Capturing drone sailing footage: embarking on an awesome aerial odyssey

Capture unique drone sailing footage and take your photography to another level

Launching a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) from the deck of your boat to capture drone sailing footage can take your photography to another level and unveil a whole new world of creative possibilities. The bird’s-eye view allows you to capture the vastness of the ocean, the intricate patterns of the swell and the sleek silhouette of your boat as it cuts through the water. From remote anchorages to bustling iconic harbours the unique perspective drone shots lend your images could elevate your next voyage’s aide-mémoires from routine nautical snapshots to pride of place wall art.

YouTube Drone Sailing Footage Video Link Screenshot
Watch our drone sailing footage highlights on YouTube

Having a drone on board also means you can swiftly inspect the top of the mast

An added bonus of having a drone available on board is that it gives you a very quick way of getting an eye to the top of the mast without digging out the bosun’s chair. It won’t save somebody having to get lively if the diagnosis is for work to be done up there but it’s a quick way of assessing a problem in the first instance.

Clearing for take-off: understanding the regulatory framework required to capture drone sailing footage

Flying a drone responsibly bears some similarities to undertaking a successful sailing trip. As with sailing, behind the unbridled adventure which unfolds once we’re underway, there’s a host of planning and informing oneself of the laws and etiquette involved in the endeavour beforehand. While being far from the glamorous side of the adventure, adhering to drone laws is crucial for several reasons.

Flying safety is enhanced by following the rules and guidelines

First and foremost, compliance ensures the safety of both the drone operator and the general public. Following regulations helps prevent accidents and mitigates the risk of collisions with other aircraft or structures, promoting a secure airspace environment.

aerial drone sailing footage of sailing boats amongst powerboats in a uk marina
Having a UAV aboard means you can quickly inspect the top of the mast

Compliant flying helps to improve the reputation of all drone operators

Moreover, respecting drone laws fosters positive public perception of drone technology. Operating drones in accordance with regulations helps build trust and minimise potential disruptions, especially in densely populated areas. This positive image is essential for the continued acceptance and integration of drones into various industries and recreational activities.

Added to this are the legal obligations to comply – failure to operate within the established regulations can result in fines, penalties or even legal action. Before embarking on your airborne photography venture, it is imperative to acquaint yourself with the drone flying regulations in the UK. Understanding and following the rules set by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is at the heart of getting to grips with drone law and the helpful section on their website is a useful resource to become acquainted with.

Summary of some of the most important current rules and regulations to be aware of in the UK

Registration and Operator ID: If your drone weighs over 249 grams or has a camera, you are required to register it with the CAA. This involves a small fee as well as an online test. Additionally, you need to obtain an Operator ID and display it on your drone.

Drone Categories: Drones are categorised based on their weight and capabilities. Different rules apply to each category.

Visual Line of Sight (VLOS): Operators must maintain a visual line of sight with their drones during flight. This means you should be able to see your drone at all times without the use of visual aids like binoculars.

Maximum Altitude: Drones should not be flown above 400 feet (120 meters) above ground level.

Avoiding Congested Areas: It is prohibited to fly drones in restricted or congested areas, such as near airports, military bases, and large gatherings of people.

Flying Near People and Property: Drone operators must avoid flying too close to people, vehicles, vessels, and structures not under their control. Special permissions may be required for certain operations.

Privacy and Data Protection: Respect privacy and data protection laws when capturing images or videos using drones. Be aware of the potential impact on individuals’ privacy.

Insurance Requirements: While not a legal requirement, it is advisable to have insurance coverage for your drone and it is mandatory if any of the resulting pictures will be used for commercial purposes. One of the major players within the drone insurance industry who I can recommend from personal good experiences using them are Coverdrone.

No-Fly Zones: Certain areas, such as airports and sensitive locations, are designated as no-fly zones. It is essential to be aware of these zones and adhere to the restrictions. The restrictions around military establishments means that parts of some of our favourite ports can be no-fly zones where naval bases are present.

Safety Code: Drone operators are encouraged to follow a safety code that promotes responsible and safe flying practices.

