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How to fix a drone that fell in water (And mistakes to avoid)

Updated in 2024 by Paul Posea
drone-fell-in-water

It’s very common for drones to end up in the water. If this has happened to you, don’t panic and look for a new drone to buy. In some cases, fixing a drone that fell in the water is not only doable but also very easy.

In this article, I'll walk you through how to  repair your drone and also share tips on what not to do to avoid more damage.

What happens if my drone goes in water?

Even though in the majority of situations water damage is a dead end, some are lucky enough to prolong the life of their equipment if they act quickly enough. 

Once your drone hits water or gets too much rain, its electronic speed controllers (ESCs) will get burned. ESCs manage the power of your drone’s motors, and once they blow a fuse, battery damage occurs. 

If you don’t have a waterproof drone, your best bet is to avoid having it touch water by any means. If you want to waterproof any drone however and make it much safer, check out my guide on how to waterproof a drone.

Understanding Water Damage in Drones

Understanding water damage in drones is crucial, especially if you've had the misfortune of a drone taking an unplanned swim. Here's what I've learned about how water, particularly salt water, affects different drone components:

Battery Damage: If your drone gets submerged, the battery is often the first casualty. Even if the drone seems okay afterward, it's wise to replace the battery as soon as possible to avoid risks.

Internal Component Damage: Water, especially from natural sources, is never pure and can cause serious damage to the drone's internal parts. Here's what gets affected:

  • Sensors: Water can short-circuit the delicate sensors.
  • USB Ports: These ports can corrode, leading to connectivity issues.
  • Camera: Water can seep into the camera, ruining its functionality.
  • Motors: They can get clogged or short out due to water exposure.
  • Gimbal Assembly: The gimbal's intricate parts are particularly vulnerable to water damage.

Corrosive Nature of Salt Water: Salt water is especially harmful because it's corrosive. It can quickly eat away at the drone's components, making immediate action essential to reduce damage.

Remember, it's not the water itself that's the biggest problem; it's the impurities and salts in it. They can conduct electricity and cause short circuits, leading to significant damage. 

Can you fix a drone that lands in salt water?

The salt in salt water is more corrosive, and salt water damage continues long after you think it’s back to normal. Still, knowing this after you crash your drone into the sea won’t help. Is there any fix?

In most cases, a salt water crash is harder to fix, but it’s possible. First thing to do if your drone falls in the sea is to take it out and carefully wash it with deionized water.

You want to somehow stop the corrosive effect of salt, and cleaning the board with deionized or distilled water does the trick, as strange as it may sound. Afterwards, you need to carefully rub your drone’s parts with isopropyl alcohol. We’ll go into more detail below.

Can my DJI drone survive water?

Some models are able to survive a quick clear water submersion, but generally DJI drones should not be used in any wet or moist weather conditions, not even mist, let alone rain or snow. 

DJI drones are generally not built to survive water, and they are definitely not capable of handling submersion. Still, if the unwanted happens, act fast and take all the necessary steps to dry it. That’s the only way your DJI drone may survive. 

Supposing you still want to fly your DJI drone out in the blizzard or heavy rain, it might be a good moment to start looking for DJI alternatives.

What about an FPV drone, can it survive water?

FPV drones have a few additional sensitive components compared to normal ones, but the situation is similar. 

An FPV drone will not survive water damage if it’s let to sink for too long. Its main board and circuitry may get fried, and the motor speed controllers may end up useless. FPV cameras would break as water causes condensation.

Can a water damaged drone be repaired?

water-damaged-drone

You can repair a water damaged drone, but 3 crucial factors come into play:

How much it stayed in the water

Tiny particles in the water make their way inside your drone’s electronic components and short-circuits may happen. A longer time spent in water means potentially more damage. 

That’s why you need to take it out of the water immediately, but watch out for your own safety as well. You wouldn’t jump in a muddy swamp if your drone fell there, would you?

Whether it crashed in clean or salt water 

You already know what an enemy salt water is to your drone. It kills your aircraft in the long run if you fail to act quickly enough. Even a few extra minutes spent in salt water may mean your drone may be gone for good.

