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Drone Laws in Massachusetts

Between Cape Cod, Boston Common, Wachusett Mountain, and the Brant Point Lighthouse, Massachusetts has many outdoor attractions you may long to shoot with your drone. This will be your first trip here, and you’re not sure what the drone laws are.

What do you need to know before you fly in Massachusetts?

Massachusetts has drone laws on a federal, state, and local level. Many city ordinances restrict drone use, and most public and state parks are off-limits as well. Where you can fly, you must always follow Part 107 rules.

In this article, we’ll unpack Massachusetts drone laws as they apply federally, statewide, and locally.

We’ll also discuss the rules for public and state parks, so make sure you keep reading. There’s lots of great info to come.

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Federal Drone Laws in Massachusetts

Every state in the United States has federal drone laws as mandated by the country’s government.

The laws apply to government employees as well as commercial and recreational drone pilots.

Here is an overview of Massachusetts’ federal drone laws.

Recreational Drone Pilots

Hobbyist or recreational drone pilots should always use a drone in accordance with the Federal Aviation Administration’s Part 107 drone rules.

These rules do grant you freedoms while flying but prioritize the safety of others around you as well as nearby structures and other aircraft you share the skies with.

The FAA requires hobbyists to carry a TRUST certificate whenever flying a drone.

To earn that certificate, you’ll have to take The Recreational UAS Safety Test or TRUST test as a hobbyist drone pilot.

This is a short online test that you can register to take for free. As you go through and answer every question, you’ll know if you got the answers right or wrong.

You can go back and fix wrong answers while you’re taking the test. This grants you the opportunity to earn a perfect score.

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Once you have your TRUST certificate, you won’t have to take the TRUST exam again unless you lose your certificate.

You’ll also have to register any drone you plan to use that’s 0.55 pounds or over with the FAA.

The registration lasts for three years and costs $5. You’ll have to re-register your drone at the end of three years if you’re still using it.

If you buy a new drone in the interim, register it immediately.

Commercial Drone Pilots

Commercial drone pilots are also subject to Massachusetts federal drone law.

Per that law, you must always follow Part 107 rules when flying your drone.

You’re also required to have your Remote Pilot Certificate on your person, which is the certificate or license you earn when you pass the Part 107 exam.

» MORE: FAA Part 107 for Commercial Drone Pilots

This 60-question commercial pilot exam is issued by the FAA and includes questions about the entirety of the current Part 107 laws.

You can sign up to take the exam for the first time if you’re at least 16 years old.

The exam is done in person at a testing center on the FAA’s approved list. Unlike the TRUST exam, you cannot tell while you’re taking the test which answers you got right or wrong.

Studying ahead of your exam is the best way to ensure you’ll pass the first time. You need a score of at least 70 percent to pass.

If you’re looking for online drone schools to beef up your Part 107 knowledge, we’ve reviewed all the best courses here.

» MORE: Best Drone Courses Taught by Experts

Once you pass, you’ll be mailed your Remote Pilot Certificate.

The certificate is active from the day you receive it until two years after that date. At that point, you’re required to take the Part 107 exam again.

You, too, will have to register your drone through the FAA as a commercial pilot. The fee is the same, and the registration lasts for three years.

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Agency Drone Pilots

Government or agency drone pilots must also follow Massachusetts federal drone law.

The law states that government pilots must fly a UAV according to Part 107 rules. You might also be required to obtain a Certificate of Authorization or COA.

State Drone Laws in Massachusetts

Now that you’ve got the federal drone laws under your belt, it’s time to look at Massachusetts’ state drone laws.

302 CMR 12.00: Parks and Recreation Rules // 2016

The only state drone law is known as 302 CMR 12.00: Parks and Recreation Rules, which was passed in 2016 through the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation or DCR.

Drone pilots must have a Special Use Permit, which is “a written agreement that authorizes a person to engage in uses of or activities on DCR property on a specific date and time, which uses exceed in any way the common use of DCR property, or that are otherwise prohibited, regulated or restricted.”

If a drone pilot does not have a Special Use Permit, then this law makes clear that the pilot cannot use a drone over any waterways or land that the DCR manages.

Drone pilots also cannot launch or land a drone on DCR properties.

The only exception is during an emergency situation such as low visibility or if your drone is out of battery and you need to make a sudden landing.

Local Drone Laws in Massachusetts

That brings us to the local drone laws throughout Massachusetts, which are enacted by cities, towns, counties, and villages in this east coast state.

Cape Cod Canal – Federal Law

The first of these is the federal law enacted by the Cape Code Canal, which the law calls the “no drone zone.” That says it all.

Per the law, “Use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS’s) such as drones, are prohibited above federal lands and waters along the Cape Cod Canal.”

The law expands on the reasoning behind banning drones in the Cape Cod Canal. According to the federal law, the movements and noise of drones can detract from the visitor experience.

