Few pilots ever plan to fly in the rain; it just so happens they’re faced with a light drizzle on what was otherwise a sunny day.
However, given that this is the first time you’ve gotten caught in light rain, you’re not entirely sure what to do.
Can you keep flying your drone or should you head home?
You should not fly a drone in light rain if you can help it. The drizzle makes it harder to navigate, you risk wetting (and possibly breaking) your drone, and the wind that could accompany a light rain will also increase your navigation struggles.
If you have questions about flying your drone in a light rain, worry not, as we’ve got answers.
Keep reading to learn why you shouldn’t fly a drone in light rain, what happens if your drone gets wet, and how to dry your drone after it gets caught in a drizzle.
What constitutes a light rain?
First, let’s be sure that you’re clear on what we’re talking about when we discuss a light rain.
Technically, light rain occurs when the rate of precipitation is under 2.5 millimeters an hour, which is 0.098 inches or fewer per hour.
A light rain is also a drizzle. Some people refer to it as misting.
It’s certainly raining out, but the rain is very light and fine. You’d still get wet if you spent long enough out in it, but you’re not being pelted in the face by rain droplets.
Why it’s not the best idea to fly a drone in light rain
As we said in the intro, pilot rarely choose to fly in inclement weather. When stuck in inclement weather though, they have a tough call to make.
To stick it out or to go home? If you’re a commercial pilot and you have deadlines to meet, you might want to ignore the rain. After all, it’s only a light drizzle, right?
Here are some reasons why that’s not the best idea.
Rain reduces navigation visibility
Rainy days are often those without sunshine. You’re already working with less daylight than you have on an optimal day of drone flight, which means your range of visibility is naturally less.
Even if a light rain doesn’t bring with it fog, the drizzle can certainly impede your short-term visibility much the same way that fog does.
You won’t be able to see ahead feet in front of you anymore. If you cannot, then you shouldn’t fly your drone. It’s that simple.
You have no means of determining what’s in front of you until your drone possibly collides with that object, coming back mangled and wet.
Even if you know an outdoor area innately well, you can never say the area will be reliably clear. Birds could be passing through, or cars, or a wild animal spooked from the rain. It’s too risky to fly.
Rain can interfere with drone sensors and lenses
If you were hoping to continue your commercial work and that’s why you were doing your best to tough it out in the rain, we don’t advise this either.
You’re expecting to take quality photos and videos, right? Even in a light drizzle? That’s not going to happen.
Unless your drone camera is hidden or protected within the shell of the drone, then the camera is exposed to the weather much the same way that the rest of the drone is.
The lens will get wet, which means the high-quality, clear photos and videos that you’re used to getting out of your drone won’t happen.
Instead, they’ll look blurry and distorted, sort of like driving with a rainy windshield. No amount of editing will be able to clarify the shots, so you’ll have wasted your time anyway.
It’s not only that. Drone sensors can get similarly wet, the droplets smudging them and interfering with their effectiveness.
If you can’t reliably trust your drone’s obstacle avoidance features, then flying it in low visibility is an especially poor idea.
Rain can weaken your GPS signal
When the atmosphere changes, GPS signals respond in kind. Snow and rain are cable of lessening one’s GPS signal depending on where the antenna is dropped.
Now, stronger rains than a drizzle would obviously cause a more pronounced effect, but that doesn’t mean that even a light rain couldn’t distort the signal.
Without GPS, your drone may struggle to return back to you. If you can’t see it because the rain has caused low visibility, then now you’re really in trouble. You could lose your drone.
Accompanying winds reduce navigation ease
It doesn’t always get windy before it rains, and in a light drizzle, the winds can be manageable at best.
That said, if the inclement weather brings with it anything stronger than a light breeze, the wind is also going to make it especially difficult and dangerous to fly your drone.
Your drone can get soaked
We saved what is arguably the best reason not to fly a drone in light rain for last.
Drones are not designed to get wet. You can’t justify it by saying that a light rain is not all that bad, because a drone shouldn’t get even a little bit wet.
If it does, as we’re about to explain, bad things can happen.
Can drones get wet? Will rain ruin a drone?
