Offshore Kiting and Communication

Offshore kiting beyond local beaches requires careful consideration of the weather forecast, and some form of communications for when things go wrong.

As kiters, we have four methods of on water communications in order of preference.

  1. Marine Radio
  2. Cell Phone
  3. Personal Locator Beacon
  4. Commercial Satellite Rescue Service

Marine Radio is by far the most common sense tool to take on the water. Marine law requires all boaters to carry a marine radio and to monitor channel 16 while on the water. It allows you to communicate with all other vessels and ships around you and directly with the Coast Guard.

A basic marine radio costs around $99 and increases in price as you add more features such as GPS and selective calling. Putting a marine radio into a dry bag and stuffing down your wet suit is simple and carefree way of ensuring you have a means of communication if things go wrong.

Portable marine radios themselves tend to be built with waterproofing but salt water is corrosive and to ensure longevity, protecting the radio with a dry bag is recommended.

Price: $100-$400 for radio depending manufacturer and features (GPS)

Pros: Every boat and coast guard monitor marine band channel 16. Battery in radio last a considerable time when not in use. Works internationally so just as applicable in Australia as in USA.

Cell Phone is a no brainer except that many of us now have cell phones that cost many hundreds of dollars. A consideration is to purchase a cheaper phone that can be placed in a dry bag for use as needed. As a word of caution, a cell phone by itself can be unreliable when more than a mile offshore especially when attempting to call from the water surface. Another disadvantage is the inability to talk to other boats around you – Nothing more frustrating than being stuck far offshore watching a boat pass by you and not being able to communicate with it.

Price: $50-250 for Cell Phone plus ongoing service plan.

Pros: Easy to use.

Cons: May be easily damaged or lost on water. Requires programming of numbers such as local coast guard. Battery needs very regular checks to ensure charged. No international support.

Commercial Satellite Rescue Service such as Spot can be useful with very limited two way communication capability but requires planning to ensure individuals programmed to receive messages can actually take action on your behalf. Worst case, pushing the emergency button will send “everyone” with likely a full coast guard rescue response including helicopters and other equipment. Ideally should only be used in a true life threatening situation.

Price: $150’ish for unit plus ongoing service plan.

Pros: Easy to use.

Cons: Requires coordination with message recipients as to how to respond. Pressing emergency button will generate a large rescue response.

Check out https://www.freedompop.com/ An inexpensive cell phone service, but do check regularly to ensure your cellphone is charged.

Personal Locator Beacon is a device designed to be used in a true life and death situation and as such, should really not be used if you are in a non threatening situation. Unfortunately, dropping a kite due to lack a wind is a non life threatening situation. Pushing the emergency button will send “everyone” with likely a full coast guard rescue response including helicopters and other equipment.

Price: $250’ish for unit.

Pros: Easy to use.

Cons:  Pressing emergency button will generate a large rescue response. Servicing / battery replacement requires specialized support. Requires unit registration before use.

Summary

If you had to choose one device, a marine radio placed in a dry bag would be the first choice If you wanted an extra level of protection, adding any of the other three such as a Cell Phone, “Spot”, or PLB would provide additional safety and redundancy but understand the limitations and ongoing support needed for each of the devices. Makes no sense to carry a PLB if it has not bee registered or registration has expired.

Many kites coming to the sport without previous boating experience – With boating experience, you learn quickly how commonplace marine radios are.