There also exist concerns that “drones could be used criminally against visitors or critical infrastructure” and that drones aren’t safe for the everyday public.

Whether you agree or not, those are the rules.

Town of Holyoke – Municipal Law // 2016

In Holyoke, the municipal law since 2016 restricts the use of drones in Section 54-22. – Regulation of unmanned aircraft systems (drones).

According to part D in that section, Regulated activities and operational limitations:

“(1) All drones shall comply with all regulations and operational limitations of the Federal Aviation Administration.

(2) A drone may take off from and land on private property owned by the drone operator, and as permitted for such private and public property after having received the prior written consent of that property owner.

(3) Any operator of a drone used for hobby or recreational purposes and not in connection with a business or commercial operation shall also:

a. Register with the FAA and comply with all requirements necessary to register.

b. Fly at or below 400 feet.

c. Maintain at all times a visual lie of sight to the drone while operating the drone.

d. Not operate over any persons or groups of persons not directly participating in the operation, not under a covered structure, and not inside a covered stationary vehicle.

e. Not operate except in daylight-only or civil twilight (30 minutes before official sunset to 30 minutes after official sunset, Eastern Standard time) with appropriate anti-collision lighting.

f. Not photograph or videotape residents in their own home or on their property without the prior written consent of that person or persons.

g. Not operate over the private property of another unless prior written consent is obtained from the property owner.

h. Not operate over any property owned by the city, including the Holyoke water works and Holyoke gas & electric, unless prior written consent has been obtained from the city, Holyoke water works or Holyoke gas & electric. “

Failing to follow these laws will result in police involvement.

The drone pilot will get a warning for their first offense, a non-criminal fine of up to $100 for a second offense, a $200 fine for a third offense, and a $300 fine for any offense afterward.  

City of Chicopee – Municipal Law // 2017

In Chicopee, the municipal law passed in 2017 applies to drones that are less than 55 pounds and flown at 400 feet by a private citizen.

According to §186-4, all drone pilots flying a UAV in Chicopee must follow FAA regulations.

Further, you can only launch or land your drone “on private property owned by the operator or where written permission is granted by the landowner.”

The permission must include the name of the owner and their signature, their property address, and the hours and dates in which the drone will be used.

Further, you have to follow these rules when flying a drone for non-commercial and non-business purposes:

“a. Register with the Federal Aviation Administration and maintain proper documentation of the same.

b. As required by Federal law, fly below four hundred (400) feet at all times.

c. Maintain at all times a visual line of sight of the aircraft and/or drone as defined above.

d. No operator shall operate an aircraft and/or drone over a crowd or person(s) not directly participating in its operation.

e. No operator shall operate an aircraft and/or drone prior to sunrise or subsequent to sunset.

f. No aircraft and/or drone shall be weaponized.

g. No aircraft or drone shall photograph or videotape any person without the prior written permission of that person. All operators shall maintain this written permission while operating the aircraft and/or drone and for a period of seven (7) years thereafter.

h. No aircraft or drone shall operate over private property without the prior written permission from the landowner which shall be in the possession of the operator during operation.

i. No aircraft or drone shall operate over any property owned or controlled by the City of Chicopee unless prior written authorization is secured by the operator.

j. No drone shall be flown within five miles of a civilian or military airport without first contacting the control tower before flying.”

If you disobey the above drone laws in Chicopee, you’ll receive a written warning for your first offense.

Your second offense will be a $100 fine, the third offense will be a $250 fine, and the fourth and any following fine will be $300.

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Massachusetts Drone Law FAQs

If you have a few follow-up questions about Massachusetts drone law, allow us to answer them in this section. 

Can You Fly a Drone in a Public Park in Massachusetts?

As you’ll recall from earlier, the sole Massachusetts state drone law, 302 CMR 12.00: Parks and Recreation Rules, pertains to flying drones in a public park.

Any land owned by the state DNR bans drone takeoffs and landings unless a.) you have a permit or b.) it’s an emergency.

According to the Mass.gov website, the DNR manages over 450,000 acres of land across the state, including “natural, cultural, and recreational resources.”

If you have a particular park in mind that you want to visit, you can use Find a Park by Mass.gov (link) to search for it.

If the park comes up on the list, then it’s a DNR park, and you cannot fly a drone there. 

Can You Fly a Drone in a State Park in Massachusetts?

The majesty of Massachusetts’ state parks makes this state worth visiting alone.

The DNR also oversees all state parks in Massachusetts, which means the same rules as above would apply.

Conclusion

Massachusetts is a wondrous state with plenty of drone laws to protect its bountiful natural resources.

Although the punishments aren’t very steep for breaking the law, you should still always be on your best behavior when flying.

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References:
302 CMR 12.00: Parks and Recreation Rules (link)
Cape Code Canal – federal law (link)
Holyoke – Municode Library (link)
Chicopee – municipal law (link)
Department of Conservation & Recreation | Mass.gov (link)
Find a Park | Mass.gov (link)