Right of Way Rules

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Right of Way Rules

Postby OliverG » Sat Oct 24, 2009 6:37 pm

Recreational Kiteboarding Rights of Way
We've put together this description of kiteboarding rights of way practices to help newbies come up to speed and to promote the general safety of the sport. These are not definitive rules such as course racing rules, so much as expressing the consensus of the kiteboarding community.

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The rights of way "rules" can be summarized as:
Don't hit anyone.
Kite predictably.
Don't be a dick.


but of course, the devil is in the details.

Don't Hit Anyone

Hitting someone is very, very bad (duh). Regardless of right of way privileges or chance to throw the best trick of your life, you must anticipate and avoid all collisions. This is well-established maritime law. A kiteboarding-related accident making the TV news can result in termination of a site's launch privileges for all kiteboarders. Besides, do you really want your epitaph to read "Was on starboard tack"? We're smaller, quicker, more maneuverable and way cooler than anything else out there--show it by being the good guy.


Don't Be a Dick
Kiteboarding is about feeling the stoke, enjoying the rushes, and coming back insanely happy. Be cool and give a little every once in a while to keep a smooth flow. While we don't feel in general kite boarding that strict US Sailing rules need apply, know enough about the rules that you're not "that guy". Sometimes this means you'll have to give some upwind yardage when you don't want to, or that you're going to have to pass up the jump on this tack.

Kiting Predictably
Kiting predictably is part of the sport, sharing the water and feeding the stoke. A set of practices for kiteboarding has been adapted from sailing rights of way and surfing wave rights. Abiding by these practices reduces your chance of injury and of being vibed or worse back at the launch. This doesn't mean you have to kite like a wuss--there are situations where you are the one expected to decide the next move.

The Short List
Always use proper judgement and give up your right-of-way by yielding to anyone, or anything, that may appear to create a situation with your position, or upcoming position.
On crossing tacks, know that right hand forward (Starboard) has right of way. Left hand forward is Port Tack.
When kiters cross paths or one overtakes another, upwind kite flies high, downwind kite flies low.
When two kiteboarders converge and they are on the same tack, the kiteboarder most upwind must give way to the kiteboarder most downwind. The leeward kiteboarder has right of way in this situation.
A kiteboarder must give way to anyone they are overtaking. The kiteboarder being overtaken has the right of way, and is responsible for maintaining course while being overtaken.
Always give right of way to anyone who enters the 200' safety zone downwind of you.
Keep it courteous and smooth and don't be a jerk.
Frequently Asked Questions
Kiting Predictably
Starboard vs. Port Tacks
Kite Position When Crossing Tacks
Kiters On Same Tack
Obstructions
Congestion
Use Your Right Of Way
Hand Signals
Kiter Starting From Launch
Disabled Kiter
Waterstarting
Jumping
Short-Tacking
Respect Local Practices
Wave Kiting Rights of Way
Whose Wave Is it?
Don't Be a Dick
It's Not a Contest
Pass With a Margin
Get Clear of the Launch Area
I'm On Starboard and the Port Kiter Won't Yield!
Riding Someone's Ass Into the Land
I Screwed Up! What Do I Do Now?
Newbies' First Time Going Upwind
How Do I Remember All This
Other Water Users
Other Water Users' Rights of Way
Swimmers and Human Powered Craft
Recreational Power Boats
Other Sail Craft
Windsurfers
Large Commercial Vessels


Starboard vs. Port Tacks
Most of our time kiting is spent going across the wind, on starboard and port tacks. When two kiters on opposite tacks are going to cross paths, the kiter on starboard tack has the right of way.

Starboard tack is the tack when the wind is coming over the starboard (right) side of the boat. For kiteboarders starboard tack is when with both hands on the bar, your right hand is the one closest to the direction of travel. A mnemonic to help remember when you're on starboard tack: "right hand leading has right of way".

The kiter on starboard tack has the right of way, and may (and usually will) choose to continue their course with the expectation the port kiter will adjust their course to give the starboard kiter clearance. If instead the starboard kiter is going to change their heading, they should initiate that change early enough that the port kiter can recognize it and adapt. Sometimes the starboard kiter should use a hand signal to make clear their intention.

In general, if the port kiter sees no signal, course change, or kite movement, they should assume the starboard kiter will continue their course. The starboard kiter might adjust their heading a little to accomodate the port kiter, but don't assume they can or will--they may not have the same wind as you, or may already be pointing as far upwind as they are able.


