If you always wanted to see Boston from a bird’s perspective, now it’s your chance to do so, as getting a bird’s eye view from a drone has never been easier. But, can you legally fly a drone in Boston?
Flying drones in Boston is allowed, as long as you comply with FAA regulations, as well as a supplemental rule enacted by the Massachusetts state legislature. This law states that no drones can take off or land anywhere within the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) properties, except for emergencies.
Would you like to know a little more about what’s allowed in terms of drones in the Boston area? Get comfortable and keep reading, to learn about this and the best places to fly your drone in Boston.
Local Boston area drone laws
Boston is the capital and the most populated city of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The local government of Boston has not created a set of specific drone rules, but let’s have a look at some of the regulations relevant to the Boston area on the Department of Parks and Recreation website (link).
Here are a few of these laws to keep in mind:
- Don’t abuse or annoy another.
- Don’t break anything
- Don’t disturb bird’s nests or eggs
- Don’t injure or harass any bird or wild animal.
- Don’t display any commercial advertising matter.
- Don’t hold any kind of sponsor or demonstration.
As you can see, these guidelines are common sense, but there’s always someone who does what they are not supposed to do, often because they don’t know the rules. Nonetheless, keep in mind that it is our responsibility to know them.
Massachusetts state drone laws
As a city located within the state of Massachusetts, state laws regarding drone use of course also apply in Boston. There are a handful of drone laws put in place by local governments in specific cities or towns throughout Massachusetts, but the only supplemental rule enacted by the Massachusetts state legislature denotes that:
No drones can take off or land anywhere within the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) properties (unless there is an emergency).
Excluding that exception, the state of Massachusetts does not have a list of rules specific to the territory. However, the Massachusetts Port Authority (link) highlights the relevant FAA rules on its website:
- All drones over .55 lbs. (250 g) must be registered, and must be visibly marked with a registration number.
- Operators must carry proof of registration whenever they are operating the Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).
- Flying drones in controlled airspace, including around and above airports, is prohibited without prior FAA approval
- Never fly drones near any aircraft.
- Keep your drone in sight at all times and keep your drone lower than 400 feet.
- Comply with Remote ID rules.
Additionally, Massachusetts port authority has designated numerous drone free areas by installing nearly 200 “No Drone Zone” signs in Boston parks, around the Boston Logan International Airport, as well as some other historical locations, so keep your eyes open to spot them and respect them.
Federal drone laws
Whether you are flying a drone just for fun or professionally, you are subject to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. Their set of laws apply to the entire US airspace, and all aircraft, manned and unmanned, must respect them.
The FAA categorizes drone users into four types;
- Recreational Flyers
- Certified Remote Pilots or Commercial Operators
- Public Safety or Government Users
- Educational Users
In turn, it sets apart drone usage in two main categories:
- Recreational Flights: This category implies the use of drones purely for fun or personal enjoyment. It is important to keep in mind that using drones for charitable organizations or with other non-monetary compensation can be considered indirectly business related, which would make these flights non-recreational.
- Commercial Flights: To fly a drone commercially, you must follow the Part 107 guidelines for commercial drone operations. Flying under Part 107 rules require three main steps:
- Know what is, and is not allowed under Part 107 rules (link). Some drone operations are not covered by Part 107 and will require a waiver. An example of these operations would be the ones conducted from a moving vehicle or beyond visual line of sight.
- Become an FAA-Certified Drone Pilot by passing the knowledge test. To be eligible you must be:
- At least 16 years old.
- Able to read, write, speak and understand English.
- Be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a UAS.
- Register your drone with the FAA. The cost is $5 and the registration is valid for three years.
Regulations for Recreational Flyers
For those who are strictly flying a drone for fun fall under the Exception for Limited Operation of Unmanned Aircraft (USC 44809). This law describes how, when, and where you can fly drones for recreational purposes. Here’s a summary of those rules:
- Fly only for recreational purposes
- Follow the safety guidelines of Community Based Organizations
- Keep your drone within the visual line of sight or use an observer
- Give way to and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations
- Fly at or below 400 feet in controlled and uncontrolled airspace
- Take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) (link) and carry proof of test passage during all flights.
- Register your drone, clearly mark (PDF) your drones on the outside with the registration number, and carry proof of registration with you.
- Do not dangerously operate your drone.
- Do not interfere with emergency response or law enforcement activities.
- Do not fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
If you want to know more about classes of airspace and flying restrictions, this information can be found on the B4UFLY app or the UAS Facility Maps (link).
Regulations for Commercial Flyers
As I mentioned earlier, to fly a drone commercially in Boston you will need to follow Part 107 guidelines. Below is a list of some specific rules to operate a drone commercially in Boson:
- You must have a current FAA Remote Pilot Certificate
- Your drone must be registered with the FAA
- The UAS must be in good condition for safe operation. The remote pilot in command must conduct regular maintenance and safety checks of equipment.
- The pilot in command must be in good mental and physical condition to safely manage the operation.
- Do not fly in a careless or reckless manner.
- Do not allow an object to be dropped from the UAS in a way that could be dangerous to objects below.
- Do not operate the UAS over human beings unless:
- That human being is directly participating in the operation
- That human being is located under a covered structure or inside a stationary vehicle.
