You have a drone, and you want to fly it. Make sure you fly your drone safe and respect the UK drone laws.
In the past couple of years, we have seen how drone technology evolved. The unmanned air vehicles (UAV) usage is growing at a rapid rate in the UK.
For recreational or commercial purposes, drones are the best alternative to use compared to the past when you needed to ride a helicopter in order to take aerial photographs or videos.
But talking more about using the UAV for recreational purposes, how many of us are aware of the drone legislation?
In this topic, I will try to cover a few main points to be aware if you are flying a drone.
Update 5th of September 2019: There are no major changes in drone code in the UK. This article was extended to include more useful information for drone pilots in the UK.
But from 30th November 2019 and for drones over 250g, you must pass the drone test and register with the CAA before you fly!
UK DRONE LAWS – how to fly your drone safely in the UK
- You are responsible for each flight
- Fly your drone under 120m (400ft) and keep it in sight
- Fly the UAV in the ‘safe zones’ only
- Respect other people privacy
- Register your drone with CAA
- 12 extra tips to stay safe!
1. You are responsible for each flight.
It is very accurate that the legal responsibility lies with you. There is nothing to be scared of if you are respecting the drone code (dronesafe.uk).
If you fly your drone for the first time, please make sure you operate it in open space away from people and buildings and try to set up your drone on beginner mode (as the DJI drones support this function). In this case, you will keep your drone close to you (about 30m) operating at a lower speed with all the safety systems active.
2. Fly your drone under 120m (400ft) and keep it in sight
In the UK it is now illegal and not safe to fly your drone above 400ft or 120m, since 30th July 2018, and make sure you keep it in sight at all times.
To avoid making mistakes, it is the best option to set your altitude of the drone at maximum 400ft, but it is recommended slightly below for your own safety.
Remember that if you fly your UAV above this threshold, you risk being prosecuted by law.
If you own a DJI drone, I recommend you to keep all the flight logs, as it can be used as evidence in case of being accused of breaking the laws.
3. Fly the UAV in the ‘safe zones’ only
Like number 2, there are few things to take into consideration with the distance limit when flying your drone.
Be aware that you are not allowed to fly closer than 50m of a person or properties (yes… I know).
Avoid flying over crowds and built-up areas closer than 150m (500ft)
Never fly your drone near any aircraft and make sure you remain on a safe distance away from any airports and airfields for your safety ( see https://dronesafe.uk/restrictions/ for an accurate map of restrictions of flying your drone near airport or airfields in the United Kingdom.)
4. Respect other people privacy
Although it is nearly impossible to “spy” with your drone because of the wide-angle cameras mounted on the UAV’s (where is the case), still try to avoid flying over private properties to avoid concerns of “being accused of violating privacy”.
Many people from the public are not aware of the drone capabilities, and yes, if
It happened before, and if you fly over some private or commercial areas, make sure you get their consent before doing it.
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But most of them, they can be looking for “a commercial side”, which is another story (unless you have your drone commercially registered)
5. Register your drone with CAA
New drone laws are bringing the UK to the edge of the canyon in the case of using an unmanned aerial vehicle such as drones and other aircraft. Knowing the incidents from Gatwick Airport where drones were the airport had to be shut down due to drones spotted in sight above the airport, this is a major step for the Civil Aviation Authority to implement a drone and pilot registration.
As for the 30th November 2019, every drone pilot will have to register to CAA where you have to pass an online test which recognizes your knowledge about flying a drone safe and to get a license for flying drones between 250g and 20kg.
The registrations will be open starting with the date of 1st of October 2019 and there will be three main requirements:
- The first one will be an online test (free) required if you want to fly your drone outdoors. This test will have to be repeated every three years.
- Second thing is that you will have to register as an operator if you are responsible for a drone or model aircraft. You must be aged 18 or above to be able to register. Will this will come to an annual fee (not yet known, follow https://dronesafe.uk/registration/ for more updated information.
- And the third thing we have to take into consideration is the fact that all drones and models aircraft will have to be labeled with the operator’s unique ID number.
6. Bonus: 12 extra tips to fly your drone safe and respect the UK drone laws
#1: Install “Drone Assist” App on your phone
This is absolutely NOT a paid promotion or anything like that.
But there is an app available in the UK for your mobile phone (iOS at least, not sure about Android phones) which show you the drone code and the map of restrictions in real-time
Drone assist is telling you exactly where you can fly your drone or not, areas where you have to operate with caution because of the privacy or safety concern, if there are hazards or any no-fly-zone.
Wherever I go flying my drone, I always open this APP first! It does show the restrictions from my location.
My opinion? As a drone operator, it does worth having it. And it is absolutely free.
#2: You cannot fly your drone over national trust lands
National Trust is a major part that includes public places in the UK, and by their policy, you are not allowed to fly your drone in the UK in any of the national trust areas without necessary qualifications and permission granted by them.
You can check the following map from the national trust: NATIONAL TRUST MAP
Also, this is the drone policy from their website: NATIONAL TRUST DRONE POLICY
#3: Flying your drone near castles in the UK
We all know that the UK is dominated by castles and ruins, therefore taking some aerial footages or photographs of a castle is prohibited unless approved by their site managers.
This is based on my research and the experience of flying my drone near Pevensey Castle, where I was approached by their site manager in charge for that day. She nicely explained to me why I am not allowed to fly the drone nearby that castle. This appears to apply as everywhere around the UK.
