If you are one of the 3 million people who are expected to unwrap a drone for Christmas in the United States, make sure you are aware of the rules before flying it. There are strict laws in place regarding the use of drones. Unfortunately, you potentially risk fines of tens of thousands of dollars if you break rules. Luckily, most of it comes down to common sense.

We recommend that you read our in-depth guide to drone safety. This will teach you the basics that you need to know before your first flight. We outline most of the rules below.

The primary rules that you must obey when you are flying your drone are the following:

  • Only fly your drone at or below 400 feet above ground level
  • Do not lose sight of your drone
  • Never fly your drone near other aircraft
  • Never fly drones within 5 miles on an airport without permission
  • Do not fly over crowds or groups of people
  • Never fly over moving vehicles
  • Keep your drone away from stadiums and sporting events
  • Do not fly near emergency incidents like fires or natural disasters
  • Never fly UAS while under the influence of any beverage or substance
  • Be mindful of airspace requirements

You should always check to see if you are in a no-fly zone before flying. Luckily, the FAA has an app called B4UFLY that you can download on Android and iOS devices. The app will tell you if you are in restricted air space. It’s easy to find good places to fly with the app.

Drone Registration

You must register your drone with the FAA before flying if it is between 0.55 lbs (250 grams) and 55 lbs (25 kg). When you register you agree with the following:

  • You are over 13 years of age
  • You’re a United States citizen, a legal permanent resident, or legal visitor
  • You will label your drone with your own unique registration number
  • You pledge to have read and understood all the safety guidelines

Failure to register you drone can result in hefty fines. This is the area with the highest possible fines that can be up to $27,500. Fortunately, you can register your drone in five minutes or less at the FAA website. The process couldn’t be simpler and it costs just $5.

Labeling Your Drone

After you register your drone the FAA will give you a unique registration number. All you have to do is add the registration number to your drone somewhere. You can do so by engraving it, writing it with permanent marker, or putting it on a sticker and adding it to the drone.

The rule is that your registration number must be findable without tools. This means that you can put it under the battery if it can be removed without tools. This is often the best and most secure place to put it.

Local Laws

You should read up on local rules regarding drone use. Do not fly a drone in an area even if there are no airports nearby without looking up the law. Cities, counties, and states sometimes have their own rules with fines of several hundred dollars.

Unfortunately, the Nation Forest Service has taken a draconian view of drones and banned them from all federally owned parks since 2014. This is a shame given that they contain the most majestic landscapes in the country. Don’t try to plead ignorance since they have the ability to fine you up to $5000 for an illegal flight.

The Importance of Drone Safety

Drones present a real danger to aircraft. There have been hundreds of close misses between drones and manned aircraft over the past few years. Drones have the potential to cause millions of dollars of damage if they are flown improperly.

All it takes is for one person to not follow the rules to ruin the hobby for everyone else. Believe it or not, but the US has fairly lax drone rules compared to other countries. Make sure you are informed before flying and do your part to keep people safe.