Can you track a stolen drone? GET IT BACK QUICKLY

Drones are becoming popular consumer electronics. Like laptops and DSLR cameras, drones are easy to carry and transport to a range of different locations, making them perfect for opportunistic thieves to steal. Their high price point combined with the ease of snatching makes them a prime target. You may be wondering: can you track a stolen drone? Well, you may not like the answer.

It is not possible to track a stolen drone. The manufacturer is unlikely to have the capacity to track your drone. It is possible to sync the flight records with some manufacturer software systems, but they won’t share that information with anyone.

If someone stole my DJI Mavic Air, I would be very disappointed, and it would take me many weeks to replace this tool.

Even though you cannot track a stolen drone using DJI or another manufacturers systems, in this article, we will go through all of the things you can do to minimise the chances that your drone will get stolen and the exact steps to go through if your drone is stolen.

What do I do if my DJI drone is stolen?

Using your drone in public quite often attracts a lot of attention. Unfortunately, this attention can also include opportunistic thieves who want to grab and sell some high-end electronics. Drones are very hard to track once they have been stolen, making them perfect for selling once taken from the original owner.

Here are all of the steps that you can go through if you would DJI drone is stolen. You may not be able to get your drone back, but you may have the appropriate insurance for failsafes so that you can purchase a new drone, so you don’t miss out on your next drone flying adventure.

Review any cached information

If your drone has been stolen after landing away from the pilot (in this case, you), you should review any video footage cached on your smart device.

Suppose you have been recording video throughout your flight and taking photos. In that case, there is a small but real possibility that you will be able to identify any people in the area that may have taken your drone.

Even the smallest amount of information you can provide to a police officer will help their investigation. You may not be able to see the facial features of the people or person of interest, but you may be able to classify and understand exactly what they were wearing or doing in the area.

This information, combined with a thorough police check of the area, may yield some incriminating evidence along with the perpetrator.

If you want to know exactly how far a drone can see how much detail it provides at different distances, check out my other article – how far can a drone see? This article will provide you with all of the insider information and calculations I have performed to determine what a drone can see at different distances.

How far can drone cameras see?

Track the smart device

Many people use a smart device as an on-screen display to fly a drone and stream live video. If the smart device such as an iPad or an iPhone was stolen as part of the theft, you might track the smart device easier than the drone itself.

There are a variety of apps (both paid and free, which enable you to track a smart device. There is even a possibility to track the smart device without the thief even knowing that they are being hunted down.

Can you track a stolen drone? GET IT BACK QUICKLY

Record the last known GPS location

If you have just lost your drone, one of the best things you can do is drop a pin of the last known GPS location on a map such as Google maps for Apple maps.

This will help remove any uncertainty about exactly where you were and where your drone was as time goes on.

Also, if you need to share with the police or any other agency about the last location of your drone, you will have the exact location dropped via a GPS pin on a map.

Having the exact location of your last drone flight and its movements between that flight and the time it has been stolen will aid in any investigation. Cities are very heavily monitored, and providing a timeline and location to police will help them identify any people of interest.

Report it stolen

Reporting your drone stolen is very important. You may have to report your drone stolen if you want to claim insurance. Even if you do not want to claim any insurance, reporting your drone stolen is important for police officers to know what crimes are being committed.

Reporting a stolen drone is as easy as providing an online or in-person report to your local police station.

Some people have found that a simple police report can turn up their stolen property many months later when police raid homes and come across stolen items. Providing any identifying features of your drone and using a UV pen to mark it are some ways to provide identifying features that unequivocally show that it is your drone.

Check online forums and marketplaces

People who steal drones are looking for a quick turnaround for money. The Internet has provided us with a fantastic way to sell private goods quickly and affordably.

If you have lost your drone and suspected it had been stolen, check out online Facebook groups, listings, marketplaces, and everywhere you can think of for your local area.

Your drone has likely been placed on a marketplace for sale at a relatively low price. Sorting by price is the quickest way to identify people who want to sell their drones quickly.

Your homeowner policy may cover the loss

if you have homeowner’s insurance, you may be able to replace the stolen drone. Check your current insurance for the terms and conditions. Some insurance providers require that your car be locked and at home before covering a stolen item. Whilst others are much more liberal when covering stolen items.

As a general rule, renters or homeowners insurance covers theft of personal property from your car parked anywhere. You have to pay the deductible, which is often about $1000.

If your drone is the upper and of consumer drones, it will be well worth you reaching out to your insurance provider. However, if your drone is relatively inexpensive, the deductible is not worth paying, and you may find yourself shelling out for another drone.

Can DJI Track My Stolen or Lost Drone?

There is no way for DJI to track your drone even if you have the serial number. A range of data protection laws means that they cannot give out their location or information if the drone has been synchronised with their online systems.

Because of the number of DJI drones currently being used and flown, it is unfeasible for DJI to track any stolen or lost drones.

