Taking beach photos with your drone will capture amazing imagery mainly because of the stunning contrast between the land and the sea.
But beaches aren’t an easy environment to operate a drone because of people, obstacles and potential hazards.
Safety should be the number one priority when flying a drone.
Although most people don’t spend time thinking about mistakes, I had a beginner drone pilot ask me, “What could possible go wrong when flying my drone at the beach?”
I thought that was a great question so I did a little bit of research and summarized my answer below.
The most common mistakes when flying your drone at the beach include, launching your drone without knowing the rules and regulations in your area, flying in controlled air space, taking off in bad weather and annoying other beachgoers.
Keep reading to take a deeper dive into the 10 Drone Mistakes To Avoid When Taking Beach Photos.
1. Not Knowing Rules & Regulations
As a drone pilot, you are expected to know the rules and regulations in your area. Flying a drone without knowing the rules and regulations isn’t an excuse if you get caught or cause an accident.
Drone regulations were created to help keep the aviation industry safe and there can be some stiff penalties if you break the law, including large fines and jail time.
It is important to point out that different countries have different laws so make sure you have done your research.
General Rules for Recreational Flyers
The following general rules are similar in the United States and Canada.
- Keep your drone where you can see it, which is called visual line of site
- Fly below 400 feet (122 metres) in uncontrolled airspace
- Do not fly over people
- Keep away from emergency operations (ex. accident response, First Responders, Forest Fires)
- Do not operate your drone in a reckless manner
As well, you are required to register your drone with the authorities in North America if it weighs between 250 grams and 55 pounds (25kg kilograms).
In the United States, you are required to register your drone with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and more information can be found by clicking here. In Canada, you are required to register your drone with Transport Canada, more information can be found by clicking here.
As well, you may be required by law to obtain a drone pilot license or certificate to prove you have met the minimum standard to safely operate a drone.
Some drones, like the Mavic Mini and Mavic Mini 2, weigh less than 250 grams and you are not required to register them in the United States or Canada. Although you should still follow the general rules for recreational flyers, you don’t need a pilot’s license to operate them.
2. Flying in Controlled Airspace
Flying your drone in controlled or restricted airspace, like the areas around airports and military bases is a no fly zone for drones unless you have received special permission.
If you are a beginner recreational pilot, I recommend flying in uncontrolled airspace and avoid any restricted areas or areas that require authorization.
The easiest way to determine whether you are going to launch in an area with uncontrolled vs. controlled airspace is to check an App like B4UFLY. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) helped create the B4UFLY App as a convenient reference for Recreational Flyers.
Check out a quick tutorial on how to use the B4UFLY App in the video below.
Unknowingly flying in controlled airspace is not an excuse.
Know before you go!
3. Operating in National Parks
National Parks are known for their awe inspiring scenery and raw natural beauty. Parks are a photographers dream and taking photos is a great way to capture your experience.
But the US National Park Service and Parks Canada (USA) have prohibited the operation of unmanned aircrafts (drones) within Park boundaries.
I was reminded of this fact when I was about to fly my drone near Tofino, BC. The Pacific Rim National Park is home to Long Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Canada but drones are not allowed.
Because of the restriction against drones, I snapped the photo below from beach level.
Flying your drone in National Parks is against the law and could result in a large fine of up to $5000 in the USA or $25,000 in Canada.
For more information about the prohibition by the US National Park Service click here to be redirected to their website.
For more information about the ban on drones by Parks Canada, click here.
4. Landing Area is Too Small
Finding a suitable take off and landing spot may be harder than it sounds.
Sometimes the take off spot initially seems quite large and free of hazards and bystanders. But while you are flying the drone, other beach goers and interested onlookers show up and the landing area starts to shrink.
Although this may not be an issue during normal flight conditions, it will become a bit sketchy if you run into trouble during the flight and your drone is executing the automatic Return to Home (RTH) function using GPS.
The Return to Home (RTH) function is an automatic setting that allows the drone to return to the original landing spot during specific conditions like when the battery charge drops below a specified level, when the drone loses the signal to the remote controller or when a pilot presses the RTH button manually.
When your drone is executing an automatic Return to Home (RTH) flight path it may not land exactly in the same take off spot. Although the GPS is fairly accurate, I have had the experience of piloting drones that have landed 10 feet away from the original take off spot.
This won’t be an issue if you take off in a cleared area with lots of room. But it will become a problem if you take off from a parking lot that has recently filled up with cars or a narrow beach with a small landing area.
5. Launching from the Sand
A sandy beach may seem like the perfect take off area because it is flat and there is lots of space to find a safe launch site away from other people.
But launching your drone from the sand can create issues if the wind from the rotor blades kicks up particles into the interior components of your drone.
