Kite flying as a hobby has gained popularity over the years, with new, ultra-lightweight materials being used to craft them, and the introduction of multi-line kites.
While kite flying seems like a harmless hobby to be enjoyed by one and all, when flown incorrectly, or in poor locations or conditions, kites can be dangerous.
In this article, we will go over some of the dangers of flying a kite, and how to avoid or correct them. Remember: while flying a kite, conditions can change quickly, and you should always keep an eye out to not only ensure your own safety, but also the safety of those around you.
Kites are popular with families as they are a relatively inexpensive hobby to get in to. However, as with anything, adult supervision is a must during either the crafting or flying of a kite.
In this article, we recommend that adults always keep an eye on a child that is flying a kite, so that the child does not wander away, or get entangled in kite line(s). Children may also be picked up by the kite should there be strong enough winds, as seen by the video below. Please note that some readers may find the following footage distressing.
In the above situation, it was reported that the young child may have been entangled in the kite’s lines before the kite was launched. This emphasizes why adult supervision is always required when flying kites with children.
Children (and even adults!) can be distracted to the point of forgetting their surroundings when flying a kite. This may lead to walking into areas that can be dangerous, for example:
- Kite launching zones, where there may be lengths and lengths of kite line laid out waiting for their attached kites to be launched.
- Rocky cliffs: unstable footing combined with inattention can lead to injuries; one could also walk off the edge of the cliff if not careful.
- Roads or carparks: more commonly near parks; there could be a traffic accident waiting to happen when being inattentive to one’s surroundings.
- Into a body of water: either at the beach or a park with a pond/lake, this can be very dangerous as children can struggle being in the water, and may tangle themselves up with the kite line at the same time.
Take note that children don’t need to be flying a kite to land themselves in danger – they could be chasing it instead and move very quickly from a safe space to one that is not so safe.
There are many dangers when being outside, but with a sharp eye and common sense, these dangers can be prevented or averted.
Kite Line Material
Kite lines have evolved over the years, from the basic cotton thread to being made with stronger materials like Kevlar, or synthetic fibers that are non-biodegradable. With these hard-to-break materials being more popular, there is a surge in kite line-related injuries as well.
Some of the more common dangers that kite lines present are:
- Someone getting tangled up in the lines of a kite.
- Getting wet and becoming a conductor of electricity
- Kite lines that have metal content are also conductors of electricity
- Line burns and cuts, where kite line(s) run through your hold when the kite is pulled
- Fighting kites’ lines sometimes have crushed glass twisted through them to help cut the opponent’s line – this can cause fatal injuries, especially when these lines are falling after being cut.
- Kite lines can also pose a hazard to the environment, especially when birds or animals get tangled up in them.
All Tangled Up
A major and common fear for all experienced kite fliers is of getting caught up in the lines of the kite, or its tail during the launch of a kite, especially large kites that can lift a person.
Steve Edeiken was a well-known kite-flying expert who died of multiple injuries after falling 100 feet to his death in September 1983. On the day of the accident, a sudden gust of wind unexpectedly launched the 115-foot by 250-foot Jalbert parafoil kite while Steve was among the kite shrouds. His leg was caught in the kite lines as he was lifted about 120 feet. It was reported that Steve succeeded in untangling his ankle while still hanging on to the shrouds. However, the kite then started to swing violently from side to side, which eventually threw Steve to his death. He remains a poignant reminder to always be careful when flying large kites.
Other accidents that can happen also include your kite line wrapping around a structure, which can cause damage either to your kite or the structure. It can also cause your kite line to snap, in turn allowing your kite to fly free. In excessively strong or gusty winds, your kite can turn into a missile.
Tips on Prevention and Avoidance
- Carry a small knife (or a couple) to quickly cut your kite lines if someone or something is tangled in them.
- Always be alert when launching your kite. If need be, seek help from others to help launch your kite, especially if its a large kite and you have little experience with it.
- Avoid line tangles while in the water. Both the wind and waves can increase the amount of tension on both the kite and its lines, which can overwhelm a kite-flier quickly and easily. This can lead to drowning.
- Avoid leaving your kite lines unattended while anchored or lying on the ground as people can trip over or get tangled in them.
- If you are inexperienced, it’s a good idea to talk to your local kite flying club about learning how to launch or fly your kite safely.
- If you are about to launch a large kite, ensure that spectators are standing a good distance away from your kite lines so that they do not accidentally get wrapped up in the lines during launch.
