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How to take off and land your drone from a sailboat

How to take off and land your drone from a sailboat

An article in Cruising World has a few good tips on how to take off and land your drone from a sailboat. Below I will highlight some of the most relevant information for safely flying your drone from a sailboat under sail.

How to take off and land your drone from a sailboat

Not too long ago taking aerial photos of sailboats meant that you’d have to rent a helicopter and pilot and bring an expensive camera with a probably even more expensive telephoto zoom lens. Nowadays, you simply buy a drone on Amazon’s or DJI’s website and take your own aerial shots, while flying your drone close to the action.

However, flying your drone from a sailboat under sail is not without risk. Here are some of the highlights from Ronnie Simpson, a sailing-media professional and commercial drone pilot who has covered many major sailing events. In this article on Cruising World, Simpson explains how to safely fly your drone from a boat.

Turn off all sensors and safety features

When operating around boats and the water, turning off all of the auto and safety features is almost universally agreed upon by any experienced drone pilot. If you launch from a moving boat, for example, the drone will oftentimes try to “return to home” and land at its point of takeoff when the battery drops to a certain percentage. This can obviously be catastrophic when flying from a moving boat. Also, returning for a landing is usually met with resistance because the drone won’t want to come within several meters of the boat and its rigging, making landing impossible. Turning off all the safety and auto sensors also improves battery life and performance.

Reduce the apparent wind speed before taking off or landing your drone

During retrieval, but especially during launching, anything that can be done to reduce the apparent wind is helpful. When launching off a moving boat going upwind, I generally ask the main trimmer to ease the mainsail and the helmsman to luff up and slow down the boat. Once the drone is away, the helmsman simply falls back off and the main is retrimmed.

The major lesson learned in that loss of a really nice Phantom 4 was to always be hyperaware of launching off the leeward side of a fast boat going upwind; the turbulence, or “dirty air,” in the lee of the mainsail sent my drone straight into the drink.

Launching while sailing downwind tends to be easier because the boat is generally flatter and apparent wind speeds are reduced. Once the drone is out of my hand, I like to immediately throttle it up and away from the boat.

Popular drones to use from a sailboat is the DJI Phantom 4 Pro with its legs for hand catching, high-quality camera, and powerful motors. However, some photographers also use DJI Mavic 2 Pro’s with 3D printed grips mounted to them. Obviously the smaller size makes the Mavic a favorite on travel trips.

Read Simpson’s entire article here for more info.


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If you want to turn your hobby into your career, practice how to fly your drone safely, and learn what it takes to get your Part 107, be sure to check out the excellent training modules from The Drone U.

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Photo: Cruising World / Ronnie Simpson

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Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews. Haye is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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