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Do You Own a Recreational Drone or Plan On Purchasing a Drone This Season?

Recreational drones, sometimes called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are growing in popularity. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that more than 506,635 drones have been registered for recreational use.

Drone pilots are expected to understand drone regulations and operate UAVs in a safe, legal manner. For example, did you know you can be sued if your drone damages someone else’s property or injures someone? Before you start a flight, you must understand:

  • Your legal and regulatory obligations
  • Your insurance coverage
  • Best practices for operating a drone

Federal, state and local regulations

Flight laws aren’t only for professionals. Although recreational drone pilots are subject to fewer regulations than commercial drone pilots, several regulations cover all drones and drone operators.

Registration requirements. All drones must be registered with the FAA, unless they weigh less than 55 pounds and are flown under the exception for limited recreational operations. To register your drone, you’ll need to provide:

  • Your physical address
  • Your mailing address
  • Your email address
  • Your phone number
  • The make and model of your drone
  • Your drone’s remote ID serial number
  • A nominal payment

You then need to properly label your registered drone according to FAA instructions. You must keep a paper or digital copy of your registration certificate with you when flying your drone.

Exceptions for recreational operations of unmanned aircraft. Exceptions describe how, when and where you can fly drones for recreational purposes without certification or operating authority from the FAA. Among other requirements, you must:

  • Use the drone exclusively for recreational purposes
  • Successfully complete the Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) (The FAA provides a list of approved test administrators on the TRUST page.)
  • Fly within FAA-specified airspaces
  • Keep the drone within your view or the view of an observer who stays in direct communication with you throughout the flight

No-drone zones. Most localities restrict flight over private property or sensitive locations, so you’ll want to investigate these each time you take your drone to a new location. You can quickly review local “no-drone zones” using a preflight app, such as B4UFLY, AirMap or OpenSky.

Altitude. The FAA has established a maximum altitude of 400 feet in uncontrolled airspaces (class G). In controlled airspaces (classes B, C, D and surface class E designated for airports), drones need special FAA authorization to operate. You can learn more about these rules on the FAA’s Where Can I Fly? webpage.

Remote identification. The FAA’s remote identification rule, which took effect in September 2023, requires most drones to broadcast their identification and location information. Remote ID allows the FAA and other authorities to access data about your drone’s flight in real time.

Useful drone resources

To help with preflight planning and research, you can download the B4UFLY mobile app for free. (There’s also a desktop version). The app has a status indicator to identify airspace zones and special rules, as well as interactive maps and useful FAA links.

You’ll also find information on obtaining authorization to fly in a controlled airspace through the Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability (LAANC) partnership, which is available at over 725 airports nationwide. If you want to fly in a controlled airspace near an airport that does not participate in the LAANC, you can apply for authorization.

Getting drone insurance

Drones can easily damage personal property, injure others or violate flight laws. Drones with cameras can lead to invasion of privacy lawsuits as well. For these reasons and others, verify your insurance coverage before you fly.

If your drone is damaged, your homeowners or renters insurance may cover its value minus your deductible. If your drone falls and damages your car, the cost to repair it would not be covered by your homeowners policy. However, it might be covered by your auto policy if you have comprehensive or other-than-collision car insurance.

If your drone injures someone or damages their property, the liability clause in your homeowners, renters, condo or umbrella policy may cover a lawsuit or the cost to repair the damaged property. Your liability policy may also cover lawsuits involving unintentional invasions of privacy if your drone accidently takes a photo or video of someone or their property.

Call your Rathbun Insurance account manager today and be ready to answer the following questions:

  • How big is the drone, and how much does it weigh?
  • Who will be flying the drone, and do the operators live in your household?
  • Will the drone include a camera or video camera? Will it be used to take photos?
  • Is the drone registered?
  • Where do you plan to fly the drone?
  • Will you fly the drone on public property?
  • Will the drone be used for competitive racing?

Know that if you don’t follow FAA and other jurisdictional regulations, your insurance claim may be denied.

Drone safety and best practices

Even if you’re only flying for fun in your own backyard, follow these FAA safety tips.

  • Fly your drone at or below 400 feet.
  • Keep your drone within view at all times.
  • Respect the privacy of others.
  • Avoid restricted airspace and no-drone zones.
  • Don’t fly near other aircraft, within five miles of an airport, or near emergency response areas.
  • Don’t fly over groups of people, especially at public events or stadiums.
  • Don’t operate your drone while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Local flight clubs and community organizations can provide additional guidance and helpful safety resources for recreational drone pilots. Know Before You Fly is an educational campaign by the Association for Uncrewed Vehicle Systems International and the Academy of Model Aeronautics in partnership with the FAA. 

The Academy of Model Aeronautics is a nonprofit organization that promotes drones and other model aviation as a recreation activity and recognized sport. It also offers education resources through its Flight School.

Following the rules and having the right insurance coverage can reduce your risk when flying a drone. Call your Rathbun Account Manager to discuss your homeowners insurance and ensure you have the right policy for your drone.