It’s every drone owner’s worst nightmare! Your drone has fallen into a body of water and you worry that it may be completely unrepairable will or damaged to the point where it’s just cheaper to buy a new drone. This can be a tough pill to swallow because drones can cost many thousands of dollars! Even though there are some drones which are designed to be landed on the water, most drones come with no waterproofing as they are not typically used in wet conditions. In this article, we are going to go over all of the things about how to fix a drone that fell in water and we will also be answering common waterproofing questions about drones.
If your drone lands in water the first thing you need to do is act fast to disconnect all of the power. If you have landed in saltwater you should flush the drone with distilled water and use silica beads to dry out the drone for at least five days. After this, carefully turn on the power and cross your fingers for a full recovery.
Not all water incidents with drones are created equally. The type of water that the drone lands in is very important in deciding how successful a drying out process will work. In the next section we are going to go over all of the important steps that you need to go through as well as some of the things that you should avoid while attempting to bring your drone back to life after coming into contact with water.
What happens if a drone lands in water?
There are many reasons why you all drone made land in water. You may be incredibly unlucky and just have a comedy of errors which contributed to a water landing. For example, you may not have charge your batteries properly, you may have a flyaway incident, or you could just have had a midair collision which causes your drone to fall into the water. Whatever the incident, doing your best to limit the amount of damage that is done as quickly as possible will be the best thing that you can do to stop your drone being for ever damaged.
Not all water is created equally and so your approach will need to be varied based on the saltwater that it lands in.
Salt water or fresh water?
Saltwater is a very different beast to freshwater. Saltwater (or seawater) is an incredibly corrosive medium. Saltwater and metal simply do not mix as it causes metals to corrode quickly.
Saltwater is particularly damaging because it is a perfect combination of water, oxygen and salt which damages metal faster and in a harsher way than rust does. Saltwater has been known to corrode metal five times faster than freshwater and even the salty, humid ocean air can cause metal to corrode 10 times faster than air not near an ocean. Besides all of that there is also bacteria which exist in the seawater which consume iron which will compound the effect the seawater has on your drone.
There are many articles from scientists that discuss the enormous corrosive property of seawater. There are a lot of scientific articles that have looked at a way to engineer metals to make them more corrosion resistant and have looked at replacing some components of electronics with things like titanium that do not corrode as quickly. The issue is that these noncorrosive metals tend to be much more expensive than the metals that we used to make electronic components at the moment.
If your drone has dropped into seawater the first thing you should do is turn off the power and rinse the drones electronics with distilled water that you purchase from a shop. Distilled water has had all of the electronic conducting minerals that have been dissolved in the water removed. This is your only way to ensure that you don’t further damage the drone with more water damage or risk putting another conducting impurity on top of the electronic components shorting them out.
Act fast – Disconnect all power
If your drone happens to land in water acting fast will be your primarily weapon to save it from being damaged beyond all repair.
The first thing that you need to do is completely remove all of the power to the electronic components as quickly as possible. Quickly disconnect the power (whether it is a battery or otherwise) and allows the drone to naturally dissipate its charge.
If the drone has been sitting in water. In time it’s probably safe to assume that the electronics have been exposed to water for a significant period of time. Some drones are able to detect a short-circuit and switch themselves off the for any substantial or significant damage is caused to the electronic components.
Flush with distilled water
Flushing the drones electronic components with distilled water is a fundamental part of removing the salt which remains after the water has evaporated. This salt (which is mainly sodium chloride) conduct electricity because it has free electrons in the crystal structure created by the ionic (positive and negative) parts of the atoms.
If there is the smallest amount of salt presence when you turn the power back on this will easily conduct the electricity to different parts of the drone circuitry and can cause a short-circuit as if the components were connected with wire.
Take your time with this flushing. You can also use about 5% contact cleaner into your water which can help you clean certain aspects of the board.
To finish off the drying process you can also decide to use 90% plus isopropyl alcohol on a toothbrush to remove water from the components of your drone.
Dry the drone – Leave for 5 days
After you have completely removed all of the salt with distilled water it is time to dry the drone as much as possible.
The first thing that you need to do is to rotate the drone in as many ways as possible to quickly remove all of the residual water that you may have in the drone. Gently shake the drone while it is being turned into different positions to dislodge any smaller droplets. If possible completely disassemble the drone to allow any remaining liquid to drain away and to begin clean the internal components.
Now here’s the biggest thing: do not put your drone in rice or silica!
Any residual water can be removed without having to put the drone in rice. There is a myth going around that rice will absorb all of the water. That is just simply not true. If you want to be sure to blow out all of the water before leaving it to dry you can use a hairdryer on the lowest heat setting to remove some of the moisture.
The best thing you can do is leave the drone in a dry location for as long as possible but no less than five days.
Carefully turn on power
This is the bit that everyone is scared of the most. If you have flushed the electronic board with distilled water and used isopropyl alcohol to displace that water and allowed it to dry out as much as possible… This is where you really get to see how damaged your drone is.
Drone damage also may not be apparent right away. Even though you have done all the right things you may have just got lucky temporarily – if it turns on at all. Turn the power back on by reconnecting the battery and starting up your drone as usual. This is where you should pay particular attention to all of the noises sounds and smells that your drone is making.
If everything goes to plan and nothing weird happens you can fly your drone and hopefully nothing else will go wrong with it. However, if there is a little bit of residue left from the water this can cause corrosion over time and you may experience a drone that lasts not as long because of it.
