Modern Drones are incredible machines which are capable of doing amazing things in the marine and yachting environment. They could 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 but still photos of the boat either at anchor or underway, and 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 numerous of issues that should be considered when selecting a Drone for this environment: DJI and Yuneec create a number of Drones capable of use in this environment. The Splash Drone is waterproof and makes a great Drone because of this environment. GoPro and DJI have just introduced small new models that “fold” and easily fit into 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 won’t drop items on the Drone or knock or kick the Drone.
B: Flight Time – consider flight time and battery capability. Small Drones may have less then 10 minutes flight time while bigger Drones fly up to 25 minutes. For casual videos, ten minutes flight time could be enough, however if you plan to use the Drone to locate schools of fish or remote moorings, then consider investing in a Drone with longer flight times.
C: Camera- Many Drones come equipped with their own camera, while some are able to make full 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 good 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 setup to use the GoPro Hero3 or 4 4K cameras. That is a great set up with the capacity 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 struggles to control any of the top features of the GoPro camera- and the operator needs to activate the video record button on the GoPro ahead of taking off and then can only just shut off video recording following the Drone is retrieved. Integrated cameras usually can be controlled from the controller.
D: Ability to handle windy conditions – This is usually a significant issue that operators have to keep in mind when investing in a Drone. Most of the small and older Drones, as an older Parrot AR Drone or a newer SYMA X5SW Drone lack many features and don’t are capable to stabilize flight when faced with more then 5-10 knots of wind. Additionally, these Drones do not have stabilized gimbled camera mounts to erase 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.
drones E: Retrievable – many small Drones do not have “home” capability and so are difficult to land in any condition. Most new Drones have an extremely developed “home” capability and are able to land back again to their starting location automatically.
Most, or even all Drones today, utilize GPS. Other Drones work with a hand-held or wrist mounted device therefore the Drone can “home in” on the controller or other device location. Newer Drones add a combination of Optical Recognition and the GPS location of the controller. The most recent DJI Drone has a down-looking camera that takes thousands of photos as it takes off and compares the photos to the landing location. For me, this is fantastic technology if you work with the Drone from a moving yacht or boat!
Another feature that newer Drones incorporate is object collision technology that allows the Drone to “see” and prevent ships sides, radar arches, and other structures that may interfere with the flight or landing.