How to Get Your Drone Out of a Tree
Note: Please be extremely careful when trying to get a drone out of a tree. You assume all risks and following this advice could be dangerous in some circumstances. This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon when making a decision. Climbing trees is especially dangerous and not recommended for most people.
Getting anything stuck in a tree is something that most of us have gone through when we were kids. Whether it’s a baseball, a kite, or our dear old pet cat, having to retrieve or rescue anything from such heights is always a nerve-wracking experience. This same fear is also palpably present whenever we fly our expensive and fragile drones in areas where there are a lot of trees.
If this has happened to you before, then you’ve probably tried one or two of these solutions. If you’re one of the lucky ones who have not experienced this yet, then it would be good to know what steps you can take before it happens.
Option 1: Try to fly your way out
The first thing to do when you get your drone stuck in a tree is to not panic. There are a couple of options you can try to try and get it out, but at the end of the day, it’s still just an electronic device that is not worth you risking a serious injury for.
Before you try and look for tools that you can use to help you get your drone unstuck, the first option to consider would be to use the drone itself. Depending on the position in which the drone got stuck, you may be able to shake it off from the various leaves and branches by turning and twisting it in different ways.
Just keep in mind that this isn’t going to work if anything is preventing the propellers from rotating. If this is the case, then you risk the possibility of causing even more damage to the drone by insisting that it fly its way out.
Option 2: Climb the tree
If you were a kid, your first instinct would probably be to try and climb the tree. While this is certainly a viable option, there are circumstances where we will absolutely not recommend this:
- You haven’t climbed a tree before in your whole life and are not confident in your tree climbing skills
- The branches of the tree seem too flimsy to support your weight
- The drone got stuck at a height where you risk serious injury or death if you fall
- You have a fear of heights
Before you go about climbing a tree, try to plan your climbing route from the ground. Is there a way for you to clear a path through the branches so you can reach the drone? Are there enough strong branches that you can use to hang on to and support your weight? Aren’t the leaves of the trees too dense to cut through? This option will always come with a certain level of risk, and it’s up to you to try and mitigate these risks.
Option 3: Shake the tree
Your last option before you go and look for tools that can help your situation would be to try and shake the tree. This is probably the best option if the tree is too thin for you to climb up to. Hopefully, merely shaking the tree will be enough to dislodge the drone from its position. You can even get one or two people to help you shake the tree and get enough movement.
If you do this, make sure to be ready to catch the drone or have someone else ready to do it for you. If you don’t have the luxury of having other people on standby, then you can simply place a few soft objects directly below the drone to help break its fall.
Option 4: Use a ladder
If you can get a ladder, then you can prop it up the main trunk of the tree to gain some height. Just make sure that the tree is sturdy enough to support both your weight and that of the ladder. It’s also good practice to have someone hold the ladder while you climb just to make sure it doesn’t sway or slide off.
Hopefully, climbing a ladder can get you high enough so that you can reach your drone. If not, then you can combine this method with Option number 5.
Option 5: Prod the drone with a long pole
A pole that’s long enough to reach the drone might be one of the safest ways for you to get it unstuck off a tree. If your drone has propeller guards or landing gear, you can hook the pole onto those and give the drone a gentle shake and hope to loosen it up.
You can also combine a ladder with this method, which hopefully should give you enough height to reach the drone. Keep in mind that maintaining your balance on a ladder while holding a long pole can be difficult, so be very careful. Have a friend hold the ladder for you and another one ready to catch the drone should it fall.
Should you choose to take this route, take care not to prod the drone with too much force, lest you end up damaging it. If it doesn’t come loose with gentle prods, then you can use the pole to move around the branches that are holding it in place. Take note that this can dislodge the drone in unpredictable ways, so always be ready to catch it.
Option 6: Throw something at the tree
There are two components to this strategy. The first is to make sure to throw something soft but hefty. A baseball would be perfect, but you can also use an old shoe that you can afford to lose. The second part of the strategy is to tie a long thread of strong nylon to the object you are throwing for a reason that will make itself obvious later on. Some fishing line will also work perfectly.
