How to Find a Lost Drone Without a Tracker (5 Easy Steps)


Ever ventured out excited to experiment with your cherished drone, only to somehow lose it along the way? This scenario can be completely gut-wrenching, particularly if you don’t have a tracker fitted to your drone. In that case, is it still possible to find your drone without a tracker? 

Why Did the Drone Get Lost?

Of course, you may not know exactly where and why you have lost your drone, but one can use key pieces of information from the most recent flight to determine the possibilities. It’s common for drones to get lost due to losing GPS connection failures, if operated in unfavorable conditions. Or the problem may have been due to issues with software or hardware. Another possibility is that the batteries may have died mid-flight. 

Where Did the Drone Get Lost?

If your drone is lost, of course you don’t know exactly where the lost drone is, but it may be possible to determine the approximate area the drone was in when it was last being operated. This will help immensely in narrowing down the area being searched, and it will also give insight into your search approach. If the drone is still hovering in the air, that would be the ideal scenario in such a situation. 

But, if your drone has fallen from the sky into water or dangerous areas, there’s a chance that the search and rescue will be more of a recovery mission. That said, it may still be possible to locate it without a tracker using a few methods. Operating drones within vast and open spaces free from such hazards is key in preventing such outcomes.

How To Find a Lost Drone Without a Tracker

Successfully finding a lost drone without a tracker will rely on a few factors. There will be a greater probability of finding the drone during the day when the light is supportive of your mission, coupled with assistance from friends or relatives. This will not only increase the chances of the lost drone being found but will ensure your safety in the process as well. During night time, one may still find the lost drone if it’s powered since its flashing lights will act as a beacon or guide. 

TIP: Pilots should never turn off their controller

Irrespective of how, why, and where your drone has gotten lost, the most important tip to remember is that pilots should never turn off their controller, as it may be the best chance you have of locating your drone. Keep the remote controller connected for as long as you possibly can, as there are a few ways you can use it to find the drone. Besides, if the drone is still in the air, disconnecting the controller could lead the drone to power down and plummet from the sky as well. 

1. Use Return Home Mode with Boosted Signal

The first thing you should try is hitting the Return Home Mode on your controller. If you are still within a decent range of the drone and the connection between them is reasonable, the drone should slowly begin making its way back on its own. Of course, this would be the best-case scenario, and many cases of lost drones are not as forgiving. 

One can use DIY approaches to boost the controller’s signal by acting as a sort of satellite, such as placing the controller in a clean, large metal pot and pointing it in the drone’s direction. However, the most effective version of this method will entail the use of high-quality drone range extenders, signal boosters, satellites, or remote controller antennas. This increases the drone’s range, which will make it easier to locate and Return Home if still powered on and in flying condition. 

2. Check Last Known Coordinates or Flight Logs

This is another option for anyone who has lost their drone, but it can be particularly helpful for pilots who have lost their drone due to the battery running out of charge. In most cases, remote controllers can store the drone’s last known coordinates before it disconnected, which will at least help you and your search party target the correct area. 

Some drones also allow you to check their flight records, and one can use these details similarly to the use of last known coordinates, as long as you select the information from the end of the last flight log. You will have to input these coordinates into a GPS device or even your smartphone’s GPS, after which you will be able to make your way towards the area and begin searching.  The actual search process will still need to be done manually, but at least you will know that you’re on the right track. 

3. Use another Drone to Scan the Area

If you are lucky enough to have another drone with a functional camera that can fly a decent distance from the controller, this may save tons of time searching for the lost drone. One can use another drone to gain a general view by surveying the surrounding areas – air, land, and water. If the lost drone still has power by nightfall, using another drone may be the easiest way to spot its flashing lights from a bird’s eye view.  

4. Check Telemetry on your Controller

Regardless of whether you are using a smartphone, a physical remote control, or another electronic device to operate your drone, the telemetry information will be available on most apps and displays. While last known coordinates and flight logs would be fantastic for a drone that has gone down or is hovering patiently, what happens if you’ve got a lost rogue drone on your hands? 

Using telemetry information can give insight into the drone’s distance and the actual direction that the drone was flying in before it got lost for various reasons. This allows pilots to identify the direction and follow in pursuit of the drone, particularly in the case of a flyaway drone. If one can reconnect with the drone, these telemetry numbers will also aid your search, as the distance figures should decrease as you approach it. 

Telemetry information is a great feature for such scenarios. It can be incredibly effective coupled with using the controller’s last known coordinates or flight logs for a particular focus on the specific area it is or was in when it got lost. This is because it allows users to identify where it was when it got lost, in addition to where it was going when it got lost. 

5. Use Apps to Find your Drone

In some cases, even these approaches can be fruitless in finding your lost drone. The Find My Drone app is completely free for iOS and allows users to identify their lost drone’s location by connecting their iPhone to their UAV. The app is highly effective and leads pilots directly to their drone since it functions through MAVlink protocol similar to those used in many standard open source autopilot programs. This app can be useful for locating your lost drone whether or not it is within range. 

The Find My Drone app goes one step further by informing pilots of their drone’s current status, such as battery levels, and even works for drones that have run out of battery charge as it will use the last known coordinates as a guide. It provides a map of the drone’s location, making it much easier to search for once you are near the location. It also features a Manual Mode that allows the utilization of different autopilot or telemetry functions.

Of course, this is great news for pilots who use iOS. For those who own a DJI drone, the DJI GO app will be indispensable for ensuring your drone’s recovery in such cases. This app is free as well and tracks your drone for you. So, you will have access to Find My Drone features if you have the DJI GO app installed on your smartphone. 

Retrieving your Lost Drone

Still, it needs to be noted that even if these methods are successful in identifying the location of your drone, there is still the issue of successfully retrieving or recovering the drone. If you are lucky to have averted the case of a flyaway drone and have been operating your drone in a reasonably safe area, then safe and successful retrieval may be quite simple. 

But, your drone may have ended up in a dangerous location which is risky to reach safely, such as on the side of a cliff, in a tall tree, or in perilous waters. It’s not advised to risk harm to yourself or others simply for the sake of retrieving your drone in such cases. Still, you may be able to note the drone’s location if it’s fixed in its position and return with a safer and more effective plan for recovery based on the scenario. 

If none of these methods work for you, you may need to resort to more old-school methods such as seeking community help through posts and notices, which can be particularly beneficial, coupled with a drone enthusiast group within your community. Luckily, most cases of lost drones can result in successful recovery with the appropriate responsive measures and in the right conditions, and there are plenty of effective ways to find your drone without a GPS tracker. 

Elizabeth Ciobanu

Editor-in-Chief. Elizabeth is a full-time (homeschooling!) mom of four, and serial entrepreneur in a variety of enterprises, one of which is producing content for Droneblog. If free time existed, she would love to spend more time on hobbies such as flying a drone.

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