Kite Position When Crossing Tacks
When kiters on opposite tacks cross paths, the downwind kiter keeps their kite low and the upwind kiter keeps their kite high. This is irrespective of which kiter is on starboard or port tack. A kiter on opposite tack can signal their intention to pass upwind or downwind by raising or lowering their kite early--this is usually more effective communication than making a hand signal.


Kiters On Same Tack
When two kiteboarders converge and are on the same tack, the kiteboarder most upwind must give way to the kiteboarder most downwind. The leeward kiteboarder has right of way in this situation.

When two kiteboarders converge in a way that may lead to the kites colliding, the upwind kiteboarder must fly their kite as high as possible, and the downwind kiteboarder must fly their kite as low as possible.

A kiteboarder must give way to anyone they are overtaking. The kiteboarder being overtaken has the right of way, and should maintain their course while being overtaken.


Obstructions
If a rider on port tack cannot change course due to an obstruction (or other downed kiter), then they have right of way over the starboard.


Congestion
All the above examples are of simple one-on-one kiter interactions. Frequently you'll encounter more crowded situations, such as multiple kiters on the opposite tack, or a kiter dragging back to his board while others pass up and down wind of him. There also may be other kiters on your tack, slightly up/downwind that will reduce the options of kiters on opposite tack. You have the responsibilty to be aware of all kiters in your vicinity, and to yield your right of way when there is too much traffic for other options. If there's a mess in front of you on your tack, the best option may be to simply turn around (look first!) and let it sort itself out while you enjoy yourself somewhere else.

"If I'm on port and I've got a guy leeward of me, you gotta figure there's only so much I can do to bear off so take that into consideration."

Use Your Right of Way
Part of kiting predictably is to use your right of way when you have it--the other kiters on the water are expecting and anticipating that.

"When in doubt take (your) right of way. Sometimes trying to be too nice can lead to confusion. If there is a rule, everyone knows it and thats why it is there."
"A starboard tacker who tries to hold an upwind course to cross a port tacker is doing what he is supposed to do. If he bears off at the port tacker, a dangerous situation is being created because his intentions are not clear and the port tacker has to consider heading up and raising his kite, which could launch him airborne into the other persons lines, at exactly the wrong time... his other option is bearing away, increasing the closing speed and risking the starboard tacker bearing down again with the commesurate risk of high speed collision (a "dial-down" in sailing parlance).

In fact, the starboard rider who bears away at the port rider is "hunting" under the rules of sailing- not allowed unless its a match race.

While i agree that we don't need to follow the racing rules of sailing all the time (frankly, as a matter of law they don't apply if no race is happening, or where a racing boat meets a non-racing boat- so most of the time we are under the internation convention for the prevention of collisions at sea.), the reason that a starboard tacker has the rights is because this way we can understand other peoples intentions without knowing them or talking to them.

...if you have rights (starboard, or leeward port), pick a course and hold it so the burdened rider can avoid you--don't change course and bleep with the other person... if you are on starboard and you want to duck, i think you should make the move big and unambiguous, and maybe even accompanied by a hand signal."

Hand Signals
In general, hand signals are used to indicate your intention, but should not be relied on--the other kiter may be watching his kite, or looking at that other kiter just behind you.

Adjusting course upwind: point with your arm upwind
Adjusting course downwind: point with your arm downwind
About to gybe: point your arm straight up and move your hand and index finger in a circle

Kiter Starting From Launch
In general a kiter starting from a launch site has right of way over kiters already out on the water, until the kiter is up and going and has joined the flow of kiters on the water. However, the launching kiter must make an effort to wait for a clear moment rather than launching blind into the oncoming traffic. Kiters on the water intending to return to the launch should wait until any launching kiters are clear, even if this means doing an extra set of tacks. Kiters intending to launch should waterstart as soon as there is space--hanging around in the water 30 feet from the lauch with your kite at 12 is a sure way to accumulate bad karma--no beer for you!


Disabled Kiter
A "disabled" kiter is usually someone body-dragging back to their board, or having a problem with their kite (eg. bridle wrap). Give this kiter full clearance--don't add to their problems by encroaching on their space while they try to put things back together. Also, know that they may not have full control of their kite which can result in sudden kite movements. The kiter in the water will also have reduced vision, which may mean they won't see you and will waterstart right at you. If you cannot pass upwind safely the best thing to do may be to look behind you, then gybe and go away from the disabled kiter. If you're feeling noble you can hang around at a distance in case that kiter needs help.


