History and Plan

Years ago I returned from another island to Anguilla on a small catamaran with a rudder and a single string kite. The kite was small, maybe 3 by 3 feet. I went about 4 MPH downwind but could control the direction I went well enough to get into the harbor I wanted from 7 miles out. Going with the wind and waves is a very pleasant way to be on the ocean. The problem is getting the vessel upwind to do this again.

I am now thinking about using an inflatable raft so it would be easy to get stuff upwind for a trip. Instead of steering with a keel and rudder, I am thinking of using a two-string kite. With this I would just keep the kite in the general direction I wanted to go. With a two-string kite you can control where in the sky it is, and how strongly it is pulling you. With a raft and a two string kite you can go downwind, or like 45 degrees to the left or right of downwind. Both the raft and the kite are easy to carry to some upwind location (by backpack, car, boat or plane) and deploy. Then when you get to the downwind location you can pack them up and go home easy enough.


In commemoration of the brave Cuban people who have used some clever rafts to cross open ocean, I like the name balseros (also here, here, and here) for this new extreme sport of crossing open water on rafts that can fit in your luggage.


I want a raft that folds down small enough I could bring it as baggage on an airplane but strong and stable enough to be safe on the ocean. The raft should have enough chambers that if one pops I can keep going. There is a wide range of inflatable rafts for sale. Some rafts are "water toys" and I would not want to trust my life to them in the open ocean. Others are strong and safe enough for river rapids or playing in the surf. If it says "rated for class 3 rapids" or better, then it is probably strong.

Below I am starting a list of rafts that pack down for easy transport and yet have multiple flotation chambers and seem strong enough. I have not seen or tested any of these yet.

  1. Intex Seahawk 4 4 person raft $70 - front set of oar-locks could be good for attaching kite
  2. Intex Seahawk II 3 person raft - $133
  3. Sevylor Inflatable Ocean Kayak 16.5 feet long 3'2" wide - 3 people and 800 lbs - $800
  4. Innova Vagabond Inflatable Whitewater Canoe $1249 same company as K2 and Orinoco.
  5. amazon.com inflatable canoe
  6. amazon.com inflatable kayak
  7. amazon.com inflatable raft


Kites can give raft plenty of speed and not run out of power for days. You don't have to pay for fuel, and they are quiet. Also, it is easy to pack them up and take them where you want to go. I want to use a two-string kite so I can control which direction it is pulling me, at least to some extent.
  1. Slingshot B2/B3 2 meter or 3 meter kites for $119 or $215
  2. Airbrush trainer kite might water launch and $159
  3. Waroo Kite 7 meters for $480
  4. Yarga Kite 7 meters for $700
  5. Peter Lynn Kites - range of different kites that can water-launch
  6. kiteboard.com sells kites that water-launch


A raft and a small kite should be able to do 5 to 10 MPH. But if you want to use a big kite and go really fast, then a towable might be better than a raft. These are designed to have a big force pulling them over the water, so should do well with a big kite pulling hard.
  1. Chariot Warbird 3 Action Towable $305
  2. Great Big Mable $280
  3. Kwik Tek Jumbo Dog $204
  4. Ravenger 3-Person Cockpit-Style Towable
  5. Molecule 3 balls for good stability
  6. Manta Ray flying towable - winds are faster up where kite is so there is a chance this could fly
  7. Island Hopper 6 person whale ride
  8. Large Banana Boat but trouble getting on in waves
  9. sportsensation.com has a bunch of larger towables
  10. Island Hopper Commercial 12-passenger Banana Taxi 1920 lbs total - attachments are under and back a bit - worry about ropes rubbing

Many towables are designed for 2 or 3 kids so they might not be big enough for a group of adults. Many are designed for an exciting ride not stability. Also, when someone falls off a towable the tow boat can just stop or go back and get them. With a kite falling off is a lot more trouble. And towables are usually used on lakes not the open ocean. Also, a kite also pulls up, not just forward, so these towables might not stay level. The towables assume that the rider is holding on tight even though on a relatively calm lake. Holding on tight for hours on an ocean with waves seems like it could be a problem. Also, I don't think towables are designed to keep working even if one chamber pops. So I don't think they have the safety that a good raft has. So I am not too optimistic about big kites and towables really being reasonable, but these brightly colored pictures look good on this web page.