So, act even faster if your drone lands in the ocean or sea.

Your drone’s model

Not all drones are created equal. Some are capable of detecting a faulty circuit and switching themselves off. Read the drone’s manual again or check with your manufacturer’s customer support to see if your aircraft has such capabilities.

Steps to Fix a Drone That Fell in Water

Follow these steps:

  • Take it out of the water as fast as you can
  • Power it off and take the battery out
  • Carefully take your drone apart
  • Do a quick distilled water flush (if it fell in salt water)
  • Dry your aircraft for as long as possible 
  • Turn it on again and assess its situation
Drone-That-Fell-in-Water

Let's have a brief look at the essential steps to follow if your drone falls into water. These steps are crucial for minimizing damage and increasing the chances of salvaging your drone:

1. Take it out of the water immediately

We can’t stress the importance of acting quick in this case. Your drone could have fallen in water for a million reasons, like having an aerial accident, not charging it properly and losing control, or you simply didn’t pay attention to flying.

Whatever the case, make sure you move fast and get it out of there fast. 

2. Power it off and take the battery out

Right after you’ve got it out of the water, you need to power it off and take the battery out. Place it somewhere safe. Lithium batteries are known for their penchant to burst in flames if they become unstable.

You will take this to an authorized battery disposal centre at some point, but now focus on the next steps. 

3. Carefully take your drone apart

It’s not necessary to completely dismantle your drone, although it’s best that you take it apart in as many pieces as possible. When the internal components are completely exposed, they will dry a lot better as air and heat will reach them faster.

  1. Start by removing the frame and motors
  2. Take out the camera and don’t forget to unplug its cable
  3. Remove any antennas and memory card
  4. Take out the landing structure
  5. Open the drone body 
  6. Expose the internals

This is a general guideline that will fit most drones, but it’s recommended that you follow a tutorial for your specific model. 

4. Do a quick distilled water flush (if it fell in salt water)

It may seem counter-intuitive, but if your drone fell in salt water, a quick distilled water flush helps remove electronically conducting micro-materials. Use deionised water for the best results. 

So, now that the drone is laying open in front of you, take the motherboard and flush it well. Don’t rush it. Spraying the water would be ideal, but pouring will also do the trick. 

Make sure you wash every corner of it, because even the smallest piece of salty residue is able to cause enough damage to render your drone useless.

When you’re done, use a toothbrush to apply a layer of isopropyl alcohol on the board. This will remove any water left on the components. The layer will evaporate quickly, but be aware that it acts like a solvent to conformal coating, so you may have to redo that.

5. Dry your aircraft for as long as possible 

Now, gently move your drone around to remove any water still in there. If you took the whole thing apart and used alcohol for the rinse, you won’t have to do this.

There are many ways in which you could dry out your drone. The most efficient way is to simply leave it in a dry, cool place, until all the water evaporates, which means 4+ days.

Alternatively, you could blow air on the board with a hairdryer on the lowest heat setting. Hot air is not advised. You’re not trying to melt it, are you?

Or, you could put the board in the oven at the lowest heat level. As little as 30 minutes may dry it out completely. 

Bonus tip: Some say that placing your drone in oats, rice or silica won’t do the thing. However, they absorb water and could technically work. Still, using grains to dry your drone’s motherboard may add more contaminants to it. You can’t really know how clean it is.

Understanding Drones IP Ratings

drone-ip-ratings

I've often addressed the issue of water damage, particularly for drones that aren't designed to handle it. A key aspect of this is understanding your drone's IP (Ingress Protection) rating, which indicates how well it can resist elements like dust and water. Here's how IP ratings can guide you in fixing a water-damaged drone:

IP Rating Explained: It's a two-digit code where the first digit shows protection against solids (like dust) and the second against liquids (like water). For instance, IP54 means the drone is dust-protected and splash-proof, while IP67 means it's completely protected against dust and can be immersed in water.

IP Rating Levels and Repair:

First Digit (Solids): A higher number indicates better protection against solids. If your drone has a lower first digit, check for any solid debris that might have entered during submersion.