Waterstarting
A kiter waterstarting must check they have clearance downwind, and in *both* tack directions before diving the kite. Anticipate a kiter who may be on the same tack as you, uncomfortably close while you're sining your kite to get on a plane. Also look at water level for windsurfers, which you may not see if you fall into the habit of only checking the sky for other kites.



Other kiters should try to give space to the kiter about to waterstart, but the waterstarting kiter has the responsibility to wait for a clear moment before going--you just spent 5 minutes dragging back to your board--what's another 30 seconds?


Jumping
The kiter planning a jump must have clearance all around them, including upwind.

"If you're even thinking of throwing a trick you have no right away. Wait until it's clear all around you."
For other kiters, if someone is clearly setting up for a trick or jump, don't ride downwind of them. This especially applies to situations where the traditional jumping area is close to shore, where non-jumping kiters may ride to shore then tack back through the jump landing area:

"Often times at 3rd, even if the other rider has right-of-way, I'll go upwind of that rider simply because I know that they're about to do something.

Also, when turning around, be sure to look for other kiters behind and ABOVE you. Imagine I'm riding on the same tack a few hundred meters behind someone. I go for a big lofty jump and the person in front of me decides to turn around....you have no idea how sickening a feeling it is to be up in the air, knowing the other person is cruising right under your landing spot. The difficulty is that we often don't look up to see what's above us."

Short-Tacking
Short-tacking is changing tacks early relative to other kiters' expectations. You may have just remembered you're late for that supermodel date, but you still have to check behind you before initiating your gybe. If there's someone following you, signal your intention to gybe, or bear off/head up such that the following kiter can pass you.


Respect Local Practices
Many launches have quirks that may override generic rights of way. These can be a jumping oval where kiters are expected to be on starboard and port tacks in certain areas, or dead wind zones which affect how one launches and lands. Learn these by watching other kiters before launching, and by asking other kiters.


Wave Kiting Rights of Way
There are certain aspects of wave kiting that override the rights of way described above. Most importantly, the kiter riding a wave down-the-line has the right of way over other kiters.

"...there is an exception when riding waves. At my local spot, the riders going out are going on starboard tack, and riders riding waves in are mostly on port tack. Either way, if a guy is riding a wave, give the guy right of way, regardless of whether you think you have right of way or not."
A kiter trying to get through the break should be given right of way, but that kiter has a responsibilty to be capable in the surf, and to be able to get outside without impeding kiters riding a wave:

"...if a rider is heading out through the break and will get munched or put in a bad situation unless the down-the-line rider relinquishes the right of way granted in #1, the down-the-line rider must yield right of way to the rider heading out through the break."
"The rider headed out through the break has the responsibility to have the skills to get through the waves, or they just shouldn't be out there. Down on the coast there are numerous newbies on busy days who just shouldn't be in the waves; if every rider on a wave yielded the right of way for them, they'd never get to ride down the line.

There's no such thing as "about to get munched" for a skilled rider. You can either jibe in front of the wave, or bust through it. These are both skills that wave riders need to develop. It's not someone else's responsibility to know your skill level."

Whose Wave Is It?
In the abstract, the first one on the wave owns it. In the real world, learn the practices at your local spot. Watch other kiters, and ask. Also, respect slower waveriders' access--you don't have to take every wave. XXX (someone want to expand this? My waveriding experience is extremely limited)

Don't Be a Dick

It's Not a Contest
When we learn to kiteboard we obsess about going upwind, staying upwind. When crossing tacks with another kiter, you don't have to maximize every yard upwind:

"If you are at a distance and you see someone has a clear upwind advantage, then it is always nice to not fight them for it."
"Once you've set your course, stick to it. Drives me nuts when I'm on port and some guy on starboard decides pretty much AFTER the fact he wants to change and get upwind of me. It shouldn't be a contest."
"...if a rider is heading out from the beach on a tack and holding his course steady, don't be a jerk and visibly dig in your edge, sheet in your kite and power it up to purposely try to pinch off the rider coming toward you."

Pass With a Margin
Nothing kills one's stoke like getting buzzed by another kiter, or having to fall on your ass because a crossing kiter forces your kite to 12. If there's room, give the other sailor a wide margin. This especially applies to other water users (windsurfers) who really don't enjoy being placed in someone's kite window.


Get Clear of the Launch Area
When launching, get on your board and go. The guy hanging around with a kite parked in the air is a 25 meter high obstruction, the worst possible thing to have in the launch area. If you need more time, consider body dragging a few hundred yards out before you tune your kite, take a piss, or whatever it is people do in the water right by the launch.

