Modern drones are incredible machines that are capable of doing incredible things in the marine and navigational environment. They can be used to spot schools of fish, locate a mooring or open area in a marina to drop anchor, locate an assigned jetty, preview a pristine beach or island, locate items or people who fell over the board, capture great video and photos of the boat at anchor or underway, or even drop safety gear or other gear to remote locations.
However, drones need to be handled differently when used in terrestrial or land use environments, in addition to specific models that are better suited to marine and yacht environments.
1: Types and models of drones
There are a number of issues to consider when selecting a drone for this environment: DJI and Yuneec make several drones capable of being used in this environment. The Splash Drone is waterproof and is a great drone for this environment. GoPro and DJI just introduced little new models that “fold up” and fit in small backpacks and are capable of flying for more than 20 minutes in more than 20 knots of wind!
A: Size – Consider how and where you will store your drone on board your yacht: in a berth, in a storage locker, in the cockpit. The drone should be stored in a safe place where guests and crew will not drop items on the drone or hit or kick the drone.
B: Flight time: consider flight time and battery capacity. Small drones can have less than 10 minutes of flight time, while larger drones fly up to 25 minutes. For casual videos, 10 minutes of flight time may be sufficient, however if you plan to use the drone to locate shoals of fish or remote moorings, consider purchasing a drone with longer flight times.
C: Camera – Many drones come equipped with their own camera, while others can use external cameras like a Gopro or DSLR. The included cameras range from low resolution with images stored on a memory card, while others are capable of 4K resolution (broadcast quality) and transmit live images via WIFI to LCD screens of smartphones, tablets, or controllers. External cameras generally offer the owner more options and higher resolutions, but may not be fully integrated with the included control system.
An example is the Yuneec Typhoon G configured to use the GoPro Hero3 or 4K 4K cameras. This is a great setup capable of playing unusually stable video in most wind conditions. However, while the operator can see what the camera sees on the Typhoon controller’s LCD screen, the controller cannot control any of the GoPro camera functions, and the operator must activate the video record button on the GoPro first. take off and then you can only turn off the video recording after the drone recovers. Integrated cameras can generally be controlled from the controller.
D: Ability to handle windy conditions – This is a major issue that operators need to consider when purchasing a drone. Many of the older, smaller Drones, such as an older Parrot AR Drone or a newer SYMA X5SW Drone, lack many features and do not have the ability to stabilize flight when faced with more than 5-10 knots of wind. Also, these drones do not have stabilized camera mounts to smooth out wobble and turns in windy conditions. Larger drones and drones with better electronics and onboard gimbled camera mounts have better video capabilities in high winds.
E: Recoverable – Many small Drones have no “domestic” capability and are difficult to land in any condition. Most new drones have a highly developed “home” capability and can automatically land at their initial location.
Most, if not all of today’s drones use GPS. Other Drones use a handheld or wrist-mounted device so that the Drone can “sit in” on the controller or other device location. Newer drones incorporate a combination of optical recognition and the controller’s GPS location. The latest DJI Drone has a downward-facing camera that takes thousands of photos as it takes off and then compares them to the landing site. In my opinion, this is a fantastic technology if you are using the drone from a moving yacht or boat.
Another feature that newer drones incorporate is object collision technology that allows you to “see” and avoid the sides of ships, radar arches, and other structures that can interfere with flight or landing.
2. Safe use of a drone on board: a drone is a robot that uses high-powered motors to spin propellers, propellers that can cause significant damage should the drone come into contact with the operator or guests on board . Operators need to know who is near the drone, both on takeoff and landing. Additionally, operators should avoid hitting radar arches, stabilizers, flags, airlifts, and other ship and yacht structures. Operators should make sure to plan how they will use the drone: from the bow, from the stern, from an open bridge, or from the top of a bridge.
3. Safe storage of a drone on board: I strongly recommend that a padded case, soft or hard, be used to transport and store a drone on board a yacht, boat or ship. Bringing a drone aboard a yacht, boat or vessel without storage protection is asking for damage to occur.