Second Digit (Liquids): This digit is crucial for water damage. A lower second digit means your drone is less water-resistant, and you'll need to be thorough in drying and cleaning.

Why IP Ratings Matter in Repairs: Knowing your drone's IP rating helps you understand its limitations and vulnerabilities. This knowledge is crucial when repairing a water-damaged drone, as it guides you on what components might be most affected and how to approach the repair process.

Understanding the IP rating of your drone is vital when dealing with water damage. It not only helps in assessing the extent of the damage but also in determining the best course of action for repairs. Remember, the quicker you act and the more you know about your drone's capabilities, the better your chances of successful repairs.

Consider waterproofing your drone’s circuits

Waterproofing your drone’s insides will certainly prolong its life and protect it from humidity. 

Two main types of waterproofing solutions exist:

  • Silicone
  • Acrylic

Silicone is better for drones as it can perform better at higher temperatures, while an acrylic coating may melt on circuits that get very hot. 

The procedure is not very difficult. You need to take your drone apart, carefully clean its components and then apply the solution with a nail polish-type brush. Usually, the brush is included in the waterproofing kit with the solution.

Be sure to avoid applying the solution on controllers, ports, camera sensors and buttons.

Total cost amounts to around $100 if you do it by yourself. However, if you’ve never dismantled your drone, you shouldn’t start with this procedure.

Better than wrecking your equipment forever, you should ask for help. Do you have any tech-savvy friends?

Waterproofing will add a layer of protection to your machine, but it won’t make it last forever. While the risk of irreparable damage is lower if you crash it into water, a thin layer of silicone is not magic. 

So, the best way to prevent water damage remains getting a waterproof drone. 

Are waterproof drones really immune to water damage?

A real drone enthusiast loves to fly anytime, anywhere, but if you want to fly in moist environments you need a drone that’s built to handle them.

Waterproof drones have tightly sealed frames that enable them to withstand any wet medium successfully. This special frame makes them immune to any type of water damage by blocking the passage of water through to the electronic components.

waterproof-drones-immune-to-water-damage

However, you should know the difference between water-resistant drones and waterproof drones. While the first may be able to fly in mild rain or snow, they cannot get underwater. 

Thus, if you’re planning to fly by the lake, know that a water-resistant drone may still break if you crash it into the water. Waterproof drones are the only type that can survive submersion.

Conclusion

Fixing a water-damaged drone can be challenging, but it's often possible with quick action and the right approach. Remember, speed is crucial, especially with salt water damage. Understanding your drone's IP rating is key to assessing its water resistance and planning your repair strategy.

While waterproofing your drone or opting for a waterproof model offers better protection, they're not foolproof. The best strategy is always to fly cautiously, especially near water. But if your drone does take a dip, the steps we've discussed give you a solid chance of getting it back in the air.

faq what should you look for in a drone

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section we'll answer all questions related to the above article:

What happens when a drone gets wet?

When a drone gets wet, its electronic speed controllers (ESCs) might burn out, leading to battery damage. Water can also damage internal components like sensors, USB ports, cameras, motors, and the gimbal assembly.

Does rain destroy a drone?

Rain can damage a drone, especially if it isn't waterproof. The extent of damage depends on the drone's design and how much rain it's exposed to.

How much rain can a drone tolerate?

A drone's tolerance to rain depends on its design and IP rating. Most non-waterproof drones should avoid flying in rain to prevent damage.

Can a drone operate underwater?

Regular drones cannot operate underwater. Only specially designed underwater drones are capable of functioning in such conditions.

How can you make a drone rainproof?

You can make a drone rainproof by applying waterproof coatings like silicone or acrylic to its internal components. This process involves disassembling the drone, cleaning its parts, and carefully applying the waterproofing solution.

Is it possible to waterproof an FPV drone?

Yes, you can waterproof an FPV drone using methods similar to those for regular drones, such as applying silicone or acrylic coatings to protect against moisture. However, you should avoid applying these coatings to sensitive components like controllers and sensors.

author-paul-posea-picture
Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.

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paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.
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