Can You Fly a Drone at the Beach? (Read This First)


We’ve all seen some amazing aerial shots of beaches and surfing and all kinds of things at the shore. Drones are actually becoming immensely popular among surfers and water sports enthusiasts because drones can shoot their activities while they are way out on the water. However, while that might be a neat thing to do with a drone, it still is important to know whether or not you are allowed to fly a drone at the beach?

In general, the FAA does not have rules regarding drone flight at the beach. That means that you can fly your drone at the beach, provided that it’s not a national park, or restricted by local ordinances. Keep in mind that you still have to abide by the general rules set by the FAA regarding drones.

So, the good news here is that there are no specific restrictions when it comes to flying your drone at the beach, depending of course on where you are. This means that you are generally free to film yourself surfing or doing all sorts of different activities while you are at the beach. Still, keep in mind that there are some rules that you need to follow in relation to drone flying at your particular beach. And such rules may be unspoken or could be set by the local body regulating the beach.

Can you fly a drone at the beach?

If you’re headed to the beach and want to record the day, or the week, by posting some things on social media, bringing a drone with you to the beach is a great idea. After all, a drone can take aerial photos or videos of you swimming or surfing, and then you can post such photos and videos on social media. This is one of the reasons drones are becoming popular among surfers and water sports enthusiasts – drones can take photos and videos of them from angles that are impossible for normal photographers.

» MORE: Do I Need a Drone License to Post Drone Videos on YouTube?

Just because everyone else seems to be doing it, it’s still important for you to know if you can legally fly your drone at the beach you’re headed to. That’s because there might be some restrictions and rules that you need to follow regarding drones. It could even be possible for drone flying to be strictly prohibited at a particular beach. All that said, can you fly a drone at the beach?

The good news here is that the FAA, which is the federal agency that governs the use of all aircraft, including drones, seems to be quite silent regarding what you can do with a drone while you are at the beach. In its most basic terms, this means that you are allowed to fly a drone at the beach, as there are no specific rules or guidelines prohibiting or restricting drones at the beach.

Exceptions – When can’t you fly a drone at the beach?

There are a few things to keep in mind when trying to figure out whether your particular beach allows you to fly a drone there. The first important thing to remember is that cities and towns can have their own local ordinances restricting the use of drones where they might otherwise be permitted.

Generally, if a city or town has prohibited the use of drones at local beaches, you will see signs posted that share this information. If you see a sign with a picture of a drone on it with a diagonal red line through it, don’t take your drone up.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that all national parks prohibit the use of drones. This includes protected beach lands set aside as national parks or seashores. If you’re at a beach that is part of a national seashore or park, don’t plan to fly your drone. 

Also, keep in mind that everything else about drone flying applies when you are at the beach. That means that all of the regular rules and regulations set by the FAA will still apply when you are flying your drone at the beach. As such, make sure that you abide by the limits and restrictions and treat the entire activity as the same as when you are flying in another place aside from the beach.

What to be aware of when flying a drone at a beach

While there are no specific restrictions regarding drones when you are at the beach, there are still some things that you need to know when you are at the beach and you are flying your drone there. Some of these things are based on mutual respect while others are based on the general rules governing drones.

1. Don’t fly over people

This has always been one of the most important rules when you are flying your drone, and this applies to when you are in the middle of the city as well as at the beach. It is very important for you to make sure that you don’t fly your drone over people.

It might be tempting to try to find different angles to capture the beach or to film yourself or your friends surfing but it still is important to make sure that you don’t fly your drone right over people because of the many different safety concerns involved. After all, if you end up losing control over your drone, you don’t want it crashing on someone’s head and hurting that person.

And it’s fairly obvious that popular beaches are usually full of people in the middle of the summer. That’s why you need to be very careful when it comes to flying your drone at the beach as there can be plenty of people there. Either take your drone to a less crowded part of the beach or wait until early morning or late evening when the crowds thin.

2. Always make sure that the drone is within your line of sight

In any situation, it is very important to make sure that you are flying your drone within your visual line of sight. That means that you need to be able to see your drone, without any visual obstructions, while you are flying it. Don’t fly your drone in such a way that you won’t be able to see it.

When you are out on the beach, it is important that you should be able to see your drone in plain sight. The beach shouldn’t be full of obstacles that could block your visual line of sight, but more importantly, make sure that you could keep your eyes on the drone while operating it, regardless of what other activities you are doing out at the beach.

Don’t use any other aids when flying your drone as you need to use your eyes for that. It might be tempting to use the drone’s camera to know where you are going and where the drone is but the FAA mandates that you should always use your eyes when flying your drone as the drone should be within your visual line of sight.

The exception to this is that you can use a visual observer to keep the drone in view for you. If you’re flying with FPV goggles on, or you’ve got the drone set to automatically film you while you surf, just get a friend to spot the drone for you while it’s in the air to make sure you’re following this rule. 

3. Always stay under the altitude limit

The FAA rule regarding the altitude limit of the drone is 400 feet because there could be commercial manned aerial activity happening at 400 feet and above. As such, the FAA regulations state that you must keep your flight altitude to at most 400 feet and not more than that so that you could avoid possible collisions with commercial or military aircraft.

When you are out on the beach, you should make sure that you follow that rule. It might be tempting to go higher than that when you are out at the beach because there usually aren’t any vertical obstacles there.

But trust us when we say that you should still keep your drone flying at a safe altitude or else there would be consequences to pay. Have you seen those low-flying aircraft near the beach? Is it just me or do there always seem to be airplanes around flying much lower than usual?

4. Always follow community-based rules and regulations

Even though there aren’t any specific rules and regulations set by the FAA regarding drones at the beach, the one thing you need to understand is that it still is very important to make sure that you follow the rules and regulations set by the community. Such communities may be local or state level.

State law is a good example when following certain rules and regulations regarding drones at the beach. That’s because some states may have specific guidelines regarding drone flying, usually related to specific locations and situations.

The same can be said of cities and other similar governing bodies, as the local legislation may not allow you to fly your drone at the beach or may have strict rules regarding what you can do with your drone while you are at the beach. But the good news here is that most beaches in California and in Florida tend to be lax in terms of what you can do with your drone.

5. Don’t fly on beaches near airports

One of the most important things that drone pilots should know is to never fly a drone within 5 miles of an airport. If you are out at the beach and it is within 5 miles from a nearby airport, then that means that you cannot fly your drone there. Some beaches are oddly located close to airports, and unfortunately, you will not be able to fly your drone there when you do visit those beaches, no matter how beautiful they are, or how great the surfing is.

The reason this rule is in place is pretty obvious, as the FAA wants to make sure that commercial aircraft are safe from drones. Small as they may be compared to airplanes and helicopters, drones can still get stuck in the engines and rotors of different types of aircraft, and that can be disastrous to the aircraft, not to mention the people on board. And while it might be tempting to fly a drone at the beach, avoid doing so if you happen to be close to an airport.

All that said, it is still possible for you to be able to fly a drone near an airport, provided that you acquire a waiver from the FAA first. Make sure that you apply for that waiver before you travel to the beach because you will be needing it to fly your drone if the beach is within 5 miles from an airport.

But the most prudent thing to do here is to research whether or not the beach is located close to an airport especially if you are unsure. That’s because, again, some popular beaches are quite close to certain airports. As such, it is up to you to do your research and to be educated about whether or not there is an airport within 5 miles of that beach.

» MORE: Flying a Drone Over Water? Follow These Tips (and Best Drones)

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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