There are times when you want to fly your drone overwater. Personally, I have got some amazing footage of dolphins and waves by flying over water and learning to fly overwater comfortably means that you will be able to get similar shots too. In this article, we are going to talk about all of the things that you need to do to fly safely with a drone overwater and all of the special considerations that you need to make. Even though the majority of the flight will be very similar to what you are used to when flying over land, flying overwater does require you to pay particular attention to certain aspects of your flight and hazards that don’t exist whilst flying over land.
Flying safely over water with your drone requires you to check the weather before heading out, disabling the vision positioning system which can get confused by reflective surfaces like water, using intelligent flight features like course lock and staying away from birds and other wildlife which inhabit the coastline. Make sure you return with plenty of battery and start with a smaller flight to build your confidence.
The last thing you want to do when you are flying overwater is to crash land into the water. Unlike land-based flights, you do not have the luxury of being able to descend anywhere during your flight. The first tip, or make sure that you don’t accidentally run out of battery – something that all of us have almost done at some point.
Fly out with the headwind
When you’re flying overwater, you need to make sure that your Outward Bound of the flight plan is against the headwind. I have seen multiple videos on YouTube whether pilot uses the tailwind to get further away from their takeoff spot only to struggle when turning around to fly back to the landing spot.
In many drone manufacturers flight controls you can see a real-time battery run down but this does not take into account the amount of wind that you need to overcome to return to the takeoff spot.
The simple rule of thumb is to fly against the wind on the way out and use a tailwind to return to home. This means that you will never be short of battery while you are on your return leg.
Check the weather
If you are planning to fly your drone over the coastline you should pay particular attention to the weather and how it will change throughout your flight.
There are many excellent sources of information for checking the weather and a simple Google of your flight location will pull up a 24-hour forecast that will be relatively accurate.
As well as the generic weather conditions you should check the nautical information too. This includes information like swell size and wave condition which will give you a further indication of how much wind to expect during your flight.
You should never fly in winds greater than two thirds of your maximum drone flight speed. If you want to know more about a safe wind speed for DJI drones check out my other article – click here for a complete rundown.
As drone flights get longer and longer (because the batteries improve) you will need to check for a window of about one hour for each battery. Because you are near the coast the weather conditions can change rapidly and wind gusts can quickly deplete your drones battery. Make sure you know how the weather is going to change throughout your entire time on location.
Disable vision position system
some drones, and all DJI drones, come equipped with a visual positioning system. This is a technology that maps the surface below the drone to help positioning it in 3D space. When flying overwater however the light reflecting off the surface of the water and interfering with the ripples and movement of the water can interfere with this technology. Because of this fact it is better to maintain a height of at least 2 m above water. If you have to fly below this height for a special shot we recommend that you turn off the visual positioning system.
Please be want their soon as you turn off your visual positioning system there is a chance that your drone may drift downwards throughout the flight. This means that if there are waves greater than 2 m your drone could be taken out easily by a wave.
Always keep your drone in line of sight and if in doubt increase your drone flight height above the waves by a couple of metres.
Use intelligent flight features like course lock
many drones come with awesome intelligent flight modes which can easily make your drone footage look awesome but also improve the safety of the flight. This also allows you to create professional footage and you should use them regularly depending on the type of shop that you want create stop
one of the most useful modes for flying overwater is a mode called course lock. This lets the user determine the flight path and locks the controls relative to your aircraft current path. This is an easy way to navigate the drone whilst also capturing some awesome footage and shots for example flying alongside moving objects or cross scenery.
Other modes that may be useful and available on your drone are tripod mode – which keeps the drone at a fixed height while moving through a scene as well as return to home. The return to home is like a failsafe which you can enact if you want the drone to return quickly and effectively back to the takeoff spot.
Make sure that your RTH point has been updated
A lot of drones come with GPS technology which records your location upon takeoff. Sometimes, this does not happen as automatically as it should. This could be because of low GPS signal or you have inadvertently updated the home point manually.
