We’d all like to fly our drones anywhere, anytime. Because of some external factors though, that’s either very hard to do or in some cases, impossible.
In this guide, I’ll tell you exactly where you can or cannot fly your drone. I’ll also cover some workarounds for restrictions that are more due to laws and regulations than to environments.
What you need to know is – in many cases, there are restrictions that make it impossible (or illegal) to fly your drone. Some of those are environmental, some are simply due to existing regulations put in place by the authorities.
On Dronesgator we have dozens of articles discussing specific situations that influence drone flight. This article will serve as a repertoire of all those situations.
Here is what we’ll cover:
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
How do drones fare against the elements? While it depends on the drone, most drones pretty much fall under the same umbrella of what they can or can’t take in terms of abuse from mother nature.
Bear in mind that we won’t be talking about enterprise level drones here as those have specific resistance to certain environments.
Let’s talk about the two most important factors when it comes to environmental effects on drones, range and the transmission system of your drone.
Most popular drones nowadays have ranges of up to 15km. You’d think you can fly them 15km away from you, but that’s just no realistic. Drone laws and regulations aside, you’d need the perfect environment for you to be able to fly it that far away.
Not to mention that it’ll be a one way ticket for your drone since its battery will simply not hold up.
So what do I mean by the perfect environment? This brings us to the second factor which is the transmission system. Some drones like the DJI Mini 2 have an advanced transmission system called OcusynC 2.0, which makes it maintain a relatively strong signal even in places that are filled with high objects like trees, mountains and skyscrapers.
Whether or not you can fly your drone in mountainous areas, or in large cities will largely depend on the strength of your signal, which depends on your transmission system.
Ah, the question that most drone pilots have at least once in their drone flying journey. It’s such a common question that I’ve made a whole dedicated article to it. While most electronics are not built to get wet, you might be thinking that your drone is different.
Some drones are able to resist brisk rain, but not for extended periods of time. Generally, entry level drones have venting holes, which expose the electronic board to water droplets. Once water gets inside, short circuits can occur and your drone may get damaged to the point of no return.
Your drone’s capacity to withstand rain depends on its IP rating, whether you applied additional waterproofing and how fast you managed to get it dry after your rainy flight.
The famous internet saying goes like this, “Mess around and find out”...
Good news! You don’t have to waste a $1000 drone just find out how the rain will affect it. I’ll tell you exactly what’s going to happen to your drone in the rain.
What happens if your drone gets wet?
As you’ve guessed, it’ll mess with your drone. Sometimes the damage is not too severe and can be fixed by simply letting your drone dry out, sometimes it can short circuit your drone.
Getting your drone wetter than it’s built to withstand may spell its doom, as electrical systems suffer shorts in contact with water. If your drone is water-resistant, it might survive a quick landing while it’s raining. But even water-resistant drones have a hard time handling a violent storm.
Here is a detailed list of all the damages rain can cause to your drone:
I’ve actually gone into excruciating detail on rain damage to drones, how to prevent it and if push comes to shove, how to minimize the damage. You can check out that article by going here.
Moving on, we talked about the rain, what about fog? It’s common knowledge that foggy days make for the best drone shots and footage, especially if the color grading of the end results is on point… but is it safe?
You can technically fly your drone in fog as long as it’s appropriately protected. This includes turning off its obstacle sensors (if possible) and adding high-visibility lights so it can be seen. However, the density of fog can sometimes make the flight back entirely impossible.
I’d advise against it though unless your drone is somewhat “waterproof”, or you have no qualms with it getting ruined. Because no matter how water resistant a drone is, if you fly for a prolonged period in dense fog, droplets of water will start building up and might reach your drone’s circuit or motors.
Will Fog Ruin Your Drone?
Fog can hurt drones particularly when the liquid density in fog is high. This is because water droplets, in large amounts, seep through the outer frame of the drone. Other determining factors also include the speed of the wind and the temperature of the drone itself.
It’s safe to say there’s no myth being busted here. Fog can damage drones, especially if you haven't followed my guide on how to waterproof a drone. (go do that now).
I’ve gone in depth on the effects of fog on drones, especially on drones that are meant for filming (i.e prolonged air time). You can check it out here, I go over some steps to minimize the risk of damaging your drone.
