Power Kites for Ships

Container ship being towed by a massive power kite

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You may have watched the power of a power kite lifting a kite surfer high above the waves. Larger power kites are so powerful that they are used for towing cargo ships.

Flying power kites is a fantastic pastime, and has literally taken off over the last few years. In the competition to reduce costs and fuel bills, ship owners are now using massive power kites to pull their ships across the sea. SkySails provides these high-tech power kites to enable ships to reduce their fuel costs by up to 35 per cent. The amount of pull generated by the power kite depends upon the direction of the prevailing wind. The best situation is when the wind is blowing in the same direction that the ship wants to go.

Power Kite for Ships

This concept has been around for decades. Although sailing ships have been around for centuries, the modern cargo ships solely rely on oil to power the engines. In 1985 the German container ship Bold Eagle attached sails to the cranes on their decks to take advantage of strong tailwinds (article on container ship cranes). It has been claimed that with a good tailwind, a ship can turn off its engines and sail at a steady five knots, which saves about 2,000 litres of oil per day. With the increasing price of fuel, this could be the future for international shipping.

As with any power kite, to make the most of their power you need to be where the prevailing wind is favourable. Some of the windiest parts of the ocean are in the stretches of sea that surround the Antarctic. You can use a power kite to sail upwind. The power kites provided by SkySails can provide pull even when sailing as close as seventy degrees to the direction the wind is coming from.

The ship power kite is attached to the front of the ship and linked to a winch. The power kite is launched by raising a tall crane with the kite suspended from it. Once the wind has caught the canopy, the kite is then winched up into the sky on a single line. The kite is controlled by a clever box that links between the kite end of this single cable and the bridles of the power kite. The control box is managed from the bridge of the ship.

It is still not known what the limiting factor of size is for these ship pulling power kites. At some point, the weight and size of the kite will be too unwieldy to control effectively. Still, it is a fantastic new approach to kite surfing!

For more information on using power kites for pulling ships, visit the SkySails website.

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