Best drones for water sports and how to fly

Kayaking, water surfing, boating and more

best-drones-for-water-sports-surfing-kayaking jetski

This article will be more than just listing the best drones for water sports. I’m going to go into detail for every sport in particular, guiding you through the best practices, how to fly and record great footage with a drone.

Will cover the best drones for kite surfing, for kayaking, for boating and jetski.

And most importantly, underline safety issues and give you tips (from my own mistakes in the past).

Do you need a waterproof drone to film water sports?

I can certainly say that no, you don’t need a waterproof drone to do this. However you can check out my article with the few good waterproof drones currently on the market if you’re interested.

However, it is definitely helpful to have the peace of mind of not losing a drone when it lands by mistake in water.

You’ll find that in this article I haven’t mentioned many waterproof drones because I currently consider them sub par as camera drones to the Mavic drones for example and quite expensive, probably because they’re waterproof.

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Mavic Air 2Mavic 2 ZoomPowerEgg XDJI Mini 2SwellPro
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Best Kayaking and Rafting Drones(and guide)

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In this section I'll go over tips and tricks on how to fly a drone with a kayak and guide you on what are the best drones to choose for this water sport.

How to fly a drone from a kayak

This is very risky for your drone, so keep in mind to either fly a waterproof drone that can float or use a smaller and cheaper drone that still does a pretty good job.

kayak drone shot

Here’s how to fly a drone if you’re alone in a kayak:

  1. You need to launch the drone from your hand(unless you have a pretty wide and flat area in front of you. This means you press the launch button(on DJI drones) and  after the blades start spinning, slowly raise the throttle stick to get the drone up.
  2. Don’t try to return the drone back home by itself, because most certainly you have moved from that spot. Use the small map in the corner of the map to guide it to your position(if you can’t see the drone).
  3. When landing, make sure to use a drone that has a motor fail system, where if you turn it, the motors stop automatically. What you need to do now is try to grab the drone in your hands firmly and turn it to one side fast.

Air-grabbing a drone is possible only on a few drones I know, so I suggest you get a smaller drone that can do that. Either get the DJI Mini 2, the DJI Spark second hand or the Mavic Air 2. Bigger and stronger drones can’t be used this way.

How to fly a drone if you’re just filming the kayak from the shore

My first drone filming project was actually recording a rafting and kayaking session with a lot of people, but it’s definitely one of the hardest things you can do as a first-timer.

Here are some of my rules to take into consideration if you want to do a good job,  safely:

  1. For whitewater kayaking, always have a spotter with you so the drone doesn’t hit any cables, cliffs while you’re trying to capture the footage. This saved me from crashing that first time when I fast filming the kayaks, as my friend warned me before hitting a cable.
  2. It’s really recommended to have a follow me option for larger kayaking places and obstacle avoidance for tighter spots, in whitewater kayaking.
  3. If you want to be creative yet still keep the subject in frame, use the “Spotlight” feature on DJI drones to keep any subject in the frame, yet have complete control of the drone

Using a drone for jetskiing is pretty much in the same category, so I won’t repeat myself. I doubt that you can safely launch and land a drone from a jetski, so the only way to do this properly is being an observer from the shore.

kayak from shore by drone

What are the best drones for kayaking?

DJI Mavic Air 2 (best drone for white water kayaking)

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4k

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32min

range

9km

drone

Follow me

dji-mavic-air-2

The Mavic Air 2 is a very solid yet compact camera drone that comes with very good obstacle avoidance and tracking. This makes it good for tighter spaces, and therefore whitewater kayaking too.

It comes with a 4k stabilized camera and a really long battery life.

The tracking of this drone is quite amazing as I've shown in this video right here.

DJI Mini 2 (cheap, but amazing done for kayaking)

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4k

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31 min

range

10 km

drone

under 250g

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It’s really amazing what the Mini 2 can do at under 250g and very low price compared to others.

I would say it’s the perfect portable camera drone, but it doesn’t have obstacle avoidance or follow me.

This means you’ll have to do all your shots on your own, so you need to take that into consideration

Swellpro Spry+ (Best waterproof kayaking drone)

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4k

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17 min

range

800 m

drone

Wateproof

Although not as great as the others when it comes to camera quality, the Swellpro Spry+ is a compact drone that’s completely waterproof, it’s compact and you can land it on water as it will float.

It can also be used as a fishing drone at the same time.