4. Maintaining your drone while on board – be sure to include a small tool kit with tools to use on a drone: small pliers and screwdrivers, small Allen key set, spare screws, small key set, nuts and locks propeller, propeller removal tool, small pocket knife, zip ties, tape, terminal cleaning spray, silicone spray to protect your Drone from salt water and salty air, etc. A large fresh water spray bottle will be needed to wash off the salt water in case your drone goes swimming!
Be sure to add spare propellers, lots of them, spare landing legs, spare CHARGED batteries, 12V AND 110V battery, battery connection cables, spare controller batteries and / or controller charger and propeller protectors from replacement.
5. Drone limits when piloting a drone over water: the operator MUST be aware of the battery usage and flight time of their drone. Most of the controllers show the battery charge level of the Drone. At 50% level, I highly recommend that the operator start the return process to retrieve the drone or the drone can go swimming! In addition, the operator must connect a stopwatch to the controller so that the operator is aware of the flight time.
Please note that while launching the drone is relatively quick and easy, landing and retrieving the drone can be quite challenging and consume all the remaining battery capacity.
6. Drone Batteries: Most, if not all, of the batteries used for drones and their controllers are LIPO batteries and are subject to generating a great deal of heat and require very specific charging and storage techniques. LIPO batteries must be transported in special aluminum packages and definitely not in the Drone. Special chargers are required to charge LIPO batteries. Additionally, it can take up to 2 hours to recharge depleted batteries, so the drone operator must ensure that the primary and spare batteries are charged when the operator and drone arrive on board. The operator should allow sufficient time to recharge the batteries after use. Operators should consider purchasing a multiple battery charger.
7. Using smartphones and tablets: Operators should practice connecting the drone to their smartphone and / or tablets of the drone controller. Aboard a moving boat is not the time to familiarize yourself with the operation of Drone operators. It is especially important if the operator is using a GoPro camera as the operator will need to learn the WiFi “pairing” procedure in order for the Drone, controller and GoPro camera to communicate.
A display hood is a must-have accessory for operating a drone in sunlight! Operators must know how to place the hood on the device and how to use the touch panel with the hood in place.
Operators should consider adding a cord attached to the controller; Prevents the controller from being lost overboard and allows the operator to use both hands to work with the drone during landing.
8. Use of propeller guards: I highly recommend operators to use propeller guards on their drone. They are available from most manufacturers or third parties. Most simply snap into place, like the guards on the Yuneec Typhoon G, while others, like the SYMA series propeller guards, require very small Phillips head screws and a screwdriver for attachment.
The guards will not only prevent drone propellers from damaging guests and crew, but will also help prevent the drone from getting caught in the rigging of standing and running sailboats, fishing boat outriggers, radar arches, radio domes and antennas, navigation lights and safety rails. ! Propeller Guards are a MUST HAVE accessory!
9. Drone Recovery Strategies for Windy Conditions – Drones are difficult, if not impossible, to land safely in windy conditions. In most cases, the operator presses the “Start” button and hopes for the best. Another technique is to align the drone high up and “drop the drone out of the sky” in hopes that it will land on the deck or in the cockpit.
An alternative technique is for the operator to “float” the drone within range of the operator and then the operator simply grasp the landing gear and lower the drone. The operator should make sure to wear gloves as the operator could easily cut a finger from the propellers.
Another technique is to attach a thin, weighted line to the drone so that when the drone is close, the operator simply grabs the line and “pulls down” the drone.
The new drones include cameras and optical recognition software that should have the ability to land the drone in windy conditions and on a moving yacht or ship.
Please note that in windy conditions or if you are operating on a moving yacht or even a passenger cruise ship, you may need to fly the drone in front of the yacht or ship and then let the drone “hover” back to the landing position. while slowly lowering the Drone to the deck. I witnessed a drone operator attempting to land his drone on a cruise ship moving at over 20 knots. Instead of employing the above technique, the operator panicked because his drone’s battery was running low (!!) and tried to land the drone by moving the drone in the center of the ship and then flying the drone sideways to land on top cover. The operator had absolutely no control trying to run sideways in over 20 knots of wind and totally destroyed his $ 4,000 drone when it crashed into the cruiser’s steel upper frame!
Conclusion: Drones are magnificent tools for nautical or nautical use, however, operators must be aware of their limits, configure procedures, security, have the necessary tools and spare parts on board to fully enjoy and make the most of the incredible capabilities of the drones. drones.