- Before launching your kite, make sure the launch area is clearly marked and there is no one in the area. If you are launching a massive kite (over 100 feet in either length or width), you will need to be able to communicate with your team quickly, and this can be done via walkie-talkies.
- Always use the right type of kite line for your kite – large kites will need sturdier and thicker kite line to prevent breakage.
Conductor of Electricity
Benjamin Franklin was very lucky to have not been killed while trying to prove the electrical nature of lightning! Most people use his experiment as a reason not to fly a kite in a storm, which is a great way to explain to children reasons not to go out in a storm, much less fly a kite in one.
However, kite lines were not always made from cotton or synthetic fibers. In the past, Christmas cord entwined with tinsel or light gauge wire (very thin wire) were used as kite line instead of cotton. These lines had metal content and were electrical conductors.
In recent years, kite line has evolved from the simple cotton thread to stronger and more durable materials such as Kelvar or Spectra. However, this doesn’t mean that you and your kite aren’t conductors of electricity.
When we talk about electricity, keep in mind that electricity always tries to find the shortest distance to the ground. Electricity is not picky as to what path it uses, and that can mean a path through your kite and you to the ground.
Even though kite line is not a conductor of electricity, it can easily become contaminated with dirt and sweat, or can even be slightly damp. Either way will conduct the electrical current from the power line down the kite string.
So what happens if your kite gets caught in a power line?
Tips on Prevention and Avoidance
- If your kite gets caught in a power line, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO RETRIEVE YOUR KITE.
- Immediately let go of your kite line(s) and move away from the power line. Call your local utility company and let them know what has happened.
- Secure the area – you can do this by marking off the area and telling other people not to cross into the area to prevent any mishaps from happening.
- Do not fly near power lines. Some children may think it’s safe to fly a kite in the front yard, however this is not usually the case. Power lines usually line the street, and this presents a case of double trouble. As mentioned, do not fly near power lines. Children must also be taught that they should not chase after a kite, as they could run out on to the street and cause an accident.
- Purchase kite line from a kite store or your local kite flying club – they will be able to give you advice on what length, thickness, and type your kite needs. You can also be assured of the quality of the kite line.
- Never go out kite flying in stormy weather, and always check the weather forecast before heading out to fly a kite. Flying a kite in storms instantly makes you and your kite a lightning rod. You could be seriously injured or even killed if lightning finds you, and it usually will!
- Never use metallic kite lines. If you have no cotton thread at home, instead of using wires, check if you have butcher’s twine or even raffia string. In a pinch, you could use fabric strips as well.
- If your child is flying a kite and you are worried about the kite drifting too far away, make sure to limit the length of the line. This can help in preventing their kite from drifting too far away.
Line Burns and Cuts
When your kite line is tugged, your first instinct would be to hold on tighter to it. Unfortunately, this can cause line burns and cuts if you are not careful.
Traditionally, kite lines by themselves are not sharp. However, any type of string or line moving through air at high speeds can be very dangerous. They can cut, like a paper cut, or they can cause burns, similar to rope burns.
This is common when larger kites are paired with less-experienced kite fliers. Larger kites tend to pull much harder on the kite line, and can cause burns and cuts when grabbing on to a kite line.
It also needs to be said: do not wrap kite line around fingers, limbs, or any part of the body. If the kite catches a strong wind, it can cut deeply, cause friction burns, or worse, severe the body part. If the kite is big enough, it can lift a person up with severe to fatal consequences.
Tips on Prevention and Avoidance
- Always use caution when flying large kites. If you are inexperienced with large kites, speak to your local kite flying club or kite store. They can usually get someone to help you learn the ropes.
- Wear gloves when handling large kites. Larger kites tend to be paired with thicker and stronger kite lines which can cause severe line burns and/or cuts.
- Never allow the kite lines to wrap around fingers, limbs, or other body parts.
- If you are using a harness to secure your kite to you (i.e. in kitesurfing), make sure to have a quick release system in place should anything untoward happen. Alternatively, having a small knife to cut lines is also handy.
Fighting Kites’ Lines
Kite fighting is picking up steam in the West, but has been around in the East for a long time. The goal of kite fighting is to cut your opponents’ kite line with your own and to be the last fighter kite in the sky.
As you can imagine, to cut down someone else’s kite line with your own takes considerable skill. It also involves special kite lines that are coated with metal, wax, or crushed glass and glue.
