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I Just Found a Drone – What Should I Do With It?

Nowadays, there are more drones than ever before because of how drones are becoming quite popular among RC hobbyists and photography enthusiasts alike. But because there are so many more drones around than ever before, the chances of finding a lost one can be quite high as well. So, if you found a drone and the owner is not around to immediately claim it, what should you do with it?

If you find a lost drone, make every effort to return the drone to its owner. Check if it has an FAA number that you can use to trace its owner. If the drone is still powered up, use the drone camera to communicate with the owner. Some drones also have QR codes that can help guide you to the owner. 

If you have found a lost drone, your immediate goal should be to trace its owner back using whatever indications you can use to identify who owns it. However, as you will see later on, it can become more complicated than that as some antiquated property rules may make things difficult for you and the owner of the drone.

How do drones get lost?

The thing about drones right now is that they are increasing in numbers because of how so many people are beginning to use them for recreational and commercial purposes. Some love drones because they simply love flying them around town. Meanwhile, some love drones specifically due to their camera capabilities and how they can take videos and photos from an aerial perspective.

Of course, because there are now more drones in today’s modern world, it also follows that there is a bigger chance of someone losing a drone, and of you finding a lost drone either in a public place or even on your property. But why and how do drones get lost?

If you understand how a drone works, it becomes easy to understand how they get lost. While the FAA requires that you have to be flying your drone within line of sight, there are still some people who take risks and would rather fly their drones out of sight by relying on the drone’s camera to know where they are going. Because it is impossible to truly have a good vantage point by merely relying on the drone’s camera, it can be pretty common for the drone to get lost.

Another reason why drones can easily get lost is due to how they may end up getting caught up in wires or trees. Even if an owner is responsible enough to follow the rules and fly the drone under 400 feet and within his line of sight, some drone owners might not be skilled enough to be able to avoid certain obstacles along the way. In this case, if the drone gets caught up in wires or trees, there is a possibility that the drone might end up getting lost if it falls somewhere out of the owner’s line of sight.

Then there is also the possibility that the drone can lose power in the middle of a flight. Drones aren’t the best in terms of their operational time due to how limited their batteries are. That means that it can be normal for a drone to suddenly lose power while it is in the middle of a flight. If the battery dies, the drone will end up crashing into a place that could be out of the owner’s sight.

In all cases, drones can easily get lost especially if they are not flown responsibly. That’s why it isn’t uncommon for people to find drones in public places or even on their own property. The question now is what you should do with the drone if you find one.

How to locate the owner of a lost drone?

So, if you happen to find a drone in a public place or on your property, the first thing you need to do is to find a way to contact the drone’s owner. After all, the drone is not yours. As a responsible person and a good citizen, you need to make sure that you return the drone to its rightful owner as soon as you can after you found it. But how do you locate the drone’s owner?

The first thing you can do is to try to check if the drone has an FAA registration number. Drones that are 250 grams or heavier are required to be registered with the FAA, and the identification number is supposed to be clearly labeled on the outside of the drone. So, if the drone is registered with the FAA, it should have its registration number visible on it. You can use the registration number and cross-reference it with the FAA’s database to find the owner.

However, the problem arises if the drone is under 250 grams because registration with the FAA is not required in this case. If so, there are some different strategies you can try to locate the drone’s owner aside from relying on the FAA registration number.

One thing you can do is to try to check if the drone is still operational. If it is still working, you may want to turn it on if it wasn’t turned on yet. You can try showing yourself, or a message about the drone’s location on its camera to communicate with the owner who might be over at the other end looking through the drone’s eyes. This will allow you to collaborate with the owner so that you can meet up and return the drone to him.

Another thing you can do if the drone is out of juice or might have gotten damaged from the crash is to try to see if it has a QR code that you can scan. Some drones have QR codes that you can scan with your phone so that you can be directed to the drone owner’s identity in case the drone is lost and then found.

Is it okay to keep a lost drone that I found?

So, what happens if you can’t locate the drone’s owner or if there isn’t anything on the drone that can help you locate its owner? Can you keep the missing drone instead of returning it to its rightful owner?

This part can be a bit tricky because there are no exact rules set by the FAA regarding this matter. Instead, most people tend to refer to common law to decide whether or not you can keep a missing drone.

In that case, common law states that you can keep a drone that is found on your property as long as the owner has not done his part to try to locate and retrieve it from you. But you have to understand that this only applies if and only if it was found on your property. It doesn’t apply if you found the drone in a public space.

So, if you found the drone in public, the finders keepers rule doesn’t apply. The best that you can do here is to find a way to get the drone off of your hands because you won’t be able to keep it if you found it in public. We suggest that you try to surrender it to the authorities such as the FAA or perhaps the police or another government office. These agencies may be able to find the owner better than you could.