How to Fly a Drone from the Boat - Safely!
We all see amazing video footage of boats at sea but it’s daunting to fly from a moving platform, above the water. A lot can go wrong, and fast! Here we look at a procedure to get you flying safely and confidently from a boat with as little risk possible. Let’s look at how to fly a drone from the boat, the right way.
These tips are guidelines, always consider your own ability and the conditions. And while these are not hard and fast rules, they cover the considerations you should be aware of. From here, learn what works for you.
DISCLAIMER: Marine Services is not responsible for your crashed drone, however following these simple checks and procedures should see you well.
Considerations Before you Fly
- Wind – fly within your means and ability. If you are not confident, you’re inviting disaster. Remember, the boat will always be moving, the drone will try and stay on its position.
- Sea conditions – You are flying from a moving vessel, even in “calm” conditions, when a boat is stopped, it is still moving. Beware, this can be very deceiving when landing and taking off.
- Obstacles – Fishing rods, masts, game riggers, antennas…. Remove any potential obstacles from the area of the boat from which you will be flying.
- Safety – Operate you aircraft and boat safely and with consideration for others. Drones have sharp blades, I recommend the person catching the drone to wear gloves if they are worried. Just make sure they are tight fitting so nothing can go wrong when they catch it.
- Calibrate compass and IMU before going to sea. You need to calibrate the IMU in stable and still conditions. Do this at home.
- RTH (return to home) needs to be set to HOVER. The boat could be a fair way from the home point when the battery gets low. You do NOT want it to decide to fly back to where you started and land. If it’s set to hover, you have a chance to get to the drone before it descends.
- Make sure your batteries are fully charged, and make sure you plan your return to the boat with plenty of juice left.
- Sensors, turn them all OFF for take off and retrieval. If you keep these on you will find it very hard to get close enough to the boat for someone to catch up. By all means once you are in the air turn them back on to avoid hitting the boat if you are flying in close quarters, but turn them all OFF when you come to land. I use a DJI Mavic 2 Pro, and I switch it to S (sport) mode on return to the boat so I can manually control the aircraft and don’t have to worry about it stopping short because of sensors.
- Disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on your phone and others onboard when possible as there is chance of interference. I have had my drone completely disconnect above the water and had to restart the controller. Luckily I had the RTH set to hover so the drone didn’t try and land in the water.
- Boat Positioning – If possible, safely manoeuvre the boat to be broadside to the wind. If it’s not safe or comfortable to be doing so, (ie it’s a little rolly) you will want to point the boat downwind, and keep the engine in neutral (always make sure the person operating the boat is confident, safety should be the no1. concern). You will be launching on the windward side, or stern of the boat.
- Designate a drone handler. This person should be confident handling the drone and you should show them how your drone operates and exactly where to hold it, and how to catch it. Do this with the rotors off. Once you are comfortable and you have gone through the pre-flight settings checklist, you’re ready to go.
- Boat in position, drone handler on deck – your drone handler should be positioned on the windward side, or stern of the boat with good footing and able to extend their arm over out into the wind. Yes, INTO the wind, and holding the drone level and firmly.
- You can now start the aircraft. Let them hold it for a few seconds to get a feel, as the boat drifts, the drone will try to move and it’s important they get a feel for holding it firmly.
- When you are ready to go, increase the power slowly till you can tell it wants to ascend, then get the handler to let go. You should now be drifting slowly away from the drone as it stays in its GPS position and you increase altitude to a clear height.
- Once in the air I like to do another check to ensure RTH is set to hover and now you can switch sensors off if need be.
Get your bearings. It can be disorientating if the boat is moving or swinging
around. Get the drone up high and clear and make sure you’re comfortable and look around. Make sure the skipper doesn’t blast off before you know which way is up, can be surprisingly hard to catch up and you will go through the battery faster.
Now just enjoy the view!
Approaching to Land
- Ensure sensors are OFF.
- Position the drone upwind of the boat as a suitable distance, about 45 degrees above the horizon and fly by eye using the elevation (up and down) stick and the fwd/back motion together to bring the drone down smoothly on a direct trajectory – ie the drone is flying straight to you. on a controlled descent. Do not use the screen – fly visually.
- Ready your catcher on the upwind side of the boat, stand beside them and bring the drone down to within a few meters.
- Be wary of swell – try to position the drone at a height that it can be caught at the TOP of the swell. With experience you will be able to adjust your approach speed and angle to make this one smooth operation. If you need to hover off, you can do so and wait for the swell to lift you to the drone. Do not try and fly the drone down into the boat. Come up to meet it with the swell and just use small movements on the controls.
- Make sure the catcher ONLY attempts to catch the drone if they are 100% confident they can do so, BUT KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE DRONE. Not the screen, not the catcher.
- Once caught you can power down and bring the drone inside of the boat.
- Compass and IMU calibrated
- RTH set to Hover
- Batteries charged
- Sensors Off
- Disable potential interference devices
- Remove Obstacles
- Sensors off
- Position boat and Drone for approach
- Prepare the catcher and brief them
- Take note of swell height
- Bring the aircraft in carefully