Even airplanes get grounded in severe weather, but where does that line lie when it comes to your drone?
Any drone pilot worth his salt has probably looked out through the rainy window and wondered, “what if…?”
What if I flew my drone in the rain? What if I flew my drone over water? What if my drone got wet? What if I landed my drone on water? Is there such a thing as waterproof drones?
All these are valid questions.
Electrical devices don’t have the coziest relationship with water, after all. And unless you’re not scared of losing your drone in a moment of misinformed carelessness, you would want to know exactly where the boundaries lie.
Are All Drones Waterproof?
No, not all drones are waterproof. In fact, the majority of drone models would not do well with water at all. While you would no doubt love to be able to grab your drone and head out to explore any terrain, including rivers, lakes and oceans, very few models exist that are even water resistant — let alone water proof.
There’s also a key difference between waterproof drones and water-resistant drones.
A water-resistant drone can stand the occasional splash and even some drizzling or fog. But they are not built for use in extremely inclement weather or underwater.
Waterproof drones on the other hand are able to handle a lot more moisture than drones that are merely water-resistant. These models are a pilot’s best friend when they double up as a fishing drone or used on a kayaking trip.
Not only do they fly over water with ease, they are also able to function underwater up to varying depths, so they can be used to collect underwater footage as well.
These are drones that are a cut above the rest, and are designed to take off and land on water if need be.
Waterproof drones and water-resistant drones are in the minority when compared to those that will be ruined if they become wet, although water-resistant models are increasing in number.
It’s important that, if your model isn’t waterproof — and it more than likely isn’t — you remember to check the weather report before you step out to fly your drone.
Spontaneous rainfall could easily short circuit your drone and turn your bright afternoon upside down.
A common user error is going out on what seems like a dry day, but then accidentally landing or crashing your drone into a puddle.
Your drone could also get wet in snowy weather and suffer damage from snow melting into water upon contact with the hot drone body.
What Happens if Water Gets Into A Drone?
When water gets into your drone, all sorts of things could happen to the electronics underneath.
Let’s assume for the sake of clarity that your drone suddenly fell into a lake or the sea.
First of all, resist the urge to run out into the water in order to try and salvage your drone. As costly and as valuable as it is to you as a toy or as an accessory at work, it is not worth risking your life for.
You want to find out how deep the lake is before finding the safest way possible to retrieve your soggy electronics—if at all.
Once your non-water-resistant or non-waterproof drone falls into the drink, it is very likely that one of the electronic speed controllers, which control the power allocated to the motors, will blow like a fuse.
Each motor in your drone has an electronic speed controller that is connected or even embedded into it, and once these get blown, your drone will power off.
You could (and should) power off your drone in any case, before taking out the batteries to keep somewhere safe. It is highly likely that you would never be able to fully rely on those batteries again so disposing of them safely is a valid option.
Now, in you had the misfortune of having your drone crash into salt water, after you taking out the batteries, DO NOT leave your drone out to dry straight away. That would seem like the best thing to do, but it is not. Sea water is a mixture of many nasty chemicals that will corrode or short your drone circuitry if allowed to remain.
Take a deep breath or two and rinse your salty drone in fresh water.
Distilled water is best because of the lack of dissolved salts in it, but use tap water in the absence of that—even with dissolved salts in it, it still beats sea water any day.
Use a cloth to dry off any visible water, paying special attention to the motors. Modern drone motors are better protected from water than in the old days, but you still want to make doubly sure. Tip the drone in many directions to expunge any water from the surrounding plastic shell.
Now, here is the thing about water: the damage it brings is not always immediately clear.
If your drone is no longer in warranty or you built it yourself, you could take it apart and try drying everything individually. There are no hard rules and only time would tell what the real damage is, if any. One submerged drone may suffer a blown electrical speed controller, while another is completely damaged beyond repair.
If your drone is still in warranty, do not open it.
Keep it in a warm, dry, ventilated space until you can ship it off to the supplier for checkup. Once you begin fiddling with your drone you will invalidate the warranty. The suppliers are best placed to find out if the crash was a result of a fault in the device, or not, by checking the flight logs. If it turns out that the drone malfunctioned, you should be due a replacement.
In any case, whether your device is under warranty or not, you want to make sure your drone device is properly dried, checked, and fixed, before trying to fly it again.
Water damage has an uncanny way of reappearing just when you thought you had gotten away with it scot free.
Can You Fly Drones in the Rain?
Waterproof drones can stand being flown in the rain and even being submerged. Water-resistant drones have their limits. We talked about the difference between the two earlier and as a pilot you should read the instruction manual thoroughly before deciding to put your drone out in wet weather.
Can I Make My Drone Waterproof?
It is advisable to simply go for a waterproof drone if you intend flying in the rain or over water. It is also advisable to avoid flying over water completely until you consider yourself an expert drone pilot. That said, you can technically make your drone water-resistant by covering it with hydrophobic coating.
Do this at your own risk.
How to make a drone water-resistant:
- Dismantle the drone to expose all working pieces and parts before applying your hydrophobic coating.
- With the help of the applicator that comes with the hydrophobic coating, rub all of the internal circuitry: boards, motors, camera and related gear, wiring harnesses, and so on and so forth. Take special care not to touch the camera lens with the coating chemical, as it could smudge.
- When you can see that the coating is properly dried, reassemble the drone carefully. Limit the way you touch the coated internal electronics—while most coating chemicals are smudge resistant, you can still wear them off by too much touching and wiping.
- Now that your drone is nicely assembled and all coated up inside, proceed to coat it properly on the outside. Make sure you avoid getting any of the spray on the battery terminals or connectors. You don’t want to accidentally create a barrier that affects the rate of flow of electricity between the drone and its battery.
- Allow the new layer of coating to dry off properly before taking your drone for a spin across the skies.
If you get your now waterproof drone wet (which you will, since that was the whole point), don’t wipe the water off. Rubbing the water off would only rub the protective covering off your device.
Scientists have made huge advancements in hydrophobic technology.
At the end of the day, whether your device is a waterproof drone or not, you want to take the usual precautions for any drone device.
Stay informed of the rules in place by the local authorities. Check up on the weather forecast to know what to expect once you are out there having fun.
Drones can be loads of fun over land and over water, and that is only going to get more true with more practice and learning.
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