I lost my drone in water! I knew the day would eventually come – it’s happened to many drone pilots in the past, but still – losing a drone is pretty traumatic! Drones are definitely not cheap, plus you can lose lots of great raw images and videos you took! More often than not if you lose a drone on land you can use the GPS tracker to locate and retrieve it. But trying to retrieve a drone in water is a different matter as the majority of drones do not float!
Read on to see what happened after I lost my drone in water and how I managed to get a replacement drone for free from DJI! This article will be especially useful if you ever lose your drone in water in the future so you will know what to do!
How I Lost My Drone In Water
So for background information: we had had our drone about 9 months and flew it most days so were pretty confident using the drone. We lost our drone in the ocean near Bondi Beach – our local beach where we have flown the drone hundreds of times before! Ah so bittersweet!
On the particular day when our drone dropped into the ocean here is what happened: we had had the drone in the air for less than a minute and a half. Everything seemed to be going fine – there was 85% battery left, connection was good, there was no wind and there were no obstacles around us that we could crash into. Yet all of a sudden the drone just started going down – we quickly raised the joysticks to get it to fly up but nothing. The signal went and into the ocean the drone slowly sank to it’s final landing spot. We literally could not comprehend what just happened – it made no sense.
We watched back the last video the drone took to see if we could work out what happened. Again nothing made sense!
We could see the exact location where the drone had gone into the water on the GPS locator map on our screen on the drone remote controller, and on the flight log on the app. The drone location was right in the middle of the bay so quite far to swim out (about 500 metres), plus the ocean was quite deep at that point. We decided we had a few options. We could either:
- borrow a friend’s drone to see if we could see our drone in the water from the sky
- get out to the location on our paddle board and then one of us dive down and try to retrieve the drone
- give up, accept the drone is gone and try to get a replacement under our guarantee, knowing that it still might cost us several hundreds of dollars, despite having insurance for our drone.
Personally, I was just leaning towards the last option of just accepting the drone is gone, but my partner really wanted the SD card back as it contained all our pictures and videos from our latest NSW road trip from Sydney. The cache of the drone was only storing low resolution images, and we stupidly hadn’t transferred the previous images across to our computer.
Do Drones Float?
I typed ‘Do Drones Float?’ into Google, even though I was pretty sure they definitely didn’t. Heck it was worth a shot. And I’m sure everyone who has lost their drone in the water before – whether it be a lake, river or the ocean, has done the same thing.
Unfortunately, standard drones such as DJI drones do not float as the drone casing isn’t watertight. Once the drone lands on the water, the water will slowly begin to seep into the casing of the drone which will slowly pull it under the water, unless your drone has a floatation device or is designed to float.
Of course, we didn’t have a floatation device on our drone. In fact I don’t know anyone who does, and we know a lot of droners.
Trying To Retrieve Our Drone From The Ocean
Our friend kindly lent us their drone to see if we could fly over the area where we lost it and locate it. Luckily it was a sunny day and the water clarity was quite clear, otherwise it would have been pointless to do so as you wouldn’t be able to see anything. But as I thought, we weren’t able to locate it.
We then got the paddleboard out to roughly the location where the drone had dropped and had a quick dive down, but no luck again.
We gave our details to the Lifeguards and the Surf Life Saving Club, so if our drone miraculously washed up on the shore and anyone handed our drone in they could contact us and let us know.
Contacting DJI Drone Company For A Free Replacement Drone
After several hours looking for the drone I said enough is enough, let’s just contact the drone manufacturer and see if we can get a replacement as we have had the drone less than a year so it will be covered by the guarantee. Plus it wasn’t our error, it was clearly a malfunction with the drone. Friends of ours in the past had lost drones due to battery errors or malfunctions and had got sent out a replacement aircraft for free, so we were hoping the same would happen to us.
Luckily we had the DJI Flyaway Coverage – part of the DJI Care service, which is basically insurance for the drone and provides a level of cover for lost drones. However, you may still need to pay around 50% of the price of the drone to get a replacement, which is still quite a big sum of money (around $800 Australian dollars for the type of drone we have). We hoped this wasn’t going to be the case, and that somehow we could get a replacement for free.
We went on the DJI drone website and spoke with a staff member on the live chat, explaining what had happened. They asked for our details and the serial number of the drone and gave us a case number for our logged report. We also had to send the flight records and flight logs of our last flight, so the Data Analysis Team could evaluate the flight and work out what happened (to see if it was operator error or aircraft malfunction). As it was a Saturday, we would have to wait a few days to hear back from them.
The drone manufacturer (DJI) was super attentive and useful, and emailed us back within a few days saying they had analysed the flight records and logs, they couldn’t find the root cause of the malfunction, and so they would offer us a free replacement if the aircraft cannot be recovered. As the drone couldn’t be recovered, DJI sent out a new aircraft to us (complete with battery and propellors as of course they sunk too). All in all, the whole process took less than two weeks from start to finish so we were really pleased with the service. The communication throughout the whole process was excellent and we honestly couldn’t fault them – they genuinely cared and wanted to help us.
So, Will DJI Always Replace A Lost Drone?
Of course drones are expensive and almost a third of drones that crash never get retrieved, so it makes sense to wonder what will happen if you lose your drone. Will you be covered, is there insurance, do you have to fork out for a new drone?
Here’s the thing. Most manufacturers won’t replace lost drones. So many drones get lost all the time, so companies can’t just send out replacement drones willy-nilly. DJI manufacturer however isn’t like other drone companies. It is the number 1 drone company in the world and it wants to keep that reputation. It has excellent customer service and they are really helpful.