You can also choose to have the drone return to the controller location at the end of the flight.
Before continuing with your flight plan as soon as you have taken off you should doublecheck that the return to home has been updated to reflect the takeoff spot. Sometimes you receive an audible cue such as “the home point has been updated“, and other times you will need to check the map for a dropped pin.
This is one of those important things you can do as the return to home point is where the drone will return if it loses signal or if you push the return to home button in a panic. It’s also good to test this every so often even if you don’t need to use it so that you feel confident in your drone’s ability to return to home.
Some drones even contain an accurate landing system which takes photographs of the takeoff spot so that it can return appropriately and efficiently back to the same spot.
Start with a smaller flight
I think as drone flies we all get a little bit too excited with some of our flights. If you are flying over water for the first time you should consider scaling back your plan and building up confidence slowly.
You can do this by starting with a smaller flight which will enable you to build up confidence whilst also returning the drone to the takeoff spot with as much battery as possible.
It’s much easier and safer to slowly build up your skills rather than jump all in to the biggest flight you have ever done under some conditions that you are not familiar with. Remember that flying near water often involves flying near the coast. Conditions can change quickly if you are by the coast and building up your skills slowly will give you confidence in yourself and also the drone’s ability to handle high wind gusts and other unexpected issues.
Plan your route
If you are confident in your drone’s ability and your flying skills you should plan your route so that you make the most of your flight.
When I am flying overwater I often want to capture the magnificent cliffs or scenery along a coast line. This means that the first thing I want to do is head straight out over the water whilst keeping the camera pointed towards the coast. This gives you an awesome shot and reveals the location beautifully.
I also want to capture the coast line so I will bring the camera up to the horizon and slowly roll the drone to give a steady panoramic sweep of the full coastline.
Once the drone is closer to the coast I will then turn the camera down and see if I can capture any sea life in the water such as dolphins and also capture any rocky areas with waves crashing over them – that always looks really cool.
Typically from there I had eight over the coastline to see if I can track the edge of the coastline with the drone whilst panning the camera in certain directions to reveal the majestic rugged coastline.
These are the basics shots that I plan ahead of schedule and then if I have any extra battery remaining I will do a few shots closer to the takeoff spot so that I am sure that I have enough battery to return to home.
Have an emergency landing spot
Now this isn’t possible with every single flight overwater but potentially you will have an emergency landing spot planned out like an island or a rocky outcrop where your drone can land safely and, even those can be a bit of a pain to get it, you’ll still be able to retrieve it.
Sometimes, I like to do my first flight out over the water so that I have plenty of battery and then I plan a route along the coast, like I have discussed above. I plan a couple of emergency landing spots along the coast and, if possible, I look for other potential landing spots which I could get to relatively easily.
Just like on a plane, when they tell you to canter the number of seats between you and the emergency exit – research is showing this makes it much faster for people to get out in low visibility and emergency conditions – just having a mental map of a couple of places where you could land could be the thing that saves your drone from ending up in the water.
Stay away from birds
If you are flying near water there is the potential for a large number of birds to be present. Coastal birds can be particularly territorial and aggressive towards drones and therefore if you are near any nesting sites I would recommend landing immediately.
Birds have been known to swoop drones and the last thing you need is an accidental or deliberate collision with a drone which could hurt your drone as well as the wildlife in the area.
If you notice a lot of bird activity while you are flying land as soon as possible and move your takeoff spot to a different place. Better safe than sorry especially if it means being able to fly your drone on another day!
Return with plenty of battery
I like to take this bit of advice in the same way that I take scuba-diving advice. Return with plenty of air (battery) to spare.
Flying in windy conditions or overwater with gusts and other updraughts can deplete your battery quickly. Even if you think you are making good time and you’re using your battery efficiently you could very quickly end up with a depleted battery if the wind conditions change or if you experience any trouble throughout your flight.
