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How to tell if a kiteboarder needs help

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Postby RickI » Sat Aug 10, 2002 8:10 pm

The following is a repost from ikitesurf. It would pay to discuss this among ourselves, agree on some conventions and pass these along to lifeguards and other rescue personnel in our launch areas. What do you think?


Excellent question, I will look forward to reading other responses. I will post this on some other forums for input and send it along to Traig Trumbo, an authority on this subject. Having been the unwilling participant in many unwanted rescue attempts over the years, this is what I would advise:

1. ALL KITEBOARDERS when they have to swim in for whatever reason should give the OK sign to guards or park officials onshore periodically. The one divers and I use is simply to hold one hand palm down on your head while looking at them for five to ten seconds. I repeat this to verify that they saw it. It may help to discuss this with the guards ahead of time as this universal signal, isn't quite universally recognized yet.

1a. If the guard can't see much of the kiteboarder or can't tell if he is moving or swimming towards shore after an interval, it would be adviseable to rescue him.

1b. IF YOU NEED HELP, blow your whistle (it is cheap and very useful safety device), and wave one or both hands. As you are wearing (or should be), an impact pfd, staying afloat is no problem. Continue this periodically, while trying to swim closer to shore until the guard onshore acknowledges your signal.

2. A kiteboarder in the water much more than a quarter mile offshore, I have been told, is hard to make out. That is it is hard to tell if they are moving or swimming. I would advise the lifeguards to try to examine the rider through binoculars from a height if possible very carefully. Look for movement, e.g. trying to relaunch the kite, winding in the lines, swimming in, bailing out using the kite as a sail on the water, etc. Alternatively, look for shoreward progress of the kite, hopefully faster than wind and waves would send it.

3. If the rider is moving and doing something productive to get himself into shore as suggested above, leave him alone but look in on him periodically to verify that he is still moving.

4. If it appears that the rider is being moved out of the area, offshore or to some other inappropriate place by wind and/or current, or if the rider appears to have stopped moving into shore for an extended period or has stopped moving period, it would be a good idea to send help out, and best by boat.

5. For boat rescue approach from the windward, avoid the lines at all times and if the rider is awake and able, ask him to secure his kite, i.e. deflate the leading edge and roll it or deflate all the bladders and tie it up. Then he should wrap up his lines. Only once the kite and lines are secured by an able rider should he be brought onboard.

6. For boat rescue, if the rider is unconscious or unable to deal with his gear, the second person on the rescue boat should jump into the water cut both lines leading to ONE SIDE of the kite to depower it as it drifts, detach it from the victim (unhook the control bar, pop the snap shackle), and do the remainder of the rescue per normal procedures. If you have time or another craft, have it intercept the kite, deflate the leading edge, roll and tie it, the wrap up the lines on the bar.

Some suggestions for lifeguard rescue of kiteboarders is given in: ... Safety%20/

under: 9. Kitesurfer Rescue Information for Lifeguards.doc

Something that we have started to do in Florida and would benefit the sport in other parts of the country, is to give an orientation session to lifeguards/park rangers, etc. on kiteboarding. That is for a couple of hours or more, pref. by a kiteboarding instructor the guards go hands on with trainer kites, then a scaled down kiteboarding kite to appreciate the power of the device. We then go over the various rescue scenarios. We talk about what to look for in a kiteboarder in distress. With luck a few of the lifeguards will get hooked on the sport, (cheap or free lessons and discount gear help), now you have some great friends where it counts.

I have been thinking about making a DVD that shows various rescue techniques for kiteboarders. Stay tuned...

Rick Iossi

The lifeguards at Belmont posed this question - what should they be looking for?

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Postby phree » Sun Aug 11, 2002 1:16 am

Very worthwhile topic, Rick. You covered that very well. I'd like to add that we have allot of room for improving the way we communicate while out on the water. Of course the subject of rules of the road is at the top of the list. However, there are other aspects that are seldom discussed.

What about a universal signal to indicate you are coming in and want help landing your kite? Around here, some of us pat our heads and that seems to work. However, it seems allot of people don't know about that signal.

What about signals to alert other riders to a swimmer, diver, approaching squall or other concerns that have just been noticed? Maybe we could have one signal that means: "CAUTION - LOOK" and then just point.

What about a signal to other riders that you need help of some kind? I know a guy who got blown downwind and was uncertain where to come in through a gnarly exposed reef. Although he passed other kiters nearby, he said he didn't want to just yell help or something. I told him that was exactly what he should have done. That example shows how proud we are and nobody wants to ask for help out there. However, we should all be developing a culture of extreme helpfulness to each other.

Anybody have thoughts on any of this?

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Postby Wetstuff » Sun Aug 11, 2002 1:57 am

Great topic Rick. I've had guards paddleboard out because I was simply flopping up and down in light air. I've told my local Ocean Rescue guards that I carry three small parachute flares in my impact vest and if I can't get in alone - I'll fire them off.