If you find that your drone does not turn on you can either open up the drone and start getting to grips with what has actually be damaged this will involve you buying a microscope and getting to grips with the latest electronic circuit board fixing techniques.
If it doesn’t work and you’re not willing or able to conduct the post-mortem yourself you can send your drone to a trusted repairer to assess the damage and to tell you if your drone is permanently dead.
Get a trusted repairer to assess the damage
Portable electronic makers have introduced liquid damage indicators into their products to detect warranty abuse caused by water damage. So sometimes it’s not as easy as saying that another thing caused the malfunction and getting it repaired under warranty.
However, there are some issues with these liquid damage indicators as high humidity conditions can also cause them to indicate that the drones come into contact with liquid – which is not the case.
Being honest with your repairer and telling them exactly what has happened will be the best option for you as they will then have all the information they need to fix your drone properly!
There are the steps that you need to take if your drone lands in water. There are a few things that you can do beforehand to make sure that your drone is as waterproof as possible. And this is particularly important if you are flying in a humid environment or if you regularly fly close to the ocean where there is a lot of sea humidity which is very corrosive.
How can I waterproof my drone?
Waterproofing your drone comes down to physically coating the electronics in a water repelling (hydrophobic) coating. There are a couple of options for coating your electronics so that you can protect your drone from things like humidity, snow, or electrical shorts from exposed solder joints.
Coat electronics in silicone or acrylic
there are two methods for waterproofing drone electronics. That is using silicone and acrylic coatings. In general silicone is a better choice as it can withstand higher temperatures but acrylic is easier to remove as you can use your soldering iron to remove the coating.
No matter what you are using to coat your electronics you have to ensure that there is a thin even coverage across the entire surface for it to be properly protected.
If you’re building your own drone it is very easy to get access to all of the electronic components rose if you have a commercial drone you will have to do try to remove the outer covering without snapping any of the plastic tabs holding it in place.
The first step is to clean any circuit boards using an old toothbrush and isopropyl alcohol.
After the isopropyl alcohol has dried you should brush on the coating using the brush that comes supplied with the product. It should only take about an hour to dry but leave it for as long as possible to ensure that it is not wet at all before reassembling or turning on your drone.
Make sure that you don’t put the coating on anything that needs an electronic connection such as USB inputs. If you accidentally cover an area that requires a metallic connection you can remove the coating with a small amount of isopropyl alcohol on a cotton bud.
Frequently asked questions
Here are some frequently asked questions to do with drones and water.
Do drones float?
A lot of commercial drones do not float if they land on water. This is because they have a relatively small surface area and do not displace much water. You can buy flotation devices for different commercial drones such as those from the manufacturer DJI but they do not natively float on their own.
Some drones have been specifically manufactured so that they can be landed on the water. This is the case for drones that are used for fishing and other underwater or overwater surveillance activities.
If you want to find out more about the best drones for fishing check out my other article – the best drone for fishing
Does DJI make it waterproof drone?
DJI does not make a waterproof drone in the consumer range of drones such as in the Mavic series all the phantom series. The only DJI drones that are waterproof are the agricultural and professional camera drones such as the Matrice 200.
There are ways to waterproof the drone as discussed above but it is not advisable to start taking apart your drone as it is severely impact warranty and you could cause more damage than water could to your drone.
Is it safe to fly a drone over water?
It is generally quite safe to fly a drone overwater. Just like flying over land you have to take the same proportions and you have to make sure that the flight area is generally free of obstructions so that you can fly freely and clearly.
I have flown extensively around the ocean and over water to capture images of dolphins and cliff faces. It is generally very safe as long as you take the same approach to your flights each time that you set off. When I flying near the ocean and over water quite often the weather conditions are very different to that experience when I am in land. I always assess the weather conditions before deciding whether or not is suitable for me to fly my drone over any body of water. If there is a lot of bird activity in the area I will also not fly the drone as the drone can easily become attacked by birds but also can have a midair collision which will send the drone tumbling into the water.
For an added security if your drone has a return to home feature and return to its home base on low battery or when it loses contact with the controller you will be assured of a safe return.
Can drones get wet?
You should not get your drone wet under any circumstances unless the drone that you have purchased has been certified as waterproof and corrosion resistant.
Getting the drone wet can severely impact the small electronic components and will quickly render the drone unusable and completely dead.
Can drones fly in the rain?
It is not advisable to fly your drone in the rain as any small amount of moisture becoming trapped in the drone can cause significant issues and electronic shorts. As the propellers are spinning on the drone is quite common for the water droplets to be further error sold and become smaller and therefore make their way into the small grills or ventilation ports on your drone.
Can drones fly in the snow?
It is generally not advisable to fly your drone in the snow because the snow can settle on the hot electronics of the drone or on the warm body of the drone and melt making its way into the electronic components.
If you want to fly in the snow I recommend flying in short bursts and returning within 10 minutes so that the drone motors and electronics do not heat up enough to cause a significant amount of melting from the heat generated.
You should also wipe off any snow or moisture that has accumulated on the drone throughout the flight.
We have been through everything you need to know about how to fix a drone that fell in water. Acting quickly is your main way of making sure that the water damage is limited to as few a components as possible and there are a few tricks with isopropyl and your hairdryer which can eliminate all of water from your drone.
Good luck fixing your drone and I hope that it comes to life with a satisfying flash of light and a happy audible beep.