At Alameda or 3rd Ave on a weekend, within 3 minutes of parking your kite you *will* be impeding someone. Should you need to hang out with your kite at 12 and for some reason don't want to waterstart, body drag somewhere less congested than the launch.


I'm On Starboard and the Port Kiter Won't Yield!
If you're on starboard tack enjoying your right of way, and a guy on port is coming right at you, let go the bar with your lead hand, carefully cock your arm, and punch him in the head as you pass. Uh, no, rule #1 is don't hit anyone. That's maritime law too--you're at fault in an avoidable collision regardless of rights of way.

Do what you must to avoid the collision, including yelling to get the other kiter's attention. The other kiter may be squeezing you due to something right behind you (eg. the Queen Mary). Or they may just be clueless. If it happens more than once, talk to them non-confrontationally back on the beach.


Riding Someone's Ass Into the Land
When you're following someone on a landward tack be aware that they're going to run out of water before you and will need room to gybe. Be a nice guy and change tacks first. Or you may find a fully powered up kiteboarder coming at you with just 2 seconds to think fast.

"...pet peeve: somebody that's downwind/behind on same heading (especially coming into the beach) that won't jibe first. You may want to do some little spin or maybe even a crash tack so you don't lose ground, but leave the guy upwind some room to carve if he wants to..."

I Screwed Up! What Do I Do Now?
You just realized you barged through a kiter's right of way while you were on port tack (or my favorite, waterstarting right at a windsurfer I didn't notice). Smile at the other person, say "my bad", then don't do it (the screwup) again. In fact, best to just go somewhere else and give them some space. No one wants to spoil their stoke by having to be a cop, so chances are they won't hassle you if you don't repeat your mistake.


Newbies' First Time Going Upwind
The day you figure out going upwind is one of the happiest days of your kiting life. It is also likely the first day you'll have to apply the right of way rules. Chances are in the excitement you'll forget port tack yielding to starboard, or only start thinking about it when a kiter on opposite tack is 5 seconds away. Every day before you launch your kite, think about which tack is starboard (has right of way)--the landward tack or the seaward tack. At least you'll be that far along when you suddenly realize that going upwind means crossing other kiters' paths.

For more experienced kiters, give the newbies more margin when passing or crossing. You know why.


How Do I Remember All This
This is too much to remember all at once. But you can add one piece at a time as you progress with your kiteboarding skills. Over time the parts you've already learned will become automatic. Just always remember rule #1, don't hit anyone, please.


Other Water Users' Rights of Way
In general, kiteboarders have the least privileges over other water users. Even in those situations where the kiter does have precedence (eg. over a jetski), it is best to assume that the operator is ignorant of rights of way or a kiteboarder's expected direction.


Swimmers and Human Powered Craft
This should be obvious, but don't kite amongst swimmers, surfers, kayakers, etc. No one at water level enjoys being put at risk by someone else's kitelines overhead. If you have to launch from a shared area, be downwind or keep at least two kiteline lengths upwind of other water users. If the water by the launch is too congested, body-drag away from the launch before waterstarting. Never launch or ride into a designated swimming area. If your kite is disabled and you're going to drift into such an area, flag your kite, wind up your lines and swim your kite in. That may save you from an unpleasant conversation with a lifeguard.


Recreational Power Boats
Technically kiteboarders are sail craft and have right of way over recreational powerboaters, but in practice one should assume they do not see you or may not respect those rights. A powerboat operator may be watching the kite and not see the kiteboarder 45 feet upwind. A powerboat operator dealing with multiple kiteboarders may have no choice but to continue a steady predictable course, within reason. It is best to assume the powerboater will maintain their heading, and plan one's own course accordingly.


Other Sail Craft
You can expect other sailboats to know and abide by the sailing rights of way, but be reasonable (see Don't Be a Dick, above). It is best to let the larger boats maintain their course, and not mix it up with sailcraft. Don't fly your kite over any masts--you could misjudge the height or inadvertantly lower your kite.


Windsurfers
Kiteboarders share many launches with windsurfers, who have been using those launches long before kiteboarding came on the scene. Kiteboarders can plane in less wind and can turn quicker: the onus is on us to "give a little" in right of way situations. In congested circumstances the windsurfer may have to pass underneath your kite--give them as much vertical clearance as you can. Passing under someone else's lines does not feed anyone's stoke.


Large Commercial Vessels
Kiteboarders have no privileges over large commercial vessels, which often have to plan course changes minutes in advance. Stay away.
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