Sea Anchors

A sea anchor of 30 to 45 inches will let you stop the boat. This is good if someone falls over or the kite goes in the water. There are multi-string kites that can relaunch from water, but they seem to cost much more and not come so small. I don't really expect to crash the kite in the water, but if I do I want to be able to have the boat stop and stay oriented so it rides the waves well while both people work on fixing the problem. I think with one person on each string we can probably launch the kite from the boat by hand. Another idea is that one person could go into the water and hold the kite for a relaunch.
  1. ebay.com

Balseros Contest

I think it would be fun to have a contest. The rules so far are:
  1. "Vessel equipment" (not counting cooler, drinks, food, electronics) must fit into 2 bags with each bag less than 40 lbs and length+width+height no more than 45 inches (so they could qualify as "carry-on" for 2 people).
  2. "Vessel equipment" must be commercial stuff available online (probably raft and kite).
  3. Total equipment cost must be less than $2000 US (not counting electronics like phones, radio, gps).
  4. There must be two adults on-board.
  5. No engines or fuels can be used to power the vessel.
  6. One person must be able to control the raft while the other rests.
  7. Total weight of people and cargo at the start and end of the trip must be over 500 lbs.
  8. Qualifying part of trip is 10 contiguous hours or less.
  9. Route must be mostly over open ocean, with less than 20% in protected water like a bay or harbor.
  10. Route must be more downwind than across.
  11. You can get out of the water and drive back upwind but that counts as part of the 10 hours but not boating distance.
  12. Contestants must make pictures, video, and GPS tracks of their trip and turn these in as part of their entry. I will also get the right to publish these.
  13. Must have some safety equipment (life jackets, cell phones, sea anchor)
  14. Like to see backup plan, like land near enough to swim to or safety boat following.
  15. If any contestant makes 90 miles in under 10 hours, the official time limit will become the time it took them to do 90 miles.
  16. The one who does the most boating miles "as the crow flies" in the time limit wins.
I will post the entries here. I will post my entry and then 1 year after the second entry is posted I will award $xxx to the winning entry. Anyone can enter as many times as they want. If you are interested contact me.

If there is enough interest, I might make this a yearly contest.

My planned route

This is the route I am planning on doing. I will get in on the upwind side of this beach and get out on cove bay beach. I am basically upwind of land the whole time, so it would be easy to get back to land even if there was a problem. Also in cell phone range the whole time. Will have a backup kite. Clearly life jackets. Probably also bring fins, with these a couple miles swim downwind is no trouble for me. I will have GPS to measure speed and record the track. I will check a weather buoy upwind of me, all ship reports within 250 miles, and satellite IR image before going to the beach. I think my trip should be less than 2 hours, so if everwhere around for 250 miles around has 20 MPH winds from the East, I should be ok for the trip.

First I will try a test trip in across Rendezvous Bay. This is the big beach right before the destination in the picture at right. From the upwind side to the downwind side of this beach is more than 1 mile. From this test I will know how fast I can really go this way and so about how long the longer trip would take.

Equipment plan

I ordered the Intex Seahawk 4-person raft and the Slingshot B2 kite. The stuff got here mid September but there have been tropical storms nearby so I have not had a chance to try it out yet. I have had a couple other two-string kites, so I know how to fly them. My idea is to have a pulley tied to each of the two front oarlocks. Then a 1/2 inch rope will go through these two pulleys and tie to the two kite lines. So to steer I will just move the rope left and right, putting the kite in the direction I want to go. Should be easy enough to change drivers. Depending on how stiff the raft is I might put a PVC pipe between the two oarlocks to keep the rope between them from pulling them together.

It will be interesting to see how easy this is, how fast it goes, and how safe it feels. Going down wind and with the waves is the easiest way to travel over the ocean. Rafts like this are very stable, so I think it will be alright. I am going to guess that with this 2 meter kite and 2 people onboard we can do between 3 and 5 MPH. We might try a bigger kite too.

Safety Ideas

Some of the safety things I want to think about:
  1. Life jackets
  2. Swimming fins
  3. Sun screen
  4. Water
  5. Two people on board
  6. Sea Anchor - so can stop and stay pointed with long end of raft toward the waves
  7. If I tie a rope from me to one of the kite lines, say 10 feet up, then if I fall out of the raft the kite should stop.
  8. Cell phone
  9. GPS

Relation to Seasteading

I have been toying around with some seasteading issues. In particular scale models to test out things like a Tension Circle House. Part of this concept is using a kite and a sea anchor to migrate around the Atlantic, staying away from bad weather.

The idea here is that when in a harbor you could use an engine to move around (maybe electric, or running on compressed air, or diesel) but when out on the ocean a kite could pull you. The seastead designs don't have keels and rudders, so the kite would have to pull in the direction we wanted to go. So it is a two-string kite. I will probably make a scale model big enough for two people and try trip along Anguilla some day. So this raft and kite is sort of working toward the seastead model and full scale seasteads.

Kite Videos

  1. Strong winds and large umbrella and kayak going over 9 MPH
  2. Kite has the power to plane 2 person kayak but attached to person and lines too short
  3. Small sail on 17 foot inflatable kayak not planing but moving well. A type of boat I like
  4. Two person kayak with good sized kite trying to go across the wind - not planing

Other stuff

A nice single string kite reel.