The prospect of flying over water can be a scary one for most drone pilots. Water environments are often filled with potential hazards such as boats, waves, high winds, and even birds. Although DJI does not encourage flying over water, professional aerial photographers and videographers will sometimes have to do precisely that. Therefore, this article offers constructive advice on what you can do before and during your over-water flight to ensure safety.
*Beginner pilots should refrain from flying over water at any time.
Disable Vision Positioning System (VPS)
All DJI drones come equipped with VPS, a technology that maps the surface below to help position the drone. When flying over water, however, light reflecting off of the surface can cause issues with this technology. Because of this, it’s best to maintain a height of at least two meters above the water. If you have to fly below this height for a special shot, we recommend you turn off the VPS to avoid any unstable actions by the drone. Caution: When you disable the VPS of your aircraft and the distance between water surface and drone is smaller than 2 meters, you should fly the drone with a low speed in your FOV (field of view). Also, the height needs to be adjusted frequently since the aircraft could possibly drift downwards. Be aware that the minimum height has to be above 1 meter when flying over water.
Plan Your Shot
Flying over water is always risky, but careful planning can help you avoid danger. Planning a shoot should include finding the right location, visualizing your ideal image/video, and doing a few test shots on land to make sure the angle is right. Going through these steps can help to ensure a smoothly-executed shot.
Enable Maximum Flight Distance
Although it can be tempting to fly long distances over water, we recommend that you always operate your drone within line of sight. If you’re planning a shot that requires flying long distances, make sure you set the maximum flight distance in the DJI GO 4 app. You can activate this function by entering the main controller settings and selecting “Enable Max Distance.” Input your new max distance, but make sure you keep it within range of your remote controller’s capabilities.
For obvious reasons, we recommend that you practice your takeoff, flying, and landing skills on land first before heading out over water. Mastering these skills will result in better control, increased confidence, and an overall safer flight in any location.
When flying over water, there are often two options: starting from land or starting from a boat. Takeoff from land is no different from a regular land flight. When starting from a boat, however, we recommend you takeoff while the boat is idle as it will be more stable and safe. Takeoff from a moving boat is possible at slow speeds but is not recommended.
Update Your Home Point Manually
When flying over land, the home point is usually where the aircraft took off from. Under ideal conditions, the aircraft will use its compass and GPS to automatically record a home point, which can be viewed in the DJI GO 4 app (see below). To learn more about using the Return to Home feature, please click here.
Using the original home point from a boat can be rather tricky as boats will often drift or move during flight. Because of this, it may be necessary to re-set your home point. There are two ways to do this using the DJI GO 4 app: first, swipe left on the main screen, and press “Home Point: Me,” second, open the general settings by pressing the three dots on the upper right corner, go to “Main Controller Settings,” and press “Home Point: Me” (the button with a person and home point below).
Many obstacles can endanger your journey over water, let’s take a look at some of the ones you need to watch out for the most:
Objects that Interfere with Compass or GPS Signal
Strong compass and GPS signals are essential when operating a drone. Make sure you avoid any objects or structures that have the potential to interfere with your signal. These include large objects like lighthouses and container ships, or any device that uses antennas, magnets, or Wi-Fi.
When flying in areas near water, be sure to avoid trees, rocks, or any other natural structures nearby. Also (believe it or not) pay close attention to birds, as seagulls in particular are known to exhibit aggressive behavior towards drones.
Waves can be dangerous when flying too close to the water’s surface, requiring pilots to react fast or risk losing their drone. Make sure you stay far enough above the surface to avoid this issue entirely.
Boats of all sizes can be potentially hazardous for drones. Don’t fly too close to any boat, and as an added precaution, set your return-to-home height higher any time you are flying near a boat (especially a cruise ship or container ship).
Make sure you stay alert to these and other obstacles during your flight over water. If you notice any potential hazards it is always recommended you keep your drone on land and wait for a safer time to fly.
Use Your Intelligent Flight Mode – Course Lock
Intelligent flight modes allow you to create professional-level aerial footage with just a tap. One of the most useful modes for over-water flight is Course Lock, which lets users pre-set a flight path. The drone can then fly automatically, giving users more freedom to focus on getting incredible shots.
Be Aware of Wind Speed – It Will Affect Battery Level
As drone pilots know well, strong winds can result in aircraft instability during flight. Strong winds can also cause your battery levels to drop quickly. Unfortunately, wind is hard to avoid, and the higher up you go, the stronger it often gets. If you notice strong winds on the ground, it’s safe to assume there are even stronger winds in the air and you may want to consider delaying your flight.
This tutorial will teach you how to measure the wind speed using the DJI GO 4 app:
In conclusion, flying over water is dangerous, and even an instant of carelessness can result in a damaged or lost drone. As a pilot, always pay attention to your surroundings and focus on safely controlling your drone. Follow these tips and your chances of having a fun, safe, and dry flight will be greatly increased.