Unless your drone is waterproof, then it’s not designed for flying in the rain, even a light rain.
First, the electronic speed controllers or ESCs burn out. Since the ESCs dictate how much power the drone motor receives at any one time, your motor can fail once the ESCs do.
It gets worse than that. The batteries will sustain damage after the ESCs blow, and this damage is likely severe enough that the batteries will not be usable again. You’ll have to replace them.
The other components of your drone can sustain damage as well, including the gimbal assembly, the cameras, the ports, and the sensors.
Fixing these components individually can be incredibly costly. Depending on how saturated the parts are, repairs may not even be the best option. Rather, parts replacement is.
Rather than spend money on replacing each individual component, at that point, you’re best off calling the drone a wash and buying a new one.
Are there any drones that can fly in the rain?
As we made clear in the last section, not every last drone model is going to get saturated past the point of no return if you fly it in the rain. Some drones are waterproof, which means they’re capable of flying in the rain and even being submerged in water.
How do you know if your drone is waterproof? Find the owner’s manual or documentation online and look up its IP rating.
An IP rating goes from zero through nine and is two digits long. The first digit will be between zero and six and represents how well the drone does against solid objects. That’s handy information, but not really applicable here.
Instead, you want to pay attention to the second digit in the IP rating, which can be up to nine. This is how waterproof your drone is.
If your drone’s second-digit IP rating is a zero, then never fly it in the rain. It cannot handle the precipitation.
Even if your drone has a second-digit IP rating between one and five, it’s still an iffy proposition to take it out in a light drizzle. Only drones that are rated an eight or nine should fly.
Here are some waterproof drone models to consider:
- Tetra Drones Tetra
- PowerVision PowerRay
- HexH2O Pro V2
- Swellpro SplashDrone 3
- PowerVision PowerEgg X
- Swellpro SplashDrone 4
- Swellpro Spry+
Although the aforementioned drones are indeed waterproof, it would be a waste of their waterproofing capacity to fly them only in a light rain. These drones are designed to fly in the water.
That said, if you don’t mind spending more money for a drone just for the waterproofing, that list is a good place to start.
Can you save a drone that’s been wet in light rain?
You hadn’t realized that even a light drizzle could be so detrimental to your drone, as you already took yours out for a spin on a rainy day.
Admittedly, it got quite wet, and it’s barely working the way it’s supposed to. Can you save it?
Maybe. Here are the steps to follow if your drone ever gets wet (and isn’t waterproof).
Step 1 – Get out of the rain!
If your drone is already wet, don’t take on the mindset that more water can’t hurt it, because yes, it can.
By flying your drone back to you now, you’re preserving whatever components didn’t get soaked from incurring damage. You’re also preventing the already damaged components from getting worse.
Step 2 – Turn off the drone
Your drone is an electronic at the end of the day, and a wet electronic that’s on and running is a hazard. Power off the drone once it’s back in your possession.
Step 3 – Take out the battery
Could the battery be a goner at this point? Perhaps, but perhaps not.
You won’t be able to determine that until later. For now, you need that wet battery out before it gets soaked even further.
Step 4 – Flush the water
Rainwater is not pure water by any stretch of the imagination. The water includes sulfate ions, bicarbonate, chloride, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium, not to mention nitrogen, nitrite, nitrate, and ammonia.
You don’t want any of that lingering in your drone, so use pure, distilled water to flush the rainwater from the drone.
The drone should be completely off at this point and not connected to any source of power.
Step 5 – Dry out the drone
Your drone will not dry overnight. Give it at least a week for every internal and external component to fully dry.
Step 6 – Turn the drone back on
Now that it’s been a while and you’re confident your drone is amply dry, turn it back on.
Don’t expect this to go 100 percent smoothly. Your drone could have short-circuited somewhere and may produce flames or smoke.
Turn it off immediately if this happens and get the damaged parts either repaired or–more than likely–replaced.
Flying a drone in light rain may seem harmless enough, but it’s often anything but.
Non-waterproof drones should not get wet, even in a drizzle. If they do, internal and external components can break, sometimes for good!