Drone sailing footage of sailing boat in St Austell Bay
Flying your UAV from your boat allows you to capture epic drone sailing footage

Practical considerations: the unique aerial challenges and hazards of drone flying at sea

On terra firma UAV flying comes with a fair set of rules, regulations and operational challenges. By bringing these into the capricious realm of the ocean, where Boreas and the other wind deities call the tune, you certainly up the ante on the jeopardy stakes of your drone flying pursuits.

Calibrate sensors, update firmware and ensure strong GPS signal

Many of the normal considerations which are key to flying your drone from land persist on the water. Before any flight, you need to make sure your drone’s firmware is up to date, its sensors have been calibrated, you have a strong GPS signal and you’ve visually inspected your drone’s propellers.

Full batteries allow maximum time for unexpected eventualities

Battery life becomes paramount when operating over the sea. Having a full battery will allow you to plan time into the flight to navigate the logistics of landing your drone at the end of your sojourn into the skies. This is because landing your drone is probably the most difficult aspect of flying from a boat and there can often be unforeseen occurrences when out on the water.

These technical and planning steps are important to ensure the best chance of a smooth flight so you can concentrate on the task in hand of capturing awesome drone sailing footage or epic aerial power boating shots! Enjoy the flight and then get ready for the fun and games to begin as it comes time to land again. Hopefully this advice will help to take a lot of the stress out of the maneuver.

Drone sailing footage of Fowey harbour from the air
Fowey Harbour from the air from our 2023 drone sailing footage archives

Advice for taking off and landing your drone from a boat

Creating a successful take-off and landing procedure from a boat is one of the biggest challenges when making the leap from land-based drone flying. All but the superyacht class of sailing boats having to share whatever open deck space they have with an array of rigging, booms, hatches, vents, lashed down items or spare sails.

This means the reality is that there will be very few spaces with a level unobstructed area around them to take-off or land a drone in the traditional way. While everyone has their own best practices, I’ve included some of my top tips for the way that I approach flying from a boat when I’m setting out to capture magic drone sailing footage from above the water.

Small lightweight drones can be a big advantage

The most common solution to the lack of dedicated level landing areas is to take-off and land the drone by hand. This is where having one of the smaller, lightweight models of drone comes into its own. There are some larger drone models which have landing rails along the bottom which also double up nicely as catching handles, so these could be well suited for flying from a boat too.

Set the correct return to home function

There is another all-important tweak which needs to be incorporated to standard practice when flying a drone at sea as they usually come with built in Return To Home functions set to work well for land-based flights. The upshot of this is that unless you change the built in settings, if there is any loss of communication between the remote control and your drone, your aircraft could make its way back to your starting point and land there.

The obvious danger of this scenario is that your vessel is very unlikely to be in the same exact position as when you took off and your drone might take it upon itself to land in the drink! In the advanced settings, you’ll need to change the loss of signal settings to “Hover” rather than the standard “Return To Home”.

Disable the collision avoidance sensors

While you’re modifying your settings, another useful tip is to, before you land, disable the collision avoidance sensors which most modern drones come equipped with. These can be incredibly useful when you’re learning to fly your drone or in plenty of land-based piloting scenarios but when trying to land your drone into your (or an assistant’s) hand they can make this an almost impossible manoeuvre to pull off.

Practice your drone handling skills on land beforehand

Generally, there’s no sugarcoating the fact that trying to land a drone on a sailing boat, itself in motion in all but a pontoon scenario, requires precise flying skills and coordination which is why its so important to spend plenty of time getting comfortable with flying your drone in more relaxed scenarios before taking it onto the high seas.

Choose your weather conditions prudently

As with most things in sailing, the weather is the ultimate dictator on the itinerary when it comes to your drone flying antics on any given trip. Drones are all very shy of any kind of precipitation and most aren’t built to perform in winds above 20 knots. These constraints tend to mean that you’ll be flying your drone either on very calm sunny days when boats are motoring or overcast 10 – 20knt wind days.

Occasionally, you’ll get the gift of a sunny day coupled with enough breeze for the sails to be nicely filled without overpowering the drone’s capabilities. If you can couple these conditions with the golden hour (the period shortly after sunrise or before sunset when nature’s lighting is at its most intoxicating) you’ve found the Holy Grail of shooting conditions and hopefully the result will be some magic moments captured from the skies.  

