Fatality Analysis, 2000 to July 2006
An article from August 2006 follows that was requested for publication. Some things have changed since that time including perhaps a reduction in kiting fatality numbers. The primary cause is still apparent today, Operator Error, flat kites when properly preflighted, maintained and operated can offer more complete depowering in strong winds than experienced with past systems. Guys are still making poor choices, technology has improved but as always is imperfect. Things seem to be improving regardless of these considerations. Hopefully with continued rider hazard awareness, appreciation and avoidance along with improved technology fatalities and accidents in general will drop further.
How dangerous is kiteboarding? This is a fairly simple question with a variety of possible answers. Let’s look at some accident statistics in an effort to answer this question. This information is of interest to most kiteboarders however it is far more important to know and practice the means of avoiding accidents.
Global loss statistics are hard to come by. There is a fair quantity for the USA to look over however. Three kiteboarders were lost in the USA in 2005. Using estimated rider populations in the USA (25 to 50 thousand that own kiteboarding gear), this equates to roughly 6 to 12 fatalities per 100,000 riders for 2005. This allows us to make rough subjective comparisons to other activities.
Estimated Fatality Rates In USA
Activity - (Losses per 100,000) - Source
Paragliding - 88 - 1) http://www.ushga.org/safety/PG2005 AccidentSummary.pdf
Unintentional injury deaths from all causes - 56 - 2) WISQARS www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars (2003)
Motor Vehicle Traffic injuries - 15 - 2) WISQARS www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars (2003)
Kitesurfing - 6 to 12 - 3) http://fksa.org/ (2005)**
SCUBA diving - 5 - 4) http://www.diversalertnetwork.org/me...port/index.asp (2003)
Pedestrian - 2 - 2) WISQARS www.cdc.gov/ncipc/wisqars (2003)
** The range was derived from the estimated number of kiteboarders in the USA.
So, based upon these statistics, you may be more at slightly risk of suffering a fatal automobile accident in the USA than to be killed kiteboarding. Alternatively, you may be at perhaps half the risk of being killed while SCUBA diving than kiteboarding. Paragliders appear to be substantially more at risk of fatal injury. NOTE: all of these statistics are estimates to varying degrees and are derived from differing assumptions. Also, actually fatality rates per country vary substantially year to year. The statistics have been calculated from generally unconfirmed reported observations received from around the world. If new credible information is received regarding historical accidents as happens on occasion these statistics can change.
A more accurate statistical picture might be obtained with a comparison of accidents to hours kiteboarded. At present there is no available accurate estimate for the total number of hours kiteboarded in the USA.
NOTE for every kiteboarding fatality there are far more (likely many 100’s to 1000’s) non-lethal injuries attributable to the same causes. Many of us know of people who have been hurt practicing our sport, some quite seriously. In working to avoid severe injury through proper kiting practice riders may well avoid any injury at all. This is a major point of this article.
Some of the trends in kiteboarding fatalities worldwide (total number of 52 through July 2006), are summarized below. These statistics have been calculated from reported but generally unconfirmed observations received worldwide. All parameters are not known in all cases. Credible new information received in the future as sometimes occurs may alter some of these statistics.
1. The most experienced riders appear to put themselves at the greatest risk.
4 or more years = 42%
3 years = 23 %
2 years = 15%
up to 1 year = 17%
2. Older riders in their late 30’s and 40’s appear to be at highest risk. NOTE: there is NO information available regarding serious but survivable injuries which could significantly differ from this summary. That is, just because you are fairly young doesn’t mean you have a free “Get Out of Jail” (and avoid injury card)!
Average age = 39
Age range, 18 to 61
3. The majority of fatalities happened during launching and landing near or onshore.
4. The majority of fatalities happen in the fall closely followed by the spring. Early and late season conditions (more extreme weather, overconfidence or lack of recent time on the water, etc.) may be responsible in part for these trends.
5. Riders were lofted in 67% of the cases.
6. Gusty winds were reportedly a factor in 67 % of cases (related to squalls or wind shadow from shore obstructions). Violent weather from squalls were reported to factor in 52% of the cases.
Average = 28 kts.
Range = 12 to 50 kts.+
7. Insufficient distance or buffer from hard objects was a factor in 65 % of the cases.
8. Wind direction such as dead onshore winds factored in 58% of the cases.
9. Kiteboard leashes (NOT kite leashes), were a factor in 10 % of the cases.
10. Reportedly riders received warnings about conditions and/or going out in about 10 % of the cases.
So, what can you conclude from this evaluation?
Experience can breed overconfidence and poor kiteboarding practice. Just because you may have gotten away with marginal practices doesn’t mean you always will. Take a fresh, careful look at how you kiteboard and your safety practices. The time to do this is before you have a go to in the School of Hard Knocks.
Riders are most at risk near land during launching and landing. Additional precautions, such as launching unhooked in the case of “C” kites, launching and landing without stoppers engaged on hybrid kites and being ready to emergency depower your kite at anytime, proper weather planning, maintenance of a proper buffer, etc. all can go to reducing risk during your time on and near land.
Be particularly cautious during the fall and spring. More powerful weather patterns can occur. Also, early season riders may be rusty or prone to go out in excessive conditions while late season riders may be prone to overconfidence and still go out in these excessive conditions.
Avoid onshore and excessively gusty winds either from squalls or from land wind shadow effects or other sources. Your odds of injury go way up in such conditions. Practice proper “anti-lofting” procedures whenever you kite (keeping the kite low and going if supported by launch conditions, avoiding squalls/excessively gusty winds, get offshore and stay there until time to come in, avoid line tangles, gear failures, etc.).
Always maintain a proper downwind buffer from hard objects. A 100 m is a good goal and even more in excessively gusty conditions, which should be avoided anyway!
Avoid using board leashes. The majority of riders really don’t need them unless they ride in areas of adverse currents, hypothermic waters, heavy surf or other special advanced conditions that may not readilly permit body dragging upwind. Body dragging upwind should ideally be learned before water starting, this skill is so fundamental to proper kiteboarding.
Carefully consider well intended advice. Always seek such advice in advance before confronting new conditions, e.g. launches, gear, weather, etc.. Sticking to your guns particularly in unfamiliar conditions may see you in a “gunfight” with mother nature with you as the loser. Proper pro kiteboarding training in a must.
Remember, kiteboarding losses per 100,000 may not be all that bad when compared to some other activities. The picture might not be quite as rosy if calculated based upon hours kiteboarded. Also, many more riders are injured kiting than are killed and by the same causes. So remember, knowledge, good practice and judgment could see you well excluded from that special club of the kiting injured.