However, below we will talk about how you can minimise the potential that your drone will be stolen by taking simple but proactive measures to identify your drone and provide the police with extra information. Our tips also cover how to make your drone less attractive to potential thieves.

Can you track a stolen drone? GET IT BACK QUICKLY

How to stop your drone from being stolen

An opportunistic thief will likely steal your drone. This threat means that you should always take care of where your drone is stored and make sure that it is not easy to grab and run away with.

It is very unlikely that your drone will be targeted in an advanced planned attack. Keeping your wits about you and being aware of your surroundings will help minimise any potential threat to your drone.

Some countries are much less prone to snatch and run criminal activity. This information is important for you if you are travelling with your drone. You cannot rely on the same protective measures you use at home to keep your drone safe while travelling in a foreign country.

Tourists are easy prey, and criminals know that their travel insurance is likely to cover a loss.

Here are all of the steps you can take to ensure that your drone is less likely to be stolen and be recovered if it is stolen.

Keep track of the serial numbers

Keeping track of all of the important serial numbers and data on your drone means that if it has been stolen, it is much more likely to recover

The first thing you should do is collate all of the information you know about your drone and where it was last seen. Take particular note of these numbers.

  • Serial number – each drone comes with a serial number either on the arm or the body of the drone. Please note this as it is the unique identifier that will remove any ambiguity about whether or not this is your drone.
  • Make and model – the make a model of the drone is the next best identifier; most people do not know the types of models available, so you should only write down what is obvious to a non-technical minded person.
  • Any distinguishing features – if you have got custom decals or customised your drone in any way, this will also be useful for someone who comes across your drone to know that it is yours. If you can, take a photograph of your drone and keep it in the cloud.
  • Where it was last seen – highlighting where your drone was last seen, and its last known location will help people identify and connect the drone to you.

The more data you can give to law enforcement agencies, the more likely your drone will be recovered at a later date.

Let’s hope that you never have to use these numbers, and by using the tips below, you will be able to reduce the chances of your drone being stolen.

Keep it near you at all times

One of the most important aspects of dissuading any potential thief is to have your drone attached to you at all times. Whether or not it is in a bag, or you are flying it, and all of the accessories are on your person, making sure that it is hard to run away with the important drone components will minimise a snatch and run.

If you are in a particularly high crime rate country, you should also consider using a wrist strap to connect your remote control to your rest throughout the flight mission.

Having the remote control permanently attached to your body will mean that someone cannot snatch away the remote control and fly the drone to a new location where it could potentially be stolen away from you.

Make sure it is locked away

when your drone is not on you, you should make sure that it is locked away and out of the line of sight. This advice is important whether or not your drone is in a car or on your property.

Having a high-value item in the line of sight behind glass or a car is always a bad idea.

I recommend locking your drone in a cupboard or drawer while you are out of the house. Never leave your drone alone in your car, as this is a place that is very attractive for a break-in.

Use a GPS tracker

The simplest way to make sure that you don’t lose your drone is to purchase a simple and lightweight GPS tracker that can be found on amazon.com.

The only thing you have to worry about with a GPS tracker is that it will securely attach to your drone whilst also being lightweight enough that it does not severely impact your flight time by adding too much weight and using up extra energy.

Keep a photo of your number on the drone

One of the things I always photograph is my details on the drone SD card or internal memory. Many drones have internal memory, and this is where I recommend that you store your number. You could even use a hidden file to place your details.

I take a photograph with my phone of a piece of paper with my name and phone number on the front. I also include a little note saying that if the drone has been found, contact me at that number.

Depending on how expensive your drone is, you may consider adding a reward value to that note. That is optional and completely up to you. A reward will ensure that the person who finds it will be extra motivated to make sure it returns home safely.

Write in UV pen

Another thing that you can do is to use a white or black permanent marker to write some of your details underneath the drone’s battery. Simply putting your phone number underneath the battery pack means it will be protected if it comes into contact with rain but is obvious if someone finds your drone.

If you are not comfortable writing directly onto your drone, you can use a small sticker to attach your mobile number in the same spot. This sticker is particularly useful if you are thinking about selling your drone at a later stage.

You could also consider using a UV pen, which means you cannot see it until you pass UV light over the ink.

The final word

Tracking a stolen drone is potentially very difficult. Follow the advice in this article to make sure that your drone is less attractive to opportunistic thieves.

Being proactive about the safety of your drone is the best way to ensure that you don’t have to go through all of the hassle associated with finding and tracking down a stolen drone.

If you have been using a smart device, you may track the smart device and locate the drone. Any information you can provide to the police – whether it is video, photos, GPS locations, timings, or anything else will always assist the police in returning your property to you.

If you have homeowners or renters insurance, your drone will likely be covered by the insurance, and replacing the drone, whilst a pain, will not leave you out of pocket.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. His drone footage has been featured on TV and he has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drones. His favourite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!