I always try to return with at least 15 to 20% battery. Yes, this means that my flight is a bit shorter than I would like but overwater it’s always better to be safe than sorry…
Check local laws
It’s so very important that if you are to fly safely with your drone overwater that you check the local laws. In Australia, where I fly my drone, there are some marine parks which I am not allowed to send my drone over.
These marine parks are there to protect the wildlife and the ocean environment and it would be completely unreasonable for me to fly my drone over that area. You can check this for your local area using an app like open sky. Also, you should check with local conservation groups if you suspect that there is an endangered species in the area. They do not like drones interrupting mating habits or potential nesting sites. Some birds are very quickly put off and will not return to a nesting site if they have been disturbed by a drone – check the local regulations about that.
If you are travelling this tip becomes particularly important. Sometimes it is not as easy to fly your drone over certain areas because of access to the area or because of local regulations prohibiting some aspects of commercial drone flight or even hobbyists.
Always obey every single local law and regulation for a worry free and completely legal and safe flight.
Lastly, sometimes accidents happen and if you want peace of mind with your drone you should consider getting insurance that would allow you to fully replace the drone in the event that ends up in the water.
There are plenty of insurance companies which will happily sell you insurance but you should always check the fine print to make sure that it actually covers you for the sorts of flights that you are doing, commercial or hobby, and that it covers you for water damage and recovery.
Best drone for flying over water
I think that the best drone flying over the water at the moment is the DJI Mavic air 2.
If you don’t like the idea of a drone which is made in China check out my other article – the best drone not made in China – seven awesome options. Click here to be taken to the article which will include some drones that you probably have never heard of but are well worth thinking about.
I love my Mavic Air and was happy when DJI desided to upgrade the drone. It seems like they have done it in all of the right ways!. The Mavic Air 2 takes power and portability to the next level, offering advanced features in a compact package. It has a range of intelligent shooting functions and excellent image quality put aerial masterpieces within reach.
The camera includes:
- 1/2-inch CMOS sensor: it has smooth 4K/60fps video. The D-Cinelike flat color profile retains more information for post-processing. The HEVC (H.265) video codec records more image information, uses less storage, and preserves the dynamic range and detail of your footage, ensuring next-level content.
- 8K Hyperlapse: this will allow you to simply warp time and space for especially stunning footage.
this is an inexpensive and ultra portable drone that I think you’d be silly not to consider if you want to be a little more budget consious.
- Weight – 570 g
- Folded: 180×97×74 mm (Length×Width×Height)
- Unfolded: 183×253×77 mm (Length×Width×Height)
- 34 minutes max flight time
- Max wind-speed resistance – 8.5-10.5 m/s
- 8 GB internal storage
- Max speed – 19 m/s
This is a great little drone and it will satisfy most hobby photographers easily!
What to do if drone goes in water?
If your drone ends up in the water the first thing you should do is act fast to disconnect all of the power which includes removing the battery as quickly as possible. If you have landed in saltwater you should flush the drone with distilled water and you silica beats dry at the drone for at least five days. After this you should carefully turn on the power and cross your fingers for a full recovery.
You can also get a trusted repairer to assess the damage if it doesn’t work after the five days. Remember the electronics are very sensitive to any conductive materials on the electronic circuitry so be sure to remove all of the salt as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
There are all of the things that you need to pay particular attention to to fly safely with a drone overwater. Remember that there are many things that are similar to flying over the land but there are particular aspects of coastal flight such as wind gusts, quickly changing weather conditions, and animals which add an extra element of excitement to your flight.
Remember that you can always reschedule your flight if you are not comfortable at any moment. Flying completely within your zone of capability as well as flying to the conditions will be the thing that actually determines your drone’s ability to fly another day. Drones are getting more and more expensive and I would hate for you to have to replace your drone because of a silly little mistake.
Happy drone and stay safe!