Keeping up with the wet theme, let’s look at snowy conditions. Flying your drone in snow is in most cases no different than flying it in the rain, and in some cases even worse. Let me explain…
You can’t fly your drone in snow. Some manufacturers recommend avoiding temperatures below 14°F (-10°C), while others caution against any temperature below freezing (32°F or 0°C). Extreme cold weather can cause an unexpected power drop, or even cause batteries to fail completely. Cold weather can also dull a drone’s sensors, which may lead to a slower response from the control input.
That heavily depends on the speed of the wind you’re flying in. Usually, consumer grade drones (good ones) will have an average wind resistance of speeds up to 23mph. That’s not a lot.
You can’t fly your drone in winds with speeds that are more than 23-24 mph. It’ll set the drone off course and will likely cause it to crash or fly away.
You see, even among the most popular drones, few are equipped to fly above 24 mph winds. The Mavic 2 Pro for example can be flown in max wind speeds of 24 mph, but the Mavic Mini can only withstand up to 18 mph winds. Sure, there are enterprise level drones that can withstand heavier winds… but chances are you don’t have an extra $20,000 that you want to blow on a drone.
As a rule of thumb, always check wind speed before flying. Especially in canyon areas or hills, where the winds are prone to be heavy. Usually your flight app will warn you if the winds are strong, and some drones will even make an emergency landing if the wind gets too strong.
Not only is snow and cold weather devastating for your drone, but flying during a really hot day can also mess with it.
In many cases, drone manufacturers recommend avoiding high temperatures above 104°F (40°C). Prolonged exposure for your drone to high heat will reduce the life of your battery. You also risk melting the internal wires and plastic which is as you’ve guessed, not ideal.
One thing to note is that hot weather is accompanied by high humidity sometimes, which can damage your drone’s motor, camera, or gimbal. Always check the temperature and humidity before flying and ensure you wipe down your drone before and after flights.
The short answer is yes you can. But there are things to consider. Things like the wind, they’re usually strong in oceans, and whether or not your drone is waterproof.
Flying a drone safely over water entails things like planning your flight, disabling the visual positioning system, updating your home point manually, and keeping track of obstacles. Proper equipment such as floating gear and waterproof kits can provide an additional layer of safety even in the case of motor failure.
I’ve made a detailed article specifically about drone flight over water areas, whether those are oceans or lakes. You can check it out here.
So we’ve gone over all the possible natural environments and their effects on your drone flight. Let’s now take a look at what the law has to say about your drone.
Starting with No-Fly Zones.
They’re usually referred to as a no drone zone by the authorities, but in this article we’ll call them no-fly. Because you technically can have your drone in there, you just can’t take off or fly over the designated areas.
According to the FAA, "No Drone Zone" is a term used to help people identify areas where they cannot operate a drone. The operating restrictions for a No Drone Zone are specific to a particular location.
That’s basically the gist of it. Flying your drone in a no-drone zone can result in some repercussions, whether they’re just a slap on the wrist or serious will depend on the actual area where you flew your drone.
All around the USA, airports are a strictly no-fly zone. Flying over an airport, or even close to it by 5 miles will result in some serious repercussions and could get you in trouble.
Airports are classified under restricted airspace, I’ve already gone in-depth about that in my previous article.
According to the FAA, Temporary Flight Restrictions define an airspace where air travel is limited for a specific period of time (hence why it’s called “temporary”).
This is usually done because of some major sporting event, a presidential movement or some security threat.
Most, if not all national parks in the U.S. are off limits from drone pilots. The FAA takes this seriously and you’ll most likely get in trouble if you fly your drone over a national park and a park ranger spots it/you.
Pretty much most if not all schools in the U.S. ban flying drones over them, unless it’s a school project or something sanctioned by the school. For obvious reasons…
Flying your drone within 15 miles of the white is not only strictly prohibited, but also a one-way ticket to jail. Homeland security takes this as a very serious offense, and the reasons for that are probably obvious.
Drones have been used before to drop contraband into prisons and other correctional facilities. So now they’re banned. I’ve covered this before in this article, but we’ll brush up on it in a section below.
