Having flown several different drones in many dangerous areas over several months, I have 10 very important safety guidelines to share with fellow pilots.
Here are the top 10 safety guidelines you should exercise when “droning”:
1) Get a decent quality, beginner friendly drone.
Honestly, the better quality it is, the less headaches and potential accidents you will have, especially if you aren’t a good pilot to begin with. The truth is that many models these days have very good safety mechanisms in place to help prevent hazardous scenarios, but the higher quality ones tend to make it quite unlikely that an accident will happen.
For example: I went hiking with a friend of mine a few months back. I took the Mavic Pro with me which is a crazy good model, he took a very cheap, small one that cost him about $7.
That $7 one had no sensors, no camera, no GPS and no mechanisms and it could easily have been lost, have fallen on someone (though it’s not heavy so it wouldn’t hurt anyone). In fact, it was a bit difficult to pilot that it did hit the ground a few times. Unless you were an experienced pilot, you’d have a lot of trouble piloting this thing…
Now the Mavic on the other hand was a completely different story. It had all the sensors and safety mechanisms on it to land safely if need be, to avoid people and obstacles and other potential problems to keep the flight safe and fun.
I really tell people that if they can afford a Mavic or Spark (the Spark is a bit cheaper), to get it. It’ll save you a bunch of headaches and give you an excellent flight experience.
In addition both of those options have a setting known as “beginner mode” you can activate to make the flight super smooth, slow and easy to learn from. If you have intentions to film your adventures, get a higher quality drone, if not and you just want a toy, then of course get the super cheap ones.
2) Get one with sensors.
Sensors are a perk of higher quality drones. The ones I recommended in tip 1 (Mavic Pro & Spark) both have sensors to protect it from hitting obstacles and people. If you’re not a good pilot or are a beginner, having a UAV with sensors will really insure that your flight remain as safe as possible.
The ones I’ve used have prevented me from hitting trees and birds (not people because I never fly close to them!). Now you can turn off the sensors and that’s actually another tip I’ll get to later because there are situations in which they may not serve you well.
3) Fly in open areas if you’re a beginner.
Open areas can be fields (don’t go over private property unless you get permission), beaches (with no people preferably), and any area where you can easily spot the drone and bring it back without having to go through any obstacles such as trees, hills, mountains, ect…
The more open the flight area, the safer and easier it is to actually pilot the drone, especially if you’re a beginner.
4) Ensure you understand the flight surroundings well.
- Is there private property in the area you’re planning to take off in?
- Are there people or wildlife there?
- Are you going over water?
You need to understand that where you fly plays a crucial role in how safe the flight will be, which is why I recommended an open field for starters. If you’re over water, make absolutely sure you understand how far your drone can go before you have to return it back, otherwise, it’ll land in the water and you’ll lose it.
This is something you’ll better understand as you become an experience pilot, but stick to the 3rd guideline if you’re starting and slowly start to experiment with other surroundings as you gain that experience.
5) Do not fly over the following areas:
Airports (5 miles at least), but you can request permission, no flying over people, ski areas and national parks and over open water when there’s not enough battery power to come back and/or the wind is too strong for the drone to handle (I’ll go over weather conditions in a bit).
6) Know the basic rules of “no fly” zones.
One of the great things about higher quality drones like the Phantom, Mavic and Spark as well as basically any DJI products have is that they come with GPS maps and those maps will tell you if you’re in a danger zone (red) or a caution zone (yellow).
Zones where you can’t go at all are generally red (you’ll get those if you’re near or in an airport, national parks and/or important landmarks like the White House).
Another cool thing about the high quality models is that if you’re in a red zone or approaching one, the drone will literally stop and/or NOT take off to make sure you don’t break the rules. This is a great mechanism to keep you out of trouble if you’re unaware of your area and aren’t sure if it’s safe to take off/go into.
Now if you don’t own a model that will tell you this stuff, the other option is to use a drone app. In any case, know the basic rules of flights and where they are generally not allowed (See the FAA site for details).
7) Know when to use sensors and when not to.
Ok so I did recommend you get a model with sensors but I did also mention there’s scenarios in which they may not serve you well and those are the riskier flights. Let me explain:
Whenever I fly in forests (legally) or in places where there’s a lot of trees, you can bet there’s a lot of obstacles all around and while the sensors may pick up certain obstacles, say in the front, they may not be able to pick them up on the side or on top/bottom of them.
Furthermore, if for example, you’re flying your drone and there’s a branch in front of you and the drone stops or brakes and pushes back and there’s branches behind it, you may end up crashing into the branches behind you.
So if you’re an experienced pilot and are planning on going into a risky area, know which sensors to turn off and when.
8) Make sure if you lose connection, that the drone will be able to come back to you.
Losing connection with your UAV can be scary, but luckily, the higher end models come with a return to home feature which will get them back to you. However, one issue to keep in mind is that you should:
A) Get a model which actually has this option available.
B) Understand the surroundings so you can set it to go OVER any obstacle if it loses connection. For example, if I fly my Mavic in an area where there’s a lot of trees and hills and they are generally 100 feet in height, I will set the return to home to about 150 feet, so if loses connection, it’ll go up to 150 feet first before coming back to me, but at the same time will avoid hitting any obstacle in it’s way.
9) Understand weather conditions before you fly your drone…
Obviously, never fly in the rain. Mist is a grey area though, however my opinion is that you should NOT go into the mist over fears of water drops getting into the propellers.
The next biggest issue is the wind. Many higher end models are geared to withstand wind that is up to 30 MPH and honestly, it’s yet another reason to get the higher quality ones. But generally, if I see that the wind is over 20 MPH, I will not take off just to be safe but if I have to do it, I’ll take off but keep it very close to me and at a lower altitude (the higher up it is, the more wind it’ll have to deal with).
Now adding to the wind scenario, understand that if you’re going against the wind, that it’s best to not go too far away, especially if you’re over water because the battery will drain faster and the model will fly slower overall, vs flying WITH the wind in which case it’ll move faster.
These have been my experiences with common weather scenarios. Certain drone models come with “sport” modes in which case they will go a lot faster and drain more battery. It’s better to use that mode IF you’re in an open area, and the model is too far away from you, going against the wind while trying to come back to you and you need to get it back to you faster.
With sports mode, it’ll be able to handle the wind better and have a better chance of returning safely, although keep in mind that in sports mode, all sensor functions are turned off, so keep it an altitude where you are not going to fly into anything or anyone.
10) Calibrate “everything” before lifting off.
Every drone has calibration options. These options allow the model to understand where the directions are and will help the GPS and compass be more precise. It’ll also help the controls function better.
Before every flight, check to make sure every necessary calibration (IMU, gimbal, sensors) are functioning well enough to fly. If they are, you will have a much smoother flight.
Contrary to the paranoia effect you may get from this article, flying these things is quite safe.
I like to use my UAVs very responsibly and by following these types of guidelines, I have managed to have safe flights and avoid trouble. Like I said before, it is better to have a higher quality model because they have a lot of safety built into it that will really help automate a lot of the guidelines I talked about, be it anything from the sensors to being able to tell you whether or not the area where you’re flying in is allowed or not.
There are 2 sides to making this hobby a safe one: The pilot has to be responsible and the drone they use should ideally be of high enough quality to supplement the safety and responsibility. If you are also a pilot, and you have your own safety guidelines for this topic that you’d like to share, feel free!