 

This is good for when you want to launch the drone from your kayak and not be scared to get it wet or even land in the water.

The remote controller is also waterproof and floats (it’s probably the best drone for water sports like kayaking, boating etc)

Best drones for kite surfing (and how to)

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In this section we're going more in depth into how to fly a drone to film kitesurfing and what my top drone recommendation is for kitesurfing.

DJI Mavic 2 Zoom (Best drone for kitesurfing)

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4k with Zoom

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33 min

range

9km

drone

Follow me

Since in this sport you have to keep your distance from your subject (especially if there’s more people in the same area), the Mavic 2 zoom is perfect for capturing great closeup while still far away.

It also comes with intelligent flight modes like follow me, waypoints and the ability to zoom in flight by scrolling a wheel.

The camera quality is amazing and it’s great to shoot in 4k or  2.7k 60fps since you can then use slow motion for those cool shots. Its omnidirectional sensors also allow it to stop in time or avoid obstacles and the battery life is almost unbeatable.

Considering the unpredictable nature of the sport, I would consider it one of the most difficult ones to shoot from a drone.

The wind direction can go anywhere and you simply may not have enough time to get away with your drone if you’re too close.

 

Tips on how to film a kitesurf(or more)

So let’s see how to make things safer, how to shoot better kite surfing videos with your drone, and what drone to pick for this sport:

  1. One life-saving suggestion would be to have a spotter, a friend who keeps track of the drone position at all times, while you focus mainly on taking those awesome shots.
  2. Make sure your observer is not distracted by the pretty girls at the beach.
  3. It’s very important to know what a water kite is made of. So the most important thing you should take note of as a drone pilot is the group of lines called “flying lines” and the “Kite sail”.
  4. The length of the lines can be anywhere between 21ft to 90ft ( 7m and 27m) so if you plan to fly your drone above the kite sail, it is recommended you are at least 120ft in the air for safe operation.
kite surfing line height

Drone shot ideas for kitesurfing

One way to take the shot is at an angle from above the surfer, catching both the kite and the trail behind from a safe position

kite surfer drone shot 2

Another angle you can take is a lateral one, that’s closer up. This is more dangerous so the only scenario you can do it is if you’re farther away from the subject and there’s no other boats or surfers around.

A great tip is to have the land in the background, to establish a background frame of reference.

 
kitesurfing drone shot idea 1

Kitesurfing is associated with sun and wind alike, but don’t forget we’re trying to shoot videos here, so the sun can be a big problem. So here are some of my tips in regards to this:

  1. Get a sunshade for your controller – this can help you tremendously to frame the shots better and helps with avoiding accidents.
  2. Buy ND filters – this can make or break your footage, and I seriously recommend you respect the 360-degree shutter rule
  3. Film at sunset or sunrise – using golden hour as your time to shoot video is going to make a huge difference and will turn the final video much more cinematic.

However, when there isn’t enough wind, surfers tend to do a move called the “kite lift” which takes the surfer from the water surface and lifts him for a few seconds above the water, increasing the total possible height by a few meters

kite lift shot with a drone

Prepare your drone for windy conditions by either activating sport mode or getting a drone that comes with powerful brushless motors and high maximum speeds.

One way to keep up with the surfers movements is by adjusting your EXP values in your app (DJI in this case) to this:

drone settings for high wind

Best drones for surfing(and guide)

surfer-image-graphic

This time we're taking a look at standard surfing an the issues you can encounter while filming it with a drone. As well as of course my recommended drones for surfing.

Best drone for surfing (DJI Mavic Air 2)

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4k

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32 min

range

9km

drone

Follow me and sensors

dji-mavic-air-2

The Mavic Air 2 is one of the latest DJI drones and comes packed with technology, a super great camera, is very compact and most importantly, it has a tracking feature and follow me.

As I mentioned, other drones like the Mavic 2 Zoom would be very great for this, but I would say the Mavic Air 2 comes with a better price and is more compact, with no other compromise, besides the zoom factor.

Unlike Sail Surfing or Kite surfing, board-only surfing is much safer to film with a drone, mainly because there’s no kite that can hit your drone and you can pretty much stay at a comfortable distance, even if it’s closer to the subject.

Altitude and Takeoff Point

First off, I recommend taking off from the beach, since you’ll see the altitude report in the drone app relative to the point you launched from. This will make it easy to know at what altitude you are from the water itself.

