For many, flying a drone over water can be a frightening experience. One mistake and your precious drone may go hurtling to its watery grave! But what happens when the drone hits the water? Does it float long enough to be recovered, or does it immediately sink?
By themselves, DJI drones will sink if they land in the water. However, there are flotation devices that can allow drones to float if a water landing is necessary. There are also drones like the SwellPro Splash Drone 3 which can float and are waterproof.
There are many flotation devices to choose from. The best fit depends on the type of drone that you have. There are also other recovery options available if you can’t find a flotation device that is compatible with your drone.
You may have seen videos of Phantom's, Spark's, or Mavic's flying in the rain, but that doesn't mean that these drones are water-resistant. The risk of long-term damage from corrosion is simply not worth it.
The first thing to consider when choosing a flotation device is the model of your drone. Not every accessory is compatible with all DJI drones, so make sure you get the flotation device that is right for you.
DJI Phantom 2, 3, & 4
DroneRafts WaterStrider2.0: The WaterStrider is a landing gear attachment that allows your DJI Phantom to float on the water, protecting the drone and camera.
This flotation device has a very fast install time and is compatible with all versions of the DJI Phantom 2, 3 and 4. DroneRafts does not recommend that beginners use their product with the Phantom 2 because it lacks a vision positioning system and the wider camera angle makes it difficult to fly. It is recommended to store the WaterStrider in a cool dry area.
Because of its easy install and wide compatibility range, the WaterStrider is the most convenient flotation option on the market for the Phantom. But as with most things, convenience comes with a price. For a simple flotation device, the WaterStrider is fairly expensive and ranges from $120-$140 depending on the drone model.
If you aren’t willing to spend that much on a flotation device, there are cheaper alternatives for the Phantom, but the reviews are not as promising. To see the WaterStrider in action, check out the video below from DroneRafts.
DJI Mavic 2 Series and Mavic Air
While there are no super fancy options available for the Mavic, there are some generic water landing gear extenders that will do the job. Since there are no major brands selling these products, I found the highest-reviewed flotation devices on Amazon. For the Mavic 2 series, check out the STARTRC. And for the Mavic Air, consider the RCGEEK.
These are made from Styrofoam, and the consensus seems to be that they are:
- light enough to have minimal interruptions to flight.
- sturdy enough to stay intact during landing.
However, as with all things, it's better to be safe than sorry. I would recommend only relying on these in an emergency. Landing your drone on the water should only be done out of absolute necessity.
GetterBack Drone Recovery System
The GetterBack is an accessory that attaches to the landing gear. Once the drone reaches a depth of 6 feet underwater, it propels a float upwards, which can be tugged on to recover the attached drone.
Obviously, this isn’t as ideal as a flotation device because it is only useful after your drone has already sunk. But, better drenched than never returned.
For a drone with no reliable flotation devices, this attachment most likely won’t save your drone, but it will save your very expensive waterproof camera, other accessories that you have attached, and potentially your pictures and videos.
Drones That Can Float
Swellpro Splash Drone 3+
The Splash Drone 3+ was designed to float and it is fully waterproof. If you purchasing a drone to specially do lots of water activities such as fishing or underwater photography, this drone is perfect.
This drone has a lot of support for third party accessories and has all the features and functionality that a modern drone should. Additionally, it has special functions specifically for water-based activities, such as the ability to turn upright while floating.
Like the Splash 3, the HexH20 was designed specifically designed for water-based activities and is fully waterproof and buoyant. The HexH20 is a bit more expensive compared with the Splash 3. We also find that has less user-friendly features and is not as easy to use.
The HexH20 arrives in a kit for the owner to put together themselves. This may seem like a minor annoyance, but it actually allows the owner to customize the HexH20 to their likes. Just remember that you have to buy the drone components as well as the drone kit, or supplement the components with your own. For more information on how to construct the HexH20, check out this official build guide from HexH20.
Parrot Hydrofoil MiniDrone
If you’re looking for a drone to take some decent water pictures without forking over a ton of cash, this is the drone for you. The Hydrofoil is incredibly lightweight. It will not be useful for fishing, but for everything else, this drone does a decent job.
The Hydrofoil is incredibly easy to pilot and has many features to aid beginners. As this is a mini-drone, it’s battery life and top speeds won’t be anywhere near comparable to something like the Splash 3, but with the affordable price, it’s an excellent beginner model. If you’re new to drones and don’t want to buy something expensive right away, consider the Hydrofoil MiniDrone.
What If Your Drone Sinks?
If your drone does get submerged, there are some steps you can take to minimize the damage:
- Recover your drone – the first thing you need to do is remove your drone from the water and place it somewhere dry.
- Test to see if your drone still works – if it does, you’re in the clear. If it does not, keep following these steps.
- Power down your drone completely and remove the battery. I also recommend immediately disposing of the battery in a safe location.
- Thoroughly rinse your drone with fresh or distilled water. You may think, “Why would I want to pour more water on my drone? Shouldn’t I be drying it?” Yes, eventually it will dry. But first, clean it up. Ponds, lakes, and oceans have salt and other bacteria that you do not want to grow or sit on your grown. If it fell in a pool or hot tub, remove the water in order to eliminate the chlorine and other chemicals from setting in.
- Disassemble your drone and place it sit in raw rice. Just like the technique used when a smartphone gets wet, dry your drone in a bowl of dry rice. Take apart as many of the components as you can and place them in the bowl separately. Rice will help to suck the moisture out.
- After everything is dry, power on the drone with a new battery. If everything works, assess the remaining damage. If needed, call a professional to conduct repairs.