- The operation meets the requirements of at least one of the operational categories specified in sub-part D (link) of the Part 107 guidelines.
- Complete a waiver authorization process if you plan to fly in Class B, Class C, and Class D airspaces, or within the lateral boundaries of the surface area of Class E airspace.
- Do not interfere with the operations of airports, heliports, or seaplane bases.
- The ground speed of the UAS must not exceed 87 knots (100 miles per hour)
- Do not fly higher than 400 feet above ground level.
- Minimum flight visibility must be no less than 3 statute miles.
- The minimum distance of the UAS from clouds must be no less than 500 feet below the cloud and 2000 feet horizontally from the cloud.
- Do not operate a UAS equipped with a transponder unless authorized (86 FR 4513)
As a Part 107 licensed pilot, you can get permission to operate your drone in certain otherwise prohibited situations by processing waivers for these types of operations. Here is a list of the regulations subject to a waiver:
- Operations from a moving vehicle or aircraft.
- Anti-collision light required for operations at night and during twilight.
- Visual line of sight aircraft operations.
- Visual observer.
- Operations of multiple small UAS.
- Yielding the right of way.
- Operations over people.
- Operations in certain airspace.
- Operating limitations.
Best places to fly a drone in Boston
Now that you know it’s legal to fly a drone in many places in and around Boston, let’s talk about some of the best places to fly your drone in this historic and beautiful city. The tricky part with trying to get your drone up in the downtown and waterfront areas is that those areas are within 5 miles of Logan International Airport.
If you can get airspace authorization, you may be able to fly your drone in some of those places (Boston Downtown, Harbor Islands, Charles River Esplanade, etc.). But then you also have to look out for those “No Drone Zone” signs that are all over the place. To avoid a frustrating time of trying to fly your drone in the downtown Boston area, here are some sure winners of places nearby that are drone-friendly.
1. Lynn Woods Reservation, Massachusetts
Address: 106 Pennybrook Rd, Lynn, MA
Coordinates: 42°28’37.6″N 70°59’11.4″W
Airspace: Class G and B (Uncontrolled/Controlled)
Located just north of the Boston downtown waterfront area, Lynn Woods, Massachusetts is a favorite among drone pilots. While it won’t afford you cityscape type scenery, this 2200-acre forested park is home to lots of wildlife and woodland and wetland areas that are surprising so close to the heart of a major city.
While here, make sure to check out the Stone Observation Tower at the top of Burrill Hill for even more spectacular views.
2. Bill Martin AMA Airfield Medfield, MA
Address: Medfield, MA 02052
Coordinates: 42°12’49.5″N 71°20’42.0″W
Airspace: Class G (Uncontrolled)
The Charles River cuts through the heart of Boston, and just upriver from downtown is the Bill Martin Airfield in Medfield Massachusetts. Located on the 17-mile Charles River Reservation, drones and all other R/C aircraft are welcome at this AMA airfield.
If you’ve never been to one, an airfield like this is a great place to meet other drone and R/C aircraft hobbyists, and to learn something new from more experienced drone pilots. One thing to keep in mind though – before you can fly here, you’ll have to get an AMA membership. Thankfully, they’re always welcoming new member applications. If you live in the Boston area, you should definitely make this a frequent flyer location.
3. Horn Pond Recreation Area Woburn, MA
Address: Arlington Rd, Woburn, MA
Coordinates: 42°28’04.9″N 71°09’29.0″W
Airspace: Class G (Uncontrolled)
Just outside Boston you can find the Horn Pond Recreation Area. This drone-friendly location, while not extensive in area, still has a lot to offer. The main features are a beautiful pond with a 2.4 mile trail around it.
Popular among locals and tourists alike, the park-like atmosphere provides amenities like benches and picnic tables, as well as plenty of scenic views that are great opportunities for practicing your drone photography skills.
4. Old Scituate Lighthouse, MA
Address: 100 Lighthouse Rd, Scituate, MA
Coordinates: 42°12’17.6″N 70°42’57.4″W
Airspace: Class G (Uncontrolled)
The Old Scituate Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse dating back to 1811, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. Located on a small plot on Cedar Point, not far from Boston, the lighthouse is situated on a picturesque promontory on the shore of the Atlantic Ocean and Scituate Harbor.
Don’t miss this location as an awesome place to capture the classic Old New England vibe of sea and sky.
5. Chandler Hovey Park, MA
Address: Lighthouse Ln, Marblehead, MA
Coordinates: 42°30’18.9″N 70°49’59.6″W
Airspace: Class G (Uncontrolled)
This location is perhaps the closest you can get to the downtown waterfront area in Boston without an airspace waiver to fly near the airport. Chandler Hovey Park is a 3.74-acre grassy park right next to Boston Harbor.
Enjoy a scenic view of the mouth of the harbor, and get views of nearby Manchester-By-The-Sea and the Beverly shoreline across the Harbor. The main attraction here however is another lighthouse – the Marblehead Light Tower. The tower that stands here now is a replacement of an earlier brick and wood lighthouse built in 1895.
Fly your drone in this drone-friendly park to capture stunning Boston Harbor scenery and some vistas of US coastal classic charm.