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Drone Laws in California (Everything You Need To Know in 2022)

Updated in 2022 by Paul Posea
Drone Laws in California
height flight limit 1

400ft Max Height

cant fly over crowds of people 1

Under 100 MPH

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Avoid airports

line of sight law 1

Only line of sight

If you live in California, U.S. and would like to safely as well as legally fly your drone there, there are several laws and regulations you need to be aware of. 

Drone operation in California is broadly governed by the FAA, in this article we’ll look into the different laws regarding drone use.

Can I Fly a Drone in California?

You may be wondering if you can fly your drone in California in the first place. Drones are allowed in California for recreational and commercial uses!

They’re however regulated by a myriad of laws and regulations. There are three types of drone laws which we’ll go over in this article.

Starting with the first and general type of laws; federal drone laws.

Federal Drone Laws in California

Federal laws are laws that apply to every state in the United States, including California, and were created by the federal government.

Although I’ve gone over them in extreme detail in my previous drone laws article, I'll briefly go over them here (Still, I recommend you check out my other article after this one).

Drone flying is separated into two categories (or types), “recreational” which is flying for fun. And commercial flying, which according to the FAA is any flying that you’re compensated for (even shooting and selling stock images).

Recreational Flying

In order to fly for fun, you’ll need to pass a simple online test called the TRUST. Beware of anyone who tries to charge you for it as the FAA requires the test to be free.

If you want to pass the test, my personal recommendation are Uavcoach, they’re an FAA approved test administrator.

You’ll also need to register your drone, which will only cost you $5. Note that once you receive your registration number you have to write it on your drone. 

Commercial Flying

To fly commercially, i.e receive money from your drone flights, you’ll have to study for and pass the 107 test (costs $175). I have done a complete guide on that test here.

There are also other conditions that you must fulfill in order to be eligible to fly your drone commercially in California. You can check them in-depth in my US drone laws article.

The General Federal Laws in California

Below are the federal drone laws in California that you’ll have to keep in mind:

  • Do not fly higher than 400ft
  • Do not fly in uncontrolled airspace without a permit (read up more on that here)
  • Always maintain visual line of sight
  • Never interfere with manned aircrafts
  • Do not fly over crowds of people
  • Your drone must be registered with the FAA on the FAADroneZone website.
  • Your maximum drone speed must not exceed 100 mph
  • Your maximum drone weight must be lower than 55 lbs, at takeoff.
  • You cannot fly from a moving vehicle.

This was a general view on the federal drone laws in California. To fly safely, you’ll need more information and an in-depth view of the current drone laws landscape, check out my previous detailed article about the subject.

State Drone Laws in California

Drone Laws in California

In addition to federal drone laws, there are state laws that apply only to the state of California, and were created by its legislature.

There are several state-wide laws in California regarding drone use. Here is the gist of them, according to the California General Assembly.

Laws Regarding First Responders

According to this law, first responders have immunity if they damage your drone in case you interfere with them.

Furthermore, it’s a misdemeanor to interfere with them with your drone (source).

There is also another relatively new law that prohibits first responders from using a drone to take pictures of a crime scene.

Laws Regarding Privacy

There is a law that prohibits flying over an individual in order to capture an image or recording of them without permission. This legislation is a response to the use of drones by the paparazzi in covering celebrities and other public figures.

Laws Regarding State Parks

Drone use within State Park wilderness areas, cultural preserves, and nature preserves is strictly prohibited according to this law.

Furthermore, you can’t launch, land or fly your drone within any park unit in the Orange Coast District.

Local Drone Laws in California

These local drone laws are laws that only apply to certain cities or regions within the state of California. They’re created and enforced by the local authorities.

There are several cities with extra drone laws in California, they’re as follows:

City of Rancho Palos Verde

According to this city’s law, flying drones over any city owned property is prohibited unless you have a permit.

San Francisco Bay Area

Drone flight over all the parks in the San Francisco Bay Area is prohibited. You can read up more on that here.

City of Malibu

To fly your drone here commercially, not only will you need to pass the FAA’s requirements but you’ll have to obtain special permission from the city authorities.

Keep in mind that Most of the Malibu airspace is under National Park airspace which is a No-Fly Zone. You can read more of that here.

City of La Mesa

Operating your drone in any city park is prohibited in La Mesa.

Orange County Parks

This city’s drone law prohibits drone flights in several parks which you can find here.

MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District

Drones are prohibited over any property that is managed by the MidPeninsula Regional Open Space unless you have a permit.

Note that only commercial drone pilots are eligible to get permits at the moment.

Santa Clara Valley Open Space

Drones are prohibited over any property that is managed by the Santa Clara Valley Open Space unless you have a permit.

Note that only commercial drone pilots are eligible to get permits at the moment.

San Francisco

You can’t fly your drone over any park without permission from the concerned authorities.

Read more on that law here.

Sacramento County

You can’t fly your drone over Sacramento parks unless in certain areas or if you have permission from the director of said park.

City of Hermosa Beach

This ordinance requires drone pilots to obtain a permit and identification number assigned by the City in order to fly a drone in Hermosa Beach.

You should also note that privacy laws are strictly enforced here when it comes to drones. And that you should not fly within 350 feet of any school ground.

Town of Calabasas

This city’s drone law gives the local authorities the power to enforce the FAA regulations. Usually the FAA themselves are the ones who enforces drone laws.

City of Yorba Linda

You can’t take off or land your drone more than 25 feet away from you (this is to maintain visual line of sight).

Additionally, you’ll have to steer clear 500 feet of special events or emergencies.

You can read more on that here.

Town of Los Alamitos

This town’s legislature creates several restrictions on drone flight within the town. You can read up on that here.

What Happens if You Break the Drone Laws in California?

Fines are up to the enforcement division, the FAA however will rarely go for the maximum.

Generally though, in the case of an accidental first-offense, the FAA will probably just require a temporary suspension of your UAS Airman certificate and remedial training. 

For the more egregious offenses, such as flying in an airport vicinity, expect slightly more serious repercussions.

In conclusion, just make sure you keep the federal laws in mind as they are the most important, and keep in mind to always ask for permission before flying in public parks.

Have fun and fly safely, most of these laws are just common sense.

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.
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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