That being said, DJI aren’t just going to replace any drone that gets lost, especially if it is due to your error (eg: crashing into a tree or running out of battery). If you have the DJI Flyaway Coverage and DJI Care (which we did and I 100% recommend), they may replace your drone for you for free. But if you aren’t under DJI Care and don’t have the Flyaway Coverage, chances are that you won’t be getting a replacement free of charge from DJI.
With the Flyaway Coverage (part of the DJI Care Refresh Plan) if you lose your drone you will have to pay a fee to get a replacement aircraft from DJI, unless it is deemed to be an aircraft error or malfunction. You can only use the Flyaway Coverage once, and you must bind your DJI account and remote controller with the aircraft using the DJI Fly App. This is really important – if you don’t bind them, your Flyaway Coverage won’t be valid!
Why Do Drones Get Lost?
Now let’s focus on why our drone got lost in the water, and more specifically – why do drones get lost?! Apparently 30% of drone owners will lose their drone and never recover it – that’s quite a high statistic! So what are the reasons for losing the drone aircraft whilst you are flying it? It’s important to know these so you can try to work out what happened with your drone.
- connection drop
- interference or fault
- difficult terrain/weather
- running out of battery
A connection drop between your drone and remote control will disable the live feed from the drone camera and block your controls, which will make a crash more likely. In this situation, think about the direction the drone was flying in when you lost connection. Could the drone have crashed into something? Check the GPS marker to see where it says your drone is and if you can go there to search for it.
Sometimes losing the live feed may mean that the drone is returning to the home position – some newer drones have a setting that means if they lose their connectivity they will hover in the same spot in the air or return to the home spot, which may mean that your drone isn’t lost after all.
To prevent connection drops it is recommended to buy external antenna for your drone.
Interference Or Fault
Sometimes a drone may get lost because of a fault or interference which will disrupt the controls. Again if this happens, refer to the GPS location for the last known marker of where the drone was. If it is a fault, like what happened with us – upload the flight logs to the drone manufacturer and they may give you a replacement for free.
This can be painful to accept, but maybe you were flying in terrain or wind that was just too tough for your drone and your piloting skills and it just didn’t make it back. Or perhaps rain appeared and caused the signal to get blocked. If your drone landed on the top of a really steep mountain, or at the top of a tree in dense woodland, or even in alligator infested waters – you could get injured and in danger trying to retrieve your drone, so just accept it and cut your losses. Your life is definitely worth more than your drone.
Running Out Of Battery
This is the most avoidable situation, and if you lose the drone because you ran out of battery, it pains me to say but it wasn’t the drone’s fault and you won’t get a replacement. You should always keep an eye on the battery. Remember if there is any wind – particularly off-shore wind, it will take the drone much longer to come back to you, and it will use more energy (think when you are swimming against the current how difficult it is – it’s the same when a drone is flying against the wind). Make sure you come back with plenty of battery.
Never take off with a battery that isn’t full, and make sure you know the wind speed and direction before you take off. Luckily some drones have an automatic return to home setting when it reaches low battery, but don’t rely on this.
Keep Your Remote Controller Connected
If you lose your drone it is important to keep your remote controller on and connected. Check the drone’s last known location, and check the flight logs so you know where you need to search for it – if it is safe to do so.
To check your flight logs go into the DJI App, go to ‘Me’ in the bottom right corner and select ‘Flight Logs’. Click on ‘Flight List’ and then you’ll be able to see all your flights.
How To Find A Lost Drone In Water
Finding a drone in the water – or more specifically the ocean is definitely not an easy task! You see, not only is losing a drone in the ocean a lot more tricky to retrieve than a drone lost on land, what makes it worse is that the current can drag the drone out to sea (or sometimes into shore, which we hoped might happen!) and so it is really difficult to pinpoint the location where it will be. Also the more time that goes on, the more sand that will get washed over the drone and cover it, preventing you from finding it.
The good thing about losing your drone (if that is a thing?!) is that nobody else can use your drone as it will only work with your paired remote controller and it is tracked by the drone company (a bit like mobile phones). So even if somebody does find your drone, they won’t be able to fly it.
How To Prevent Losing Your Drone In Water:
Of course in circumstances such as a system malfunction or battery error there isn’t much you can do if you aren’t able to literally dive into the water there and then to try and catch it before it sinks to the bottom of the ocean or gets dragged away in a fast flowing river. But things you can do to prevent losing your drone (on land and in water) include:
- make sure GPS is turned on so you can see the location of the drone.
- never fly in strong winds.
- avoid flying in sport mode as it will ignore any obstacles and you could potentially crash into something.
- always fly with a full battery (and ensure your phone and the controller have enough battery!).
- have a waterproof sticker/label on your drone with your phone number on, so if it does get washed up on the shore, perhaps some nice person might phone you, or at least hand it in to the lifeguards/police station or something and they can phone you.
- attach a floatation device to your drone!
How To Make Your Drone Float In Water – Floatation Devices
As mentioned, standard drones will only float if they have a floatation device attached to them. Floatation devices are actually great if you will be flying over water a lot. And what’s great is that you can even create a DIY flotation device yourself relatively quickly and cheap! Simply attach some round styrofoam balls to the bottom of the landing gear on your drone. This is actually a really effective floatation device and might just save your drone (or at least your SD card!) one day! If you don’t have styrofoam balls, just cut up a pool noodle – that will do the trick!
There are also floatation devices you can buy, such as the Waterstrider (specifically for DJI Phantom) that costs around $130, depending on your DJI Phantom model. The floatation device takes just a few minutes to set up. However, the downside is that it is quite heavy, which will therefore drastically decrease your flight time and your drone will have to work harder to perform.
A floatation device that is great for the Mavic 2 Series is The Kkiinngg floatation device (yes that is it’s name!). It’s only around $30 on Amazon, and it uses the same principle as the DIY styrofoam balls. As styrofoam is so light, it has little effect on the performance and the flight time of the drone.