Modern Drones are incredible machines that are capable of doing amazing things in the marine and yachting 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 slip, preview an unspoiled beach or island, locate items or persons that dropped overboard, capture great video and still photos of the boat either at anchor or underway, or even drop safety or other equipment to remote locations.
However, Drones need to he handled differently when used in the terrestrial or land use environments, in addition to specific models that are better suited for the marina and yachting environments.
1: Types and Models of Drones
There are a number of issues that should be considered when selecting a Drone for this environment: DJI and Yuneec make a number of Drones capable of use in this environment. The Splash Drone is waterproof and makes a great Drone for this environment. GoPro and DJI have just introduced small new models that “fold” and fit in small backpacks and are capable of flying for 20+ minutes in 20+ knots of wind!
A: Size – consider how and where you will store your Drone aboard your yacht – on a bunk, in a storage locker, in the cockpit. The Drone should be stored in a safe location where guests and crew will not drop items on the Drone or knock or kick the Drone.
B: Flight Time – consider flight time and battery capability.
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Small Drones may have less then 10 minutes flight time while bigger Drones fly up to 25 minutes. For casual videos, 10 minutes flight time may be enough, however if you plan to use the Drone to locate schools of fish or remote moorings, then consider purchasing a Drone with longer flight times.
C: Camera- Many Drones come equipped with their own camera, while others are able to make use of external cameras like a Gopro or DSLR. Included cameras range from low resolution with images stored on a memory card while others are capable of 4K resolution (broadcast quality) and relaying live images via WIFI to a smart phone, tablet, or controller LCD screens. External cameras generally offer the owner more options and higher resolutions, but may not be fully integrated with the included controller system.
An example is the Yuneec Typhoon G set up to use the GoPro Hero3 or 4 4K cameras. This is a great set up capable of unusually stable video in most windy conditions. However, while the operator can see what the camera sees on the Typhoon controller LCD screen, the controller is not able to control any of the features of the GoPro camera- and the operator needs to activate the video record button on the GoPro prior to taking off and then can only shut off video recording after the Drone is retrieved. Integrated cameras usually can be controlled from the controller.
D: Ability to handle windy conditions – This is a significant issue that operators need to keep in mind when purchasing a Drone. Many of the small and older Drones, like an older Parrot AR Drone or a newer SYMA X5SW Drone lack many features and do not have the capability to stabilize flight when faced with more then 5-10 knots of wind. Additionally, these Drones do not have stabilized gimbled camera mounts to smooth out the wobble and gyrations in windy conditions. Larger Drones and Drones with better electronic systems and gimbled camera mounts aboard have better high wind video capabilities.
E: Retrievable – many small Drones do not have “home” capability and are difficult to land in any condition. Most new Drones have a highly developed “home” capability and are able to land back to their starting location automatically.
Most, if not all Drones today, utilize GPS. Other Drones use a hand-held or wrist mounted device so the Drone can “home in” on the controller or other device location. Newer Drones incorporate a combination of Optical Recognition and the GPS location of the controller. The latest DJI Drone has a down-looking camera that takes thousands of photos as it takes off and then compares the photos to the landing location. In my opinion, this is fantastic technology if you are using the Drone from a moving yacht or boat!