Kite fighting is very popular in India; it is also deadly – in August 2016, 2 children and a man were killed after their throats were slit by kite strings that had been coated with glass (source). These lines, when cut, are also left to hang around and can be dangerous to anyone caught in them.
Tips on Prevention and Avoidance
- Do not use kite lines that are coated with metal, wax, or crushed glass unless you are specifically taking part in a kite fighting competition.
- Make sure to wear gloves when handling these sorts of lines.
- Ensure that all kite lines are accounted for at the end of the day so as to not leave any as rubbish.
If a kite is already in the air when a dangerous situation develops (usually on the ground), be prepared to cut any affected kite lines to ensure the safety of others around! Damage to kites is always preferable to injury, or even the risk of injury, to people.
Flying a Kite
We’ve talked about kite lines and the need for adult supervision for children when flying kites. However, there are also other dangers when flying a kite that we want to highlight in this article.
- Exposure to sun: When out and about flying kites, wear sunglasses and a cap to protect your eyes. Use sunscreen to protect yourself from sunburn.
- Clothing: Consider sensible clothing when going out to fly a kite. Keep in mind that dresses, scarves, and long billowy sleeves, while pretty, have a higher chance of snagging on lines.
- Jewelry: Rings on fingers can catch on lines and present a higher chance of dislocation. Earrings can also get pulled out if a line clips your ear, but is much rarer. Anything hanging around the neck is unsafe as it may catch a line. Keep jewelry at home, if possible, when out kite flying.
- Footwear: Bare feet are a no-no, considering that you may have to walk over litter (which can include sharps and even used syringes) or over rocky areas at beaches and parks. Keep in mind that shoelaces can also catch on lines. What I have found to be great are loafers.
- Gloves: Dexterity is an essential component of a kite flier’s skills. It is required to unravel knots, twists, tangles, loops, etc. especially in emergencies that can develop in a blink of an eye when flying large kites. Gloves can reduce dexterity, even if they can protect you from line burns or cuts. We recommend that if you must wear gloves, to wear fingerless gloves to protect your palms while ensuring that you can still quickly do what needs to be done.
Personal limitations include (but are not limited to) being self-aware: awareness of your skills, strengths, kite’s power, etc.. You should be aware of the following:
- Limitations of your skills: if you are a beginner, choose a beginner’s kite and work your way up from there. Using an overly large or complicated kite can be dangerous for you and those around you.
- Limitations of your physical strength: flying a kite that is too big for you to handle safely is dangerous as you may not have the strength to hold on to it, or you may not be able to bring it down quickly and safely in case of a weather change or other emergencies. The wind can also change swiftly or there may be sudden gusts that can catch you off-guard. Also, keep in mind that this applies to wind as well – do not fly in winds that are beyond your strength as they may take both you and the kite away!
- Limitations of your kite and the rest of your setup: Be aware of the pull, lift, and speed of your kite. This knowledge is important so that you do not fly in winds that are too strong for your kite, line, clips, anchors, etc.. This can help you to better secure your kite flying setup, and better control your kite.
Flying a kite (or multiple kites) can put strain on the body, especially over long periods of time. If you get too tired, you may not be able to safely retrieve your kite, or you may have impaired judgment of the situation, both of which can cause serious damage to you, those around you, or to your kite. Always fly within your limits.
- The most obvious and common obstacle when flying a kite is trees. Stay away from trees if you want to prevent damage to your kite.
- You should also fly away from roads and freeways;
- Your kite may accidentally land on the road or on a vehicle, causing distractions and accidents. If your kite hits a vehicle, it can cause damage to both the vehicle and your kite, and in turn, could cause injury.
- You can also be hurt or cause accidents by crossing the highway or road to chase your kite.
- Ensure that your flying area is generally flat without any holes that you could fall down into.
- Avoid other kites, lines, and kite fliers! There is a lot of frustration when you cross lines and have to detangle everything. There can also be damage to both kites and fliers.
- Make sure to fly a good distance away from buildings. At speed, kites can damage windows or roofs. Kites can also get sucked down vents and potentially cause ventilation problems for the building.
- Never fly a kite near aboveground lines – these can either be power or telephone lines. A kite getting tangled up in these lines can disrupt the network and you may potentially face a fine for the downtime.
- As mentioned, do not attempt to remove your kite from the lines. Call the utility company and they will send a professional to remove your kite.