I found a better one: a daytime, Orange smoke flare but it's too large to be easily carried.

The guards being watermen/women seem to have a natural curiosity about the kites. Take advantage of it and make them our friends.

Thanks for looking out for us Rick.


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Postby RickI » Sun Aug 11, 2002 3:50 am

Hello Phree,

I was taken with the importance of the topic when it came up on ikitesurf. I find from one launch to the next, universal kiteboarding hand signals are not universally recognized at all. We should agree on a common set of signals and distribute them to kiteboarders, at least online. The ones that I am familar with include:

1. I want assistance with landing =
Patting your head with one hand
(just as you described John)

2. Please release my kite (during launch) =
YELL THIS AND also move your thumb up several times.

3. To warn or caution and to tell them to look =
Yell this and wave your hand back and forth to gain their attention, then point to your own eyes with your index and middle fingers then point to what you want to draw their attention to.

4. If I am passing an oncoming rider, I fully extend arm horizontally and across my body in the direction I intend to pass on. At the same time I may veer a bit more in that direction to reinforce the point.

5. Finally, I need help =
A universal signal is to wave one or both hands over your head. Blowing a whistle at the same time could help.

What signal conventions have others seen in use?

Rick Iossi

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Postby RickI » Sun Aug 11, 2002 4:19 am

Hello Wetstuff,

Yes, it is a bit embarrassing to have the guards try to rescue you when you don't need it. Good communications with your local rescue people can sometimes avoid false rescues although it never worked for me! Fortunately, kiteboarders are now a more familar sight in my area so unnecessary rescue calls appear to have diminished.

Flares and other signally devices are a good idea particularly for riders that go offshore, I enjoy doing that myself or ride in thinly populated areas. There is an article about signally devices that may provide some ideas at:

A good package including a whistle, two flares (water proof to 130 ft.) and a signally mirror is listed at: ... 46&ID=1423

Rick Iossi

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Postby RickI » Tue Aug 13, 2002 2:03 pm

Hello Mel and Traig,

It always impresses me to learn about the various weather and condition
imperatives from one launch to the next. Normally, in our local launch areas
there is no problem in flying the bar with one hand. Our gust range doesn't
approach that in your area Mel, as a rule. So one handed signals are easily
performed and really necessary under certain conditions. Traig, thank you
for your response to my email that I have reproduced below. You also point
out imperatives that bear heavily on safety in surf prone areas. We have
the odd 4' to 6' groundswell day here otherwise it is a somewhat messy chop
or relatively calm. Your considerations about hazards associated with the
use of impact pfds in heavy surf are important and should be discussed. I
have not had problems with waves and a pfd myself but then again, our waves
are not as powerful or as large as yours on the west coast. What sort of
wave conditions do you have in terms of height and rough wave length that
make PFD use more of a hazard than a benefit. I will workup a summary about
all of this once all the discussion has wound up and will post it soon.