As for commercial purposes, you have to contact the staff present for more information.
#4: Flying your drone in public parks
Unless the park is a no-drone-fly zone (as found in special in big cities around the UK), you are allowed to fly your drone in public parks (unless, of course, is owned by National Trust or is a private park).
The concerns are privacy related and approaching your drone closer than 50 meters to people or buildings, which is highly the case.
I cannot be held responsible for this information as there are thousands of parks around the UK and I do not know the exact location you want to fly, therefore I would recommend installing the DRONE ASSIST for accurate information.
#5: Flying your drone on public beaches
The UK drone laws do not state anywhere that you are forbidden to fly your drone on public beaches, therefore there are two points to keep in mind if you are aiming to fly your drone on a public beach in the UK
First one is to make sure that there are no people or any properties nearby within the UK drone laws range to cause any privacy concerns.
The second one is to make sure that the beach is not private (unlikely) or owned by the national trust (more likely to be).
For the same reasons as the number #4, I would recommend using the drone assist for accurate information.
#6: Flying your drone in natural reserves
I would strongly not recommend flying your drone in natural reserves as it may disturb the wildlife (as I’ve been told). I always avoided flying over those areas, therefore, I cannot give you any accurate information about the UK drone laws if you are allowed to fly your drone in any of those areas.
But my strong recommendation is to avoid it totally.
#7: Flying your drone in or above the forests (argh!)
There is no piece of information in the UK drone laws/legislations which are stating that you are not allowed to fly your drone into or above a forest unless is belonging to the national trust, is wildlife, nature reserve or private area.
In the case of flying your drone above the forests ensure that there are no airports in range.
#8: Flying your drone in your private property (outdoors)
Now for this, the question is: is it your private property 150m further than any other properties?
If the answer is yes, your property is isolated, you are allowed to fly your drone with no concerns (if the property is rented, check with your landlord for their approval.)
If the answer is no, your property is in the vicinity of other properties, you are not allowed to fly your drone due to the privacy concerns.
Or if the answer is “my property is nearby an airport, military base, in the central London, etc“, I think you already know the answer.
#9: A signature is golden
Let’s assume that you may want to fly your drone for recreational purposes (if for commercial purposes, you may already know this) in a private area or property, and you got the “green lights” from a property owner or manager of the site, make sure you get a signature on written.
You can write or print a similar “document” to sign. There is to be expected that the owner or manager/administrator of the site will charge you, but if there are any concerns at all, that signature can save you.
Dear Sir / Madam
I am writing you this request form to you in order to be able to fly my drone on or over your private area/property for recreational purposes while respecting the UK drone laws.
I would like for you to sign this document where you hereby confirm that I will be able to fly my drone on the date of DD/MM/YYYY between hours XX:XX and YY:YY.
Thank you for your acceptance.
Named and signed by the drone operator:
Named and signed by the property owner:
#10: Using photographs/footages from a recreational drone to monetize
In the Brexit country called the UK, if you are using a drone for recreational purposes and you got some awesome footages or photographs and you upload them either to YouTube where you have an active monetization or elsewhere to sell, you are in breach of the laws.
You need to use your drone with a proper commercial license to be able to do that.
But in reality, the majority of people are having an income by selling drone footages or photographs, or they have an active youtube channel monetized, whilst their drones are not registered as commercial. The truth is that nobody is looking into that unless there are some real concerns behind it.
I am not very sure if this applies elsewhere or just in the UK. If you are outside of the UK, make sure that you check with your country’s drone laws.
#11: Flying your drone with Goggles
Goggles are known to be a virtual reality headset you put on your head connected to the drone, allowing you to see through “the bird’s eyes”.
The UK drone laws are specifying that you are not allowed to do that unless you have an assistant which is able to monitor the drone flight directly, therefore, as simple as it is if you want to fly your drone with a headset on, make sure you take someone with you, in order to comply with the UK drone laws.
#12: Flying your drone where you should not.
Let’s eliminate the main UK drone laws where they specify where you cannot fly your drone at all, but:
What happens if you fly your drone over a public or a place where you should not and somebody calls the police or security?
First of all, do not panic. I got myself into a similar situation where I was flying my drone over a lake where I simply should not, and I was approached by the security team and police.
You did nothing wrong. You simply did not know (even if you did). Those areas should have a NO-FLY-ZONE board clearly displayed. Nobody can prosecute you unless you continue flying after you’ve been warned that you cannot.
It is very important that you know from the top of your head the drone legislation and has a humanliy conversation with the officers or security team.
Of course, I can’t speak for yourself as every situation may be different, but keep in mind that if somebody hates so much drone pilots and drones flying over some areas, they should mark that area as a NO-FLY-ZONE.
UK DRONE LAWS and how to fly a drone safely in the UK: Conclusion
I hope that after you read this article you have some basic knowledge about flying a drone safely without breaking the UK drone laws.
The drone laws are changing continuously in the UK. Make sure you follow them in order to protect yourself from unwanted prosecutions.
What is your opinion? Is it the UK being too restrictive against drone operators in comparison with other countries?
You can check a few other articles from our website:
- 5 Tips for Taking Outstanding Aerial Photography
- DJI Mavic Air – Full in-depth review
- Are you picking a niche in photography? Should you do it?
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