Military bases are also no-fly zones. There are some bases where drones aren’t prohibited but to stay on the safe side, just don’t fly over military areas.
This is an overview of the zones where drones are prohibited. You can learn more about those by checking out my previous article.
Sometimes, you aren’t given a choice of whether to fly in these restricted areas or not. This is called geofencinghttps://dronesgator.com/what-is-drone-geofencing/ and is usually present in DJI drones.
To answer that we’ll have to go back to 2013, when DJI first introduced the concept of no-fly zones and then three years later announced the GEO system.
The reason for why DJI introduced this geolocking feature is likely because of legal liability. After all, if they explicitly stop you from flying over an illegal zone and you intentionally find a way to circumvent that restriction, you’ll have yourself to blame while DJI won’t be held liable.
DJI’s Geofencing uses GPS signals to keep your drone out of restricted flying zones like airports, prisons, and other places where security is a concern, this can be optional or required.
DJI drones can’t take off or be flown without permission in certain regions, which are referred to as “geofenced”. However, there is a way in which it can be removed (legally). I go in depth about that in my previous geofencing articlehttps://dronesgator.com/unlock-geofencing-on-dji/, I also talk about the types of geofenced areas and how to know which is which, so be sure to check it out.
What if the situations that you’re interested in aren’t mentioned above? I mean, you could be wondering whether you can get your drone on a plane, whether or not you can fly it from a cruise ship, over a protest, etc…
The list goes on and on. This section of the article is going to tackle exactly that, case specific situations where most people are unsure of what they can and can’t do.
Topping the list are air planes.
Drones are a traveler’s best friend (after google maps), so can you bring them with you on your adventures?
There are currently no restrictions from TSA or FAA on carrying a drone on a plane. However, rules and regulations may change with time; therefore, always confirm it with the airport authorities before taking one with you.
The best way to carry a drone is to put it in a carry-on bag. Of course, when I’m talking about drones I mean consumer grade drones. Huge enterprise drones are a whole different matter and will usually require clearance.
If you’re unsure whether you can bring your drone with you to the airport, check in with the airport security or check out my detailed article about traveling with drones.
Not everyone can drive to a vast open space to fly their drone. Some don’t have a car, some don’t have the time, and others simply don’t want to bother commuting back and forth to simply enjoy the thrill of flying.
Which only leaves you with the immediate area, i.e your neighborhood…
In most states and local jurisdictions, you can fly your drone over private property, which are the houses in your neighborhood. You need to ensure that you aren’t violating any local drone laws that pertain to privacy, trespassing or nuisance.
Is it legal to fly my drone above my house?
The short answer is: You have every right to fly your drone above your property, provided it doesn’t cause an extreme nuisance to your neighbors.
In the U.S airspace ownership is usually considered to extend to between 500-1,000 feet above a property. This means that you can fly your drone for up to 400 feet (the FAA altitude limit) over your property, with no problem whatsoever.
In some cases, you’ll find yourself unable to fly over your neighborhood. For example, you might be living near an airport, an area which is restricted as we mentioned above.
Or simply, the state/county where you live prohibits drone flight over residential areas. While the FAA regulates drone use, local authorities still have some say in the regulations after all.
How to know whether you can fly in your specific neighborhood?
If you’re unsure whether or not you can fly near your home, the simplest way is to ask around. In every area, there are likely veteran drone hobbyists. Make friends with them and ask around if flying in the neighborhood is okay or not.
You don’t have to go around looking for them either. There are many forums online where you can ask around, forums like:
I won’t go into further detail because I’ve already dedicated a whole article just for this topic, you can find it here.
Moving onto the next specific case, whether or not you can bring your drone on a cruise ship. If you’re a drone pilot, especially someone who likes taking breathtaking footage and pictures with their drones, you simply can’t get on a cruise before packing your drone with you.
The sheer amount of views that you pass by on a cruise ship can make any photography enthusiast’s mouth water…
Before you do that however, keep in mind that most cruise ships ban drones on board.
Only a select few cruise lines allow drones onboard. Royal caribbean, celebrity cruise and carnival cruise are the most notable ones. These cruises however have their own rules regulating the use of drones, and prohibit certain models of drones.
