How To: Takeoff & Land A Drone On A Boat Or Yacht

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Nautical and marine aerial photographs may look amazing but taking-off and landing a drone on a boat or a yacht can be difficult and hard to master. In this article I will give some tips on how you can takeoff and land your drone at sea.

I’ve been a drone owner for just over two months, but an avid photographer for a few years now. Apart from my conventional photography, where I use my Sony A6400, and Gopro Hero 7 Black, I recently made a decision to purchase the DJI Mavic Mini.

Besides the obvious size benefits (for transportation, storage and not needing a license to fly), I thought it was a great product to enter into the drone world with (price wise and hassle wise). It packs a good punch in terms of photo and video quality as you all well know.

I bought my drone and immediately set sail on a Pacific crossing from Mexico to French Polynesia, so I’ve had to learn to takeoff, fly, photograph and land whilst on board a 50m floating vessel.

Not a lot of room for error when starting out as a rookie pilot, but these are the lessons I’ve learnt and live by in order to keep flying and photographing whilst living at anchor.

Takeoff and landing zone, finding a safe, spacious zone

With the yacht deck being cluttered with chairs, sofas and other ornate items, it’s important to choose a spacious, safe starting point to do pre-flight tests, take-off and ultimately hover in place to make sure the props are in working order before zooming off to capture the goods.

Watch for winds

At sea, I find it to be very rarely still. There is always at least a slight zephyr around to make you stop and think. Take note of the direction and strength of the wind, as it’s likely to be stronger up above and will affect flight time and ultimately your safe return flight to your floating home.

There are some really handy apps you can use to determine wind speed, direction and patterns.

Restricted areas (no fly zone)

Recently we were anchored off an island near a local airport.

This area, as shown on the DJI flight map, has areas of restriction for drone height, and no fly-zones the closer you got to the airports landing zone. Take note and avoid for safety reasons.

As mentioned above with the weather and wind, there are also a multitude of apps that you can use to ensure you are not in a restricted or no fly zone.

I have outlined two apps below:

Altitude Angel: Guardian App – App Store & Google Play

Guardian is a companion application for Altitude Angel users offering quick and easy access to essential drone safety data while on the move.

Using your location, Guardian supplements your normal due-diligence activities by displaying no-fly zones and ground hazards for a growing number of countries around the world, completely free of charge.

Altitude Angel: Drone Safety Map

Drone Safety Map spans over 40 countries, providing accurate, real-time online updates to aeronautical and ground hazards; helping you to plan and conduct your drone flights more safely. It’s perfect if you’re planning your flight ahead of time, or if you want to research an area before your flight.

AIRMAP for Drones – App Store & Google Play

Get real-time feedback of airspace rules and conditions pertaining to your flight specifications, with national rulesets for 20 countries, including Canada, Germany, Japan, New Zealand, United Kingdom, and the United States.

Other yachts, privacy.

As yacht owners go, they are all quite private and like the rest of us, they do not want you hovering over their toys taking #topdowntuesdays snaps of them.

Be respectable and keep clear of other people, yachts, house etc.

If you want to take aerial photos of other yachts, always make sure you ask permission first. If you are unable to, don’t photograph.

Other issues:

Anchor swing with wind, dynamic landing zones and updates or return setting disable.

With the Mavic mini, the take-off zone is identified before take-off to help the drone return back to this location if its battery is too low, or it loses signal with the controller.

This system is great if you’re on land and you’ve remained where you were when you took off 20 minutes ago.

However, on yachts at sea, at anchor, your position is dynamic, and is always moving depending on wind strength and direction as you swing on your anchor chain.

This raises an issue for your default safety setting in case of signal loss or battery level low, as your drone could return to its take-off zone, yet your vessel has since swung 20 degrees left and is no longer below the drone for it to land.

For this exact reason it’s important to firstly know the wind and direction so you can predict the anticipated swing (if any), constantly update your ‘home’ point or landing zone to keep peace of mind whilst flying, or make sure that in the event you lose signal or the drone battery level forces the drone back to its takeoff zone, that you have a smaller craft nearby to hop into that you can use to rescue the drone.

This lesson was learned the hard way when another crew member was flying his drone. He lost signal and the drone returned to land at its last know takeoff location, however our vessel had swung on the anchor chain and the drone descended into the ocean and was lost to the depths.

About the author – Phillip Davies

Drone Photography Bible would like to thank Phillip Davies for submitting this article.

He is a ‘yachtie’ and has worked on superyachts for 3 three years now. Phillip is 27 years old from Durban, South African. He loves sport, especially running, golf, rugby (Springbok fan), cricket. During downtime on the yachts, Phillip is an avid photographer and uses Lightroom CC and Photoshop. Since 2017 he has been travelling the world and is currently in French Polynesia

You can find some of his work included in this article as well as on the links below:

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