Updated on July 18th, 2023
The idea of using kites for supplemental or even primary propulsion on recreational and commercial boats is not new and has been around since before kites were used as sporting equipment. Various modifications of parachutes and flying sails have attacked the minds of marine engineers and simply restless adventurers for centuries. The modern sport kite proved to be the most efficient. But will it be widely used on yachts?
Manufacturers seeking to tap into the green yacht market periodically reinvent flying sails and try to adapt them to their boats. Silent Yachts now even has a production kiteboat model that will be on display at Cannes this year. There is no doubt that there will be interested buyers for these boats. After all, a kite is just an addition (albeit a rather fun and even effective one) to a regular solar catamaran, so no major changes to the design of the boat had to be made.
However, the prospect of mass distribution of such alternative traction on private yachts is highly doubtful. Even though the kite has many advantages over conventional sails, from the absence of roll forces and the addition of lift to the ability to catch more stable laminar wind currents, there are too many nuances that are why kiteboats are still viewed by sailors as a cool toy rather than a viable option.
The fact is that the kite works well only on full courses, with a fair wind. And despite its seeming simplicity, a flying sail requires rather sophisticated electronically controlled equipment. This equipment, of course, also needs maintenance. And when yacht owners hear the word “maintenance”, they instantly have a desire to get drunk. It seems to have got rid of one problem with traditional sails, but added another, with a kite.
But, oddly enough, none of this is really a good reason for potential buyers to turn their backs on kiteboats. The biggest hurdle for them is that the kite just doesn’t look organic with the boat. Indeed, it is very cool to play with, but many sailors have said that the kite would quickly become annoying if it was circling over their head for a long time.
Moreover, those who really want to enjoy the wind and the romance of adventure buy a sailing yacht. In contrast, motor yachts are bought by sea lovers who do not want any fuss with ropes and other sailing paraphernalia. And fiddling with the kite seems to be one of those too.
Kiteboats will probably continue to be produced, especially on the basis of electric catamarans, as Silent Yachts is doing, but keep in mind that progress in the field of battery technology does not stand still, and the efficiency of solar panels is also improving every year. Now hydrogen has joined in as a likely source of inexhaustible clean energy. If even today it is possible to sail almost non-stop on electric yachts, especially in sunny regions, then few people in the near future may have the idea to launch a kite into the sky, except for fun.
However, there is a very important role a kite can play: as a back-up equipment for a yacht. At sea, there is no such thing as excessive reliability. Any power plant, drive, or propellers themselves can fail. With a kite, you have every chance to get to the shore, even if it is hundreds of nautical miles away. From this point of view, it would be useful to equip all vessels crossing the ocean with such systems.