I’ve already gone in extreme detail regarding this in my cruise ship article, but I’ll brush up on some of the important stuff in this section.
Can you fly your drone from a cruise ship?
So I said that in some cruises – which I’ll bring up later – you can bring your drone on board. Flying that drone however, is a whole different matter.
Even on cruises that allow drones, flying them on board is usually strictly prohibited and can get your drone confiscated until the end of the cruise. The reason for that is to maintain the safety of those on board and protect their privacy.
Put simply, as long as you’re on the ship, your drone mustn’t leave your bag. Even after you land, you must be away from the port before taking your drone for a flight. I also don’t need to mention it, but whenever you land, make sure you’re familiar with the regulations regarding drone use in that country.
You might be thinking that this is sort of strict, and it is, but drones pose a huge security risk to cruise companies. Satisfying the few drone pilots that board them is simply not worth the trouble.
The cruises where you can bring your drone on board are: Royal Caribbean, celebrity cruise and carnival cruise. There are probably other smaller cruises that allow drones on board but these three are the most notable ones.
If you’re planning on going on a cruise soon, don’t do so without reading my in-depth article that I wrote specifically about this.
Most drone pilots are adventurers by nature. We want to explore, and we want to use our drones to see places we wouldn’t be able to see otherwise…
That’s fine and all, until it stops being legal. If you ever find yourself near a prison and get the urge to fly over it, note that it’s illegal to do so and can land you in trouble.
The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) prohibits the use of drones near or over prisons. That’s because drones can be used to deliver drugs, weapons, or any other contraband to the inmates. This law was put in place when several inmates started receiving drone deliveries to prison.
So why is it so illegal and why does the FAA strictly prohibit flying over prisons? The answer is pretty simple…
In July 2015, a fight broke out at an Ohio prison when a drone dropped tobacco, marijuana and heroin to an inmate.
This wasn’t a one time occurrence. Drones were starting to become delivery tools for gangs to sell their drugs in prisons all over the U.S, so it didn’t take long for the FAA to respond.
In June 2018, the FAA issued a ban on drones near prison facilities and coast guard bases. Most of the FAA flight restrictions took effect June 20 over 18 prisons and 10 Coast Guard facilities. Another prison near Clinton, Ill., took place later on July 7.
After that, flying over prisons became a serious misdemeanor at best, and an actual jail time felony at worst.
I won’t go super into detail about it, I’ve already done that in my previous article about drones and prisons, in it I go over the cases in which you actually can fly over prisons and how to do so.
Oh, and if you think you can fly undetectable, then you really need to read my article. There are many ways that prisons use to detect drones and I went over them one by one.
If there was a large (or small) protest near where you live, and you had a drone handy right where you can see it… you’ll probably feel the itch to take your drone and film it.
You see many videos of protests, clearly filmed using drones, so you’d naturally assume that filming protests is permitted…
It’s actually prohibited by the FAA. The people you see filming with their drones are either doing it illegally or have explicit permission from authorities.
According to the FAA, flying drones over protest or any large group of people is illegal and can get you charges for misdemeanor. This applies to both recreational and commercial pilots, unless you’re a commercial pilot with a Part 107.39 waiver.
Can You Fly Over a Protest if You Have a Part 107 License?
Even then, you can’t. If you’ve passed the part 107 test, you might think your hard earned license allows you to fly over protests. That could not be farther from the truth.
What you need is the part 107.39 waiver. As the name suggests, it’s basically an exception to the rule. With this new change, the FAA has introduced the ability for drone pilots to fly over crowds. But not anyone can fly.
It’s not complex but has many aspects to it (namely, drone categories). Which is why I’ve written an in-depth article about it. If you’re an aspiring journalist who loves shooting large events like a protest, I’d suggest you check out my article by heading over here.
As a drone pilot, not only will you have to pay attention to your drone, but also to your environment, before and during flight. Laws and regulations aside, you should always check the weather the night before your planned flight, look at the expected humidity levels, whether it’ll rain or not and the expected temperature during that day.
It’s preparation like this that separates professional drone pilots from hobbyists. I hope that this article paints a clear picture on the effect on environments on your drone. It’s a long one and isn’t meant to be digested in one sitting, so you may find yourself coming back to it regularly.