Anchoring Your Kite
At kite festivals, you may see many kites flying in the air but may not be able to spot someone holding on to their lines. This is because most kites are tethered or anchored to the ground.
However, insecure tethering points are a major source of accidents at kite festivals. Kites could be tethered or anchored too close to each other, or the wind could nullify the best anchors and placements.
If the anchor is unable to bear the load that your kite will put on it, it’s highly likely that it will turn into a missile. Your kite can drag your anchor if it generates a lot more lift than what your anchor can weigh down. There have been cases of small trees being lifted by a kite tied to it.
Keep in mind that anyone caught between the anchor and the kite can also suffer injuries as evident by David’s and Susan’s experience.
The other major danger from dragged anchors is to anyone caught between the anchor and the kite as the movement first starts. In personally my worst ever experience, at Napier in 1995 our van was dragged off by two Dolphin kites, running over but not seriously injuring young Lena Zander from Hamburg.David and Susan from GombergKites
- Make sure anchors and tethers can bear the load that your kite will put on them.
- Ensure that anchors are secure – some anchors are better suited for the sandy terrain found at beaches, and some others for the packed ground in parks. More about anchoring a kite here.
- Never leave an anchored kite unattended even though it hasn’t flown away in the past hour. Wind conditions can change rapidly.
- Ensure that your anchor or tether is highly visible, not only to you but to the general public.
- If need be, mark off the area where your kite is anchored. This will prevent people from wandering into your kite lines or unknowingly digging up your anchor.
- Keep everyone clear of the downwind side of your anchor, especially when there are large kites and strong wind.
- Stakes and screws can be dangerous as they can injure when lifted by a kite. It may be better to use sand anchors instead.
- Always check all equipment before setting up to fly your kite, anchored or not. Chaffing can happen from previous flights, which lead to weakened lines or lines breaking in flight.
- Move anchors or tethers when necessary to prevent lines (usually from other fliers) from crossing.
Location, Location, Location!
Kite flying can be mesmerizing and take away one’s attention from one’s surroundings. This is especially so when a strong, fresh wind blows your kite further and higher – it can be so exciting to watch your kite soar! However, you should also keep in mind of where you are in relation to everyone else.
- As mentioned, always fly in an open field and never near trees, structures, or power lines.
- It is also important to fly a kite on dry land, and not in water if you choose to fly at a beach. The waves and tide are an additional source of unnecessary information to process when flying a kite and can cause you to panic if your kite line suddenly breaks or if you go underwear.
- Never fly near airports. Different countries will have different rules about flying a kite near an airport or military bases, and you can read about the USA’s rules here.
- Never fly near a highway, or next to roads. You can be hurt chasing your kite across the street, or distract drivers, leading to accidents.
- Never fly near buildings. Your kite can damage windows or roof of a house, or it can get stuck in a vent or pipe which may be costly to remove or repair.
- Both children and adults sometimes stand on terraces or balconies in highrise buildings to either fly or watch kites. This is extremely dangerous as anyone can lose their balance and fall, leading to serious injuries or even death.
- Look for a relatively flat area with little to no holes and obstacles like poles, benches, rocks, drop-offs to fly. If you have friends or family with you, make sure you know where all your possessions are, to prevent tripping over them (and the humans) while flying your kite.
- Depending on your location (i.e. parks, or in fields near farms), never scare animals. They can spook easily, especially horses with riders, and can injure you or someone else.
- This is the same for people – never fly your kite too close to people. While kites look serene while floating in the sky, they have the ability to travel at high speeds. If a kite moving at such speeds hits someone, they could sustain serious injuries or worse. Keep in mind that your kite line could also hit anyone nearby, and injure them.
- Spectators may not understand this, especially young children. Always ask (politely!) all spectators to stand behind you when your kite is being flown.
Kites by themselves are not dangerous – it is the way they are flown, or made. Now that you have a better idea of what can create danger and cause injuries, make sure you check your kite setup.
Be patient with spectators and children, and explain the dangers to them should they refuse to move to a safe spot. They may be curious and want to see what you are doing, but their safety should be your priority too. It is always a good idea to mark off an area for setting up your kite, and inform people to stay away.
Keep in mind to choose a safe location not only for you, but also your kite. Kite flying can become very expensive if you continuously feed trees with your kites! Safety should be your #1 priority, and following the above tips and advice will ensure that you will have a great and safe time flying.