Top Tips for flying a drone from a boat at sea
Drone pilot Stefanie Williams from Aerialworx has a love of the water and an enthusiasm for water sports, especially kite surfing and scuba diving. With over 30 years flying experience and a home near the sea, she has a passion for flying and has a natural skill for flying a variety of drones over water and from moving vessels. Here she talks about top tips for operating a drone from a boat at sea.
In June 2016, Aerialworx was approached by Talisker Whiskey to film their annual Talisker Whiskey Atlantic Challenge. The challenge involved 26 teams of 1, 2 and 4 people rowing across the Atlantic from La Gomera in Spain to Antigua in the Caribbean. At this point in time, Stef already had already undertaken a number of similar projects including the YorkshireRows Drone Video in Skye Scotland and the Martini Power Boat Racing Challenge. Stef together with drone DOP Pete Stanton spent the months of December 2016 and January 2017 out at sea, filming these amazing rowers on their epic 3000 mile journey. They successfully completed over 120 flights during this time and the footage was broadcasted on BBC Breakfast, ITN News and Nat Geo as well as being used in the making of a documentary and film. Here is a link to how we operated back then – things have changed a little since then, but the principle is still the same.
Read Stef’s top tips for flying a drone from a boat at sea.
Make sure that you understand what is expected of you and that you have an adequate size boat for the task at hand. A small RIB or similar may be adequate if you’re operating on a river or estuary, but a larger boat or ship will be necessary if you’re operating in the mid-Atlantic.
Launching and Landing
Make sure that you’ve given consideration to how you will take-off and land the drone. If there is space to land on deck or on a designated platform, that may be the safest option. But, if the conditions dictate or there is a lack of space, it may be necessary to hand launch and recover. If you decide to hand launch your drone, firstly practice on land and don’t forget to read our Top Tips for Hand Launching a Drone.
Make sure you have good and effective communication with the captain of your vessel and make sure the crew have been briefed on drone safety and operations. Effective communication with everyone will enable you and your team to move around efficiently and effectively to capture the best shots. If you’re operating from a larger vessel or multiple vessels, walkie talkies may be a good form of communication.
Wind Direction and Turbulence
Make sure you understand the wind and how it interacts with your drone and the subject you’re filming. If you’re filming sailing boats, wind surfers or kite surfers it is generally a good idea to stay downwind of them. If anything unexpected happens or even if the wind is blowing the drone around, it will always be blown away from the subject being filmed.
Pilot and Drone DOP Safety
Make sure that you as the drone pilot and your drone DOP have plenty of space to work and that you have a comfortable and secure place to sit to operate the drone. If you’re operating in choppy waters, you may want to consider a safety belt and sea sickness tablets. It is imperative that no one stands in front of you and that you have a good signal to the drone and good vision all around the vessel.
Make sure that your fail safe is set to “Hover” as opposed to “Return to Home” or “Land”. Even a boat at anchor moves and the last thing you want is for your drone to return to the start location where you launched the drone or even worse and land at it’s current position.
Make sure you have geo-fencing turned off. This is sometimes called maximum distance and in the UK is often set to 500 meters. You can very easily and very quickly drift a few miles and far outside your geo fence within a few minutes.
Take Off and Land in ATTI
Make sure you take off and land in ATTI mode as GPS mode will cause the drone to try and hold it’s current position above the boat deck. If you’re taking off or landing from a boat which is constantly moving, this could have catastrophic consequences.
Flying in ATTI
Flying in ATTI is optional but highly recommended as the results are far smoother and the drone can quite often fly faster in ATTI.
Filming and Flying Direction
Make sure you consider the direction of flying and filming. If at all possible I always recommend flying into wind at the beginning of the flight and flying down wind back to the vessel to land towards the end of the flight. This ensures that you’re not overly depleting the batteries on the return journey. Always think, Safety First!
Make sure you land with plenty of power in reserve. I would always recommend landing your drone with at least 3.7v per cell of power. This gives plenty of scope for an emergency or go around if required.
Make sure your drone insurance covers you for operating from a vessel at sea. Many drone insurance companies allow you to fly over water, but do not cover you for operating from a vessel.
Above everything, be confident, calm and professional at all times and capture those amazing shots that you didn’t think were possible. Enjoy and I hope this check list has been helpful.
If you have any comments or feel I have left something out, please feel free to send me an email.