Apr 11

Sailing + Kite + Video Camera

Tag: marina life,tripsmattholmes @ 5:01 pm

A while back we came across these superb videos made by Chris Humann (edited thanks to comment below) during his single-handed TRANSPAC race, in which he suspends a video camera from a kite and flies it from his boat while sailing. As soon as I saw the video I had to do it too. It’s so difficult to get good footage while sailing, since you’re usually limited to the deck of the boat–but Chris’s perspective and the footage he captures is just incredible.

Extensive online research revealed that there is a whole hobby out there dedicated to “KAP” or “kite aerial photography”. My immediate question was: why doesn’t anyone talk about kite aerial video? Surely video is better than stills? Turns out that getting steady video is wicked hard!

Most people make their own rigs and build it piece by piece a bit at a time, playing with different kites, etc, until they feel competent enough in their gear to hang an expensive camera off of it. This is probably smart, but I was in the mood for immediate gratification, so I put intelligence aside to make room for recklessness and in an impulsive moment I ordered a kite and a picavet suspension rig from Brooks Leffler’s web site, brooxes.com.

Brooks is the man–he made it super easy to get started. He handled everything personally, and I had my gear in a day and a half. I highly recommend his excellent little company; he is a good guy with great products and great service, and he deserves our business.

Everyone suggests first practicing with just the kite, getting to know how it functions in different conditions, etc, but I was just too impatient for that sort of thing. So the day after my new toys arrived we went out to the grass next to the marina on a pretty windy day and just did it. Put it all together, started the kite flying, then hung my $400 video camera from the picavet suspension and just let out the entire 500ft of line. It was funny to watch my little video camera become a little speck way up there, hanging directly over the sailboats in the marina.

Here’s the basic setup: you launch the kite and let out a hundred feet of string, then you attach the picavet suspension rig to the string. The picavet is an elegant arrangement of lines that serve to keep the camera mounting bracket perfectly horizontal no matter what angle the kite is at. You mount your camera on the bracket at whatever angle you want it to be, and then it stays at that angle the whole time.

About the video camera: I love my sanyo xacti videocamera, because 1) it’s WATERPROOF and 2) no tapes–it holds over an hour of top quality footage on a little 8gb memory card. Plug it into the computer and download all the footage in a minute. We have used this trusty little camera to film underwater in the bay–just put it under the faucet afterwards to rinse it off the saltwater. If only sanyo would make an waterproof version of their HD videocamera!

That first trial run in the marina created very, very shaky footage. Check it out:

Pretty much unusable stuff. I get the feeling that this is pretty common with kite aerial video, which in hindsight explains why the online traffic is all about kite aerial photography. I think you need the wind to be extremely steady without any gusts to get decent footage. Conditions the day we first tried were less than ideal:

The most annoying aspect of the trial run was how long it took to wind up the line to bring the whole rig back in, so I built a new winder to which I could chuck our portable drill–this sped up the whole take-down process drastically.

Emboldened by our trial run, the next weekend we took it sailing. It was a bit more challenging to deal with the setup from the deck of a boat, but all in all totally doable. We sent it out when the wind was about 10-15 knots, I let out the kite and all 500ft of line, and then the wind picked up to 20 and then 25 and I thought the line was going to break and I was going to lose the whole thing, so I hooked up the drill and wound that sucker back in. The footage was super shaky again, which is a bummer but I guess to be expected in those conditions. Also, the angle of the camera (easily adjustable, from the ground!) wasn’t quite high enough, so the top of our mast is never quite in the shot. This is unfortunate, but no so bad for our first try. I’m very happy with all the gear and the setup–thanks to Brooks for a simple and excellent product. Now we just need to send it up in better conditions, and hopefully sometime soon we can get great aerial footage of Syzygy in action.

4 Responses to “Sailing + Kite + Video Camera”

  1. Ethan says:

    This is very cool guys! Hope you are all well. Hoping to get out there for a visit again soon!

  2. Gary says:

    Could you attach a wind vane to moderate the side-to-side motion??

  3. Edward says:

    It’s Chris Humann, not Zimmerman. That’s very cool that you guys went and built one. Good luck with your trip, I’ll follow on your blog.

  4. Tom says:


    I started playing with the KAV this last year too and finally got a rig stable enough to try flying while sailing this last weekend. The best shake reduction seems to be widening the FOV of the shot. In this case I’ve done that with a door spy hole stuck over a Kodak ZX1 on a pivacet rig.


    Not quite sure what the next step is. The Kite can be stabalised with imporved tails, but the boat is still going to be bouncing, accelerating and deccelerating on the waves.


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