Thanks again,
Rick Iossi


Hi Rick. Great set of parameters for lifeguard organizations on spotting
kitesurfers in need of assistance. Looks like you have hit most of the
If guards note a shift of wind to offshore after the kiter drops his kite it
might be a good idea to send help. The drag of the kite equipment while
is not appreciated by most guards do to lack of contact with said tiny twin
and a large wet kite. Kiters should be able to self rescue and this is
what is
keeping us on the water. If rescue were a mandatory thing we would loose all
access. It is difficult to see what is going on, far out at sea, even
binoculars. The frequent ok sign is a good call. To bad we don't all have a
universal "rescue me" flag we can pull out of our harnesses and wave. Like
water ski type but maybe reflective material. Point out to guards that most
us don't wear leashes so the board water hazard is often about to enter the
line up after the kite and kiter are pulled in. The basic understanding of
tower guard in the manner in which kites fly and potential hazards will
eliminate many unnecessary rescues. When a bystander unwittingly calls 911
on a
kiter, a lifeguard response is inevitable. The public expects a response
it's paid employees. No downed kiter should give any attitude to a guard who
paddles, swims or comes to their assistance in any manner. Surprisingly,
several guards mentioned how much verbal abuse they got when showing up to
assist a kiter paddling there stuff in. Thank said guard for coming to help
let them know that you are ok. Maybe let them paddle in your kite. They
probably have to fill out a rescue card irregardless. A bit of education to
said guard can take place in the paddle or boat ride in.
For lifeguards, do mention methods of spotting someone in shallow water
or on
the beach in peril. As in the case of a newbee on the beach and getting
by to large a kite. First thing I have been teaching the guards is how to
a kite safely in someone in the water needs to land it and the beach is
The guard gives the same OK hand on head sign, meaning, I know how to grab
kite and the kiter proceeds to land the kite to the guard. Crashing the
into the surf with lines surrounding bathers can be dangerous. Stopping
flying down the beach without owners is a concern to guards. Teach the same
"don't ever grab the lines and grab it from downwind approach as in the
water of
course. Great wording, when you describe the progression of a kiter with
equipment towards shore. This is a very important point. From a tower
perspective, it seems to take forever for one of us to paddle the stuff in.
Pointing out that the current wind direction will eventually help the person
will help relieve some of the guards anxiety and allow him to watch the
in front of him without the worry of "is that guy out there ok?" Some
are actually keeping rescue units on late just because they know a kite
will eventually need assistance. The bay watch unit off of Topanga
apparently is
already at a new mooring in the afternoon, just for this reason. The State
guards at Leo Carrillo are also often keeping a unit around to keep an eye
the kites. Let all guard organizations know that we are very serious about
being able to self rescue but certainly appreciate their help. A little
goes a long ways. In my years of guarding, I have paddled and swam so very
times, far out to sea, to get lip from some bozo who is in obvious peril but
does not realize it. The truth is, most guards are far more ocean savvy
the average kiter and though, you think you are ok, the prevailing currents
sea conditions may be putting you in jeopardy. I did my State LG training
little exchange guard gig later on down at the Huntington/ Bolsa area and
actually was in one of the rescue units during the infamous OP Pro surf
riot. Guards have a real handful down there with inside and outside
running opposite directions, huge rips and the obvious surf. Add a kite and
lines to the soup and man, what a nasty situation that could be. Some
edge bladders may get rapidly deflated, but that may be what it takes to
keep a
spot open. You may be in a good position to explain to the guards what
constitutes dangerous and irresponsible behavior with a kite. As peace
the state permanent lifeguards can enforce all California legal codes
harbor and nav rules. Not sure if you are talking to Huntington City as
well as
State guards. PFD's are very dangerous in and size surf as the swimmer can't
under waves. Please don't tell the guards that all should be wearing them
kitesurfing. You would be surprised to see how a rule in one are can spread
over the coast in a few months.
Once again, a job well done Rick. All the best. Traig MonkeyAir
Malibu. Ca
Just did another seminar last week for the LA County LG supervisors on
ski rescue of kitesurfers. Jet ski rescue units behind guard units are
more common as often baywatch will be busy somewhere else and it takes to
to get the i.r.b going. Two guards generally on a ski and sled combo. Very
important to teach guards that the kite is the power source and what will
endanger the public. It the kiter is himself ok, a question of "do you want
to deflate your kite" upwind of the downed kiter is appropriate. If the kite
going to enter the surf line up, dragging the kiter or going to be yanked up
beach it is wise to intercept the kite and board to prevent a hazard to the
public. Deflate and roll up as the kiter rolls up lines. Important for
to realize the speed at which the kite can move especially when winds are on
shore. We trained the guards in onshore winds at Docwieler beach this week
all the jet ski units learned how important proper craft positioning was as
not get overrun by the kite you are trying to stop. A tip grab and pull to
side, keeping in mind the wind window helped the trainees. Of course
will be some tension on at least one line if the kiter is still attached.
Showing guards where the leading edge bladder release valve is located and
an arc has it's Velcro release saves much time and a very expensive stab
with a
rescue knife. Jet ski sleds should be equipped with bungy cords or long
strips to encompass rolled up kites. The boards generally fit well in the
channel of skis between driver and rail. Stressing to kiters, not to go
out than they could swim is a given. Free kites floating down the coast are
not uncommon reality in Malibu. Showing the guards how to stop them by
approaching down wind certainly helps. As you had mentioned, many guards and
kiters do not recognize the hand on head, I am ok sign. You had mentioned
cutting lines on the unconscious victim scenario. This is good but I would
say cut three as the "cutter " may or may not know which of the front lines
is cutting or whether it is the safety leashed line he is cutting. Could
the front right and rear left line still attached.

--- In kitesurf@y..., "kiteboard2000" <kiteboarder@p...> wrote:
> --- In kitesurf@y..., "flkitesurfer" <flkitesurfer@h...> wrote:
> > I find from one launch to the next, universal kiteboarding hand
> > signals are not universally recognized at all...
> > 1. I want assistance with landing =
> > Patting your head with one hand
> >
> > What signal conventions have others seen in use?
> I always thought a HAND signal was rather silly to use for help
> landing: If the conditions are such that I can take a hand off the
> bar I'm certainly not going to need help landing.
> It's so gusty on the beach where I launch that just flying a kite
> over the sand means you're landing. As I run to catch a kite, I pat
> MY head & watch for the pilot (with both hands on the bar) to nod.
> I believe the universal signal for "I'm okay" is both hands touching
> over your head (forming an "O"). It's also used for "Are you
Hey MEl. Just did another lifeguard training on jet ski's with
sleds for rescuing kiters with the South Bay county supervisors. The
I am ok convention is the same used for scuba diving which is one hand
on top of head signaling the guard on the beach. The guard that is to
grab your kite to land it if the beach and water is to crowded will
give the kiter the same sign to let them know that they are familiar
with grabbing a side landed kite properly. Have Fun. Traig
> Mel

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