The altitude you fly at should be obviously higher than the highest waves unless you have a waterproof drone and can afford to get it wet. 

How to film surfing with a drone (shot ideas)

surfing drone shot

The main important thing when shooting surfing is positioning. What you need to do is always face the waves, because if you’re behind them, the surfer will be hidden by the actual wave itself.

Once the surfer starts riding the wave, make sure you have him in the frame, a bit towards the opposite end of where he’s going to go, so you can keep him in frame once he starts moving fast.

 

One easy shot to try is flying sideways and back to keep the subject in frame at all times.

 

You can also try having the camera in a birds eye view, oriented perfectly perpendicular to the ground and either hold still or follow the surfer motion.

Recording in 4k is really great since you can crop in post processing and keep whatever you want in the frame composition. Framing and following a subject is the main issue with filming surfing with a drone.

Unlike with kite surfing, normal surfing doesn’t really benefit that much from a zoom drone like the Mavic 2 zoom, but it would definitely be a great drone for this.

Best boating drones (and how to land on a boat)

water skiing boating with a drone graphic

This section mainly covers a tutorial on how to land and launch a drone from a boat as well as my top drones for boats.

Best Drone for Boating with Tracking (Air 2)

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4k

drone-battery-specs-180

32 min

range

9km

drone

Follow me and sensors

dji-mavic-air-2

The Mavic Air 2 is one of the latest DJI drones and comes packed with technology, a super great camera, is very compact and most importantly, it has a tracking feature and follow me.

The good thing about the Air 2 is that it has high end specs and camera footage while at the same time comes with the ability to tilt the motors.

Bigger waterproof drone for boats (PowerVision PowerEgg X)

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4k

drone-battery-specs-180

30 min

range

6km

drone

Waterproof

The PowerEgg X is one of my favorite waterproof drones, as it's quite affordable, and compared to the other waterproof drones, it also has great camera quality.

It's quite big, so I don't suggest trying to tilt it over. Use this to either land on water or on a bigger boat, get help from someone else to land it.

A nice feature is the modular build and the fact that you can use it as a handheld camera too.

Using a drone on a boat is really not that easy (but easier than kayaking with a drone for sure).

When it comes to the actual filming it’s not that difficult, as a boat is quite predictable in its movements and very easy to track by most modern drones.

The only safety concern when already up in the air would be if you’re on a sailboat, as you should take notice at all times or have a spotter for the tall sail.

How to take off from a boat with a drone

If we’re not talking about a huge cruise ship, taking off from a smaller boat will mean you’ll have to do it from your hand. This means you need to master the process before even trying it on a boat.

I suggest you try the following on land first to make sure you got the process figured.

boat drone shot

Here are the steps for taking off from a boat with a drone (and landing):

  1. Use a small drone or a drone with legs (like a phantom).
  2. Hold the drone in your palm parallel to the water and press the launch button
  3. The props will start spinning slowly. Now, within a few seconds, move the throttle stick up gradually, but fast enough for the drone to actually take off successfully.
  4. Make sure to get to a safe height and distance from the boat as soon as possible, to avoid a collision.
  5. When landing, make sure you wear gloves, not to get potentially damaged by the propellers.
  6. Hover the drone to your head level, to a point where you can grab it. Hold it from underneath, from its main body, trying to avoid the spinning propellers and firmly tilt it to the side.

The tilting to the side will stop the drone motors as a failsafe. Most drones have these, but some of the bigger ones like the Mavic 2 seem doesn’t.

Also, don’t try it with a Phantom size drone. This only works with smaller mavics like the DJI Mini 2, Mavic Air 2, Mavic Pro, and the Spark.

Always try this on land first, to see if it works, and make sure you have some protective gear.

Here’s a video tutorial on how to take off with a drone from a boat

Tips on flying a drone when boating

  • Make sure the return to home is set either to the location of the controller or set it to hover (this way the drone won’t land in water when it tries to return home)
  • Take notice of the boat momentum when launching the drone
  • Make sure there aren’t flocks of seagulls around. They are known to bully drones.

Conclusion

This article was very long and covered most of the popular water sports. If there’s anything I haven’t covered, you pretty much should be ok with any of the tips and drone recommendations from the other sports.

Having a waterproof drone isn’t necessary for sure, but if you find yourself in a very difficult situation where you risk getting your drone wet, might want to consider it.

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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