The main body of most drones is not fully sealed, which means that small particles of sand can make their way into the inner workings of your drone primarily the battery compartment, camera or gimbal.
You don’t want your drone blasted with sand if you can avoid it!
There are several easy ways to avoid launching directly from the sand, check out the top tips below.
Top tips to avoid launching directly from the sand:
- Hand launch and catch your drone (click on the video below for a full tutorial)
- Use a Landing Pad for take offs and landings
- Take off from the parking lot or nearby paved area
- In a pinch take off from a bag, towel or surfboard
6. Flying in Bad Weather
When ocean meets land, strong local weather conditions are created because the land and the sea heat up and cool at different rates creating pockets of high and low pressure.
If you have been to the beach at different times throughout the year, you will have experienced all types of different weather including, wind, fog, rain, humidity and sea spray.
Wind can sap your batteries quickly because your drone has to work harder to fly against the wind. Fog can make it harder to maintain visual line of site with your drone and can wreak havoc on your drone’s sensors, which makes flying difficult.
Flying in rain or through sea spray, which are small particles of salt water floating in the air, can wreck your drone if moisture gets into the internal components.
Make sure to check the forecast before you go to the beach and don’t launch your drone if the weather isn’t cooperating.
I won’t fly in the rain or at beaches with heavy sea spray because it just isn’t worth risking my drone.
7. Wildlife Conflicts
When we are talking about wildlife, the most common types of wildlife that you may encounter at the beach are dogs and birds. Dogs are usually only a problem when you first launch and hover just above the beach but they quickly lose interest as you gain elevation.
Once you are in the air birds can become a problem. Certain species like Seagulls can become territorial and might even think of your drone as a threat.
Birds may chase or bomb your drone and you don’t want to have a collision. It will be bad for the bird and bad for your drone.
It is important to be constantly scanning the sky for birds and other aircraft.
You don’t want to be always looking down at the screen because you may not see some of the hazards in the sky. As well, you are required to maintain line of sight with your drone so you should be scanning the sky regularly.
Check out the video below for tips on How to Avoid Hitting Birds.
If you are having problems with birds when operating your drone, it is always a best practice to avoid any conflicts and land as soon as possible. You can always move to another part of the beach or wait a few minutes and re-launch your drone when the sky’s are clear.
If there is a large bird population and it is hard to avoid collisions, it may just be wise to find a different beach.
8. No Pre Flight Hazard ID
A hazard isn’t a hazard until it’s a hazard.
That may sound like a riddle but it is a truism to all drone pilots.
It is common among drone pilots to have a false sense of positivity before taking off. Once the drone is in the air you will become much more aware of the surrounding hazards and obstacles and it may be too late.
The buildings, trees or power lines near the beach may seem far away when you initially take off but during the flight you may realize that you are unable to execute a pre-planned flight path without avoiding them.
Top tips to avoid surrounding hazards:
- Create a pre-flight check list including hazard identification
- Develop a flight plan to avoid any hazards
- Land immediately if you get into trouble
- Safety First!
9. Annoying Other Beachgoers
Drones may be awesome to you but not every bystander at the beach wants to see and hear your drone buzzing around the sky.
Drone pilots need to recognize that flying a drone comes with a responsibility to respect other people’s space. Not only does the law tell you to not fly over people but it also just common courtesy.
So don’t be a jerk!
Don’t be that person that is racing their drone around the beach and causing a nuisance.
The beach is meant to be enjoyed by all so it is always best to find a deserted area of the beach to fly your drone. As well, if someone asks you to move farther down the beach it is always better to take the high road and politely find another area to fly.
The best tip is to keep your drone out above the ocean where there are far less people and you should be able to fly your drone in peace, which brings us to Tip #10.
10. Flying Over Water
Flying over water can be a nerve wracking experience because you may not have the same visual cues like a mountain or building in the distance to help with depth perception.
Flying over water isn’t the same as flying over land and always remember that your drone doesn’t know the difference. Your drone doesn’t have a special water avoidance setting so it is up to you to keep it dry.
If you crash into the ocean when you are flying at the beach your drone could be significantly impacted. As well, it will probably take you a while to rescue your drone from the ocean if you can find it at all.
Be very careful when flying over water. If you have a drone malfunction or run out of battery power or lose the link between the drone and your remote controller then your drone may end up going for an unplanned swim.
Flying at the beach is not an easy environment to operate your drone but don’t let that stop you.
Beaches are some of the most beautiful places in the world and the photos will be stunning.
As long as you are operating in uncontrolled air space you should be able to take as many photos as your memory card will hold.
The best advice is to follow the rules, prepare in advance, go to a deserted part of the beach, respect others and fly safe!