you can manage one you should be able to manage the other.

For larger boats with larger kites, you will need an upgrade. The kite should be secured with the proper rigging. Don’t forget, the wind up there is much stronger than what hits a traditional sail. The result is that, at a big enough size, it will be too hard for a human to control. That’s why a good kite system mounted on a larger boat is needed. The added benefit here is the way an autopilot works. It can handle the kite work for you. That means you can sit back and just enjoy the ride.

The Bottom Line

Cruising along in a kite boat is a great experience. Of course it’s going to be compared to sailing. But it’s not fair to suggest one is better than the other. They’re similar but different. Each offers its own benefits and challenges. The end result is supposed to be fun, however. If you enjoy boating of any kind, you will probably enjoy kite boating. If you’ve never tried it, it’s worth giving it a spin. It doesn’t take a huge investment to get started. That’s one of the best aspects of kite boating, in fact. There is so little involved it’s something you can try with little risk. If it’s not for you, at least you’ll know. But if you do like it, you can get more involved.

The benefits of kite boating really make it something worth looking into. The peace of mind it can offer in the case of an emergency should not be overlooked. The lower costs and high performance are both enticing as well. If you get the chance, give it a try. It just might change your whole boating experience.

About Ian

My grandfather first took me fishing when I was too young to actually hold up a rod on my own. As an avid camper, hiker, and nature enthusiast I'm always looking for a new adventure.

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2 Comments

  • Wesley on September 20, 2021

    Crossing the Pacific ocean and the Atlantic ocean in a 50 to 70 ft cruiser yacht but wanted to kite sail most of the distance. Beam around 16 ft 0weight 44,000 to 56,000 pounds. Size and cost for such a set-up

    Reply

  • Steve Carter on March 11, 2022

    Very interested in a simple downwind only setup for my 27 foot inboard powerboat.

    Reply

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