The idea is to throw your heavy object of choice somewhere to the left or right of the drone. Be careful not to hit it directly – you can damage the drone, which will make all this effort worthless. Ideally, the weight should go through the tree and make it all the way around.
This will result in the nylon string or fishing line that has been threaded through the branches of the tree. You can then manipulate this thread in multiple ways to try and dislodge the drone from its spot. With deliberate shaking motions and a little patience, this should be enough to make your drone fall off the ground.
If your initial effort doesn’t help to get the drone unstuck, then you can just simply cut the thread and repeat this whole process. The best thing about this method is that you can repeat it as long as you want to, with each iteration hopefully helping to dislodge the drone even by a little bit.
Option 7: Use a hydraulic lift
You probably don’t have a hydraulic lift on hand, but you might be able to rent the use of one from your local electrical utility company or service that cuts or trims trees. A hydraulic lift or bucket truck is typically attached to the back of a truck and provides a safe platform so that you can reach great heights.
The height that a hydraulic lift can reach might be limited but they are certainly safer than climbing a tree or using a ladder. For good measure, you can carry your trusty pole on a bucket truck so that you can reach the drone from a distance. You can also have professionals do this for you – this is a safer option since they are used to doing this kind of work.
It’s probably going to cost you somewhere between $150 to $200 to hire this service and it’s unlikely that they’ll be available on short notice. This is a solution that you might have to wait a few days for. As with the other recommendations in this list, it’s still worth a shot.
Option 8: Walk away
This might not be what you came here to read, but you have to know to recognize a lost cause. If you’ve tried all the methods we’ve listed here and still find yourself with a drone that’s not any less stuck, then it might be time to assess if it’s worth all the effort. You might not even have the right tools at your immediate disposal, which means that you’ll just have to walk away and come back to your stuck drone after a day or two.
Walking away from the problem gives you the time and space to think of other solutions. Do you need to run to the hardware to get a ladder? Perhaps you can get a friend to help you the next day. Would it be possible to ask for help from a tree cutting service or a power service company? It might take them a few days to get to your area but they are more accustomed to working at heights.
What NOT to do
Giving up on a stuck drone might come easy if your drone costs less than $100, but it’s going to be a hard decision if you own an expensive drone that you use for your business. However, desperation can lead a person to make irrational decisions. Here are some of the worst things you can do when trying to retrieve your stuck drone:
Flush it with water
Your drone can probably handle a small amount of spray from the ocean, but don’t expect it to withstand a full blast of water from a garden hose. Whatever force your garden hose can impart on the drone, you can recreate safely using a long plastic or wooden pole. It would be pretty pointless to try and retrieve a stuck drone if you end up breaking it in the process.
Use another drone
The idea is certainly tempting – use another drone to push or pull the stuck drone from its spot. The problem with this approach is that it misses the point that drones should NOT be flying that close to a tree in the first place. In any case, flying a drone at the level of precision needed to dislodge another drone is going to be hard given that your view will probably be obscured by all the leaves and branches of the tree. While there’s a chance that you can pull this off, there’s a much higher chance of ending up with two stuck drones.
Call the fire department
Contrary to what other people will tell you, calling the fire department to have them get your drone unstuck is a monumentally bad idea. While some firefighters may not mind the odd request of rescuing a kitten from a tree, an inanimate object is a different matter altogether.
You would be lucky to have a fire department even respond to you if you tell them that you need help with a stuck drone. Not being transparent with them and telling them you have a legitimate emergency is an even worse alternative that can end up with you receiving a hefty fine. Firefighters are emergency responders and any time you take away from them presents the possibility of them not being able to respond to a real emergency.
Drones getting stuck in trees is such a common incident and cause of anxiety of drone pilots that there are a handful of websites out there with tips on how to solve this specific problem. While most of the pieces of advice are pretty good, there’s also a good number of them that are questionable and can end up with more problems than solutions.
The best advice we can give is to avoid getting your drone stuck on a tree in the first place! Avoid flying too close to any obstacles. If paying attention to the drone is difficult, then it would be a good idea to have a visual observer with you. When all else fails, you’ll at least have your visual observer to help you get your drone unstuck.