Drone sailing footage of sailing boat at sunset in St Austell Bay
Drone sailing footage of a vessel at sunset in St Austell Bay

10 years on and I’m still getting smiles from getting the drone aloft

My own journey into the world of drone photography started over 10 years ago when I learnt to fly a small toy drone I got my hands on. The camera on this first one was probably producing images of sub 1MP quality and it had zero GPS capabilities but it was a great learning tool being incredibly cheap and requiring a serious amount of input from the pilot to fly in any kind of blow above 2mph!

Having sacrificed at least one of these training drones in various aerial escapades along the way I eventually graduated to more powerful and technologically advanced drone models. With a lot more money now up in the sky I was relived to find that the stabilisation and software baked into modern drones is superb. If you take it slowly, building up your experience gradually with simple flights in large open spaces you’ll find that you’ll soon become comfortable with all the quirks that come along with drone flying.

I’ve been using drones for, Camel Valley Creative, for five years now and I’m still excited every time I put mine up to capture the unique perspective from the skies above us. When I started to mix my aerial adventures with sailing, I knew that a whole new canvas would be unveiled with the opportunity to combine two of my favourite passions.

My top tips if you have lofty dreams brewing and you’re keen to take to the skies

Consider a basic qualification such as the A2CofC

First and foremost is to take plenty of time to educate yourself on the regulations and the mechanics of drone flying. While it’s not a legal requirement, I would recommend paying the relatively small fee to do an online course to get your A2CofC proficiency as following a good training syllabus can be a huge fast forward on your flying journey. UAV Hub and 3IC are two companies which have developed a solid reputation for delivering successful training and they have both been in the drone training space for a long time now.

Start out with a second hand drone

If you’re starting out consider buying a cheap or second hand drone to learn with so that the stakes are lower than if you go out and spend £1000s on the latest tech. There are some great drones available on the second hand market these days.

DJI are probably the biggest name in the industry and they’ve been make great drones for many years now. I would recommend starting with a sub 250g drone. In many cases this will be all the drone you’ll ever need as they fall under the most liberal drone laws and they can’t be beaten for versatility, space saving and the latest models can now even compete admirably on image quality.

The DJI Mini and the DJI Mavic Mini series are two superb lines of small drone. Depending on whether you buy a Mini 1, 2, 4 or 4 or on which version of the Mavic Mini you bought in at they are available on Ebay from £200. Obviously, if you bought the latest model new, the price tag would be a lot higher.

Drone sailing footage of a Falmouth Working Boat on the River Helford
One of Falmouth’s beautiful classic working boats captured from the air in the Helford River

Practice on land before a boat launch

Practice plenty with your drone from land before you start flying it from your boat. That doesn’t mean you can’t be flying it over the marina or your mooring to take pictures of your vessel from a suitable spot on the shore. If you get comfortable with all the little quirks and intricacies of drone piloting from the safety of land, you’ll be in a much better position to handle the extra layer of things to think about when moving on to launching and landing from a boat.

See you out on the water, up in the sky?

Hopefully this article has helped to highlight some of the elements involved with taking the progression from drone flights on land to flying your drone over the water from a sailing boat. It’s probably made it clear that there’s an inevitable initial learning curve when getting to grips with flying a drone from a vessel but it’s definitely a journey that brings some great rewards with it.

Having the ability to take unique aerial photos and videos of the new surroundings and wonderful destinations that a boat helps you to arrive at is the ultimate way to create magical keepsakes and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Not ready to fly your own drone just yet?

If you’re not at the stage where you’re flying your own drone yet but you’d be interested in hiring me to take footage from the air of your boat I’d be glad to help anytime that you’re in the West Country. Just let me know where you’ll be using the contact form below and we should be able to arrange me coming out to capture your nautical adventures from above

    Need an eye in the sky?

    If you need an eye in they sky for any other occasion, take a look at our dedicated drone services page where we’ve got details about the other ways that UAVs can be incredibly useful. Whether it’s for roof surveys or unique shots of a new house you’ve moved to we’re always ready to fly your way.

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