Drone Fishing Etiquette

One of the most exciting things about all the new technological advances of our time is the new of carrying out rather ancient pastimes. One of the newest to join our hobby is drones, with the advent of “drone fishing”.

 As with all discoveries though, come the responsibilities of ethical, safe and legal use. Used incorrectly, these vehicles can cause serious injury or damage in the hands of the irresponsible or unknowledgeable user.

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I recently bought a DJI Phantom 4 Advanced drone for photographic purposes but it didn’t take long to realise the benefits it could afford me when surfcasting. However, before I lifted it off the ground for the very first time I had studied the rules involved with recreational drone flight.

The study material came in the form of an excellent ebook publication entitled “Drone 101” written by Airshare and reviewed by Dr Maria Pozza. Maria is a consultant lawyer and New Zealand’s first, and so far only, Space Law specialist. She is also a drone enthusiast.

This article is not intended as an alternative to the Airshare ebook, but instead is a small snippet of CAA rules and regulations that just may save you a hefty fine or some time as a compulsory guest in one of Her Majesty’s time share apartments.

There are twelve basic rules that all pilots should know and I’ll go through these in no particular order. You also need to be aware that some local authorities have their own extra rules regarding drone use too!

Even if your drone is an “el cheapo” with only a few metres range, all the following rules apply.

Drone Fishing Etiquette

1. Safety first
You must always fly in a safe manner and be in a safe condition to fly! Flying when you’re intoxicated or as high as a kite yourself is the epitome of total irresponsibility!  Little more needs to be said other than I hope any sentence handed down to pilots in this condition includes loss of liberty!

2. Preparation is key
You must always ensure that your drone is safe to fly. Really give the craft a good check over every time you use it! Check for anything that doesn’t look right or for anything loose or damaged, especially the propellers.

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Drone Fishing Etiquette

There’s only one way a drone flies when a cracked or chipped prop breaks and you will have little or no control how it does it! Most people call this “plummeting” and this is usually when injury or property damage occurs.

When you take off, have your craft hover a metre or so from the ground and check that it responds correctly to all controls. One hundred metres in the air is not the time to learn that your craft only responds to up!

Drone Fishing Etiquette

Have a plan if you have a “fly away”. This is when you, for some reason, lose contact with your craft or it will not respond to your controls. Some makes, like DJI, have a built in procedure where the craft stops and hovers in place until control is regained.

If control cannot be regained, these craft will go into a self preserve mode and land themselves as they start to run out of battery power. Be aware though, any load the drone carries will shorten flight time due to the motors having to work a lot harder.

It is also critically important to immediately notify the relevant authorities if you have a “fly away,” especially in a controlled zone. Assuming you were intelligent enough to have obtained the required permission and were flying safely, there should be no repercussions. They will need to inform other air space users of your “out of control” drone in the area.

The prudent pilot will not only learn to fly his craft safely and correctly, but also the procedures available when things go wrong. After all, you don’t learn to drive a car without learning how to use the brakes too! The old kiwi mantra of “if all else fails, read the instructions” has no place here.

3. A weighty issue
Your drone must weigh 25kg or less. Craft over that have to comply with a different set of rules and these are quite a lot more stringent.

4. If the wind is too high, don’t fly!
You MUST take all practical steps to minimize hazards to persons, property and other aircraft. I’ve taken these words from the Airshare ebook as they leave no room for ambiguity.

If you have the slightest inkling you may breach this rule, you must not fly! Indeed, it would be totally irresponsible to do so! Whether you like it or not, each and every pilot has a duty of care for the safety of others.

5. Drones don’t have headlights…
You may only fly during the hours of daylight. The exception to this rule is if you are flying in a “sheltered” environment. Examples of sheltered environments are enclosed car parks and if you’re flying below tree top height where the trees can stop the drone if necessary.

Car parks best used for night flying are the completely enclosed type and should be closed to the general public. Smacking your drone through the front windscreen of some-ones brand new car is not the way to make friends and influence people!

6. Height limits
You may not fly your drone over 120 metres from ground level. Once again there are certain conditions to meet if you need to, so find these out and obtain the necessary approval prior to takeoff!

7. Give way rules apply
You must give way to all manned aircraft. No exceptions here!

8. Eyes forward!
You must be able to see your drone without visual aids at all times. You cannot view it through binoculars, telescope or monitor of any kind, even if it has one itself.

You may use a spotter to do this for you but you must be able to instantly communicate if something goes wrong.

9. Know your local boundaries
You must know if any airspace restrictions apply in the area you wish to fly. A few moments homework before setting out could save you a whole lot of heartache and perhaps money.

“I didn’t know,” is no excuse! Resources such as Airshare (www.airshare.co.nz) make it simple to find how to obtain the right permissions to fly in restricted areas.

10. Know your local boundaries – again!
 You must not fly any closer than four kilometres from any airdrome unless you have prior and specific permission to do so - there are exceptions though. Once again, do a bit of homework first.

11. Flying in controlled airspace
Prior to flying in ANY controlled airspace, obtain permission from air traffic control or the appropriate controlling authority.  Some airports control quite large areas well in excess of the four kilometre radius.

For instance, the military controls a large area that starts approximately at Waipukurau and ends down near Martinborough. This area also goes well out to sea and is mainly used as a pilot training area.

12. Permission from all
This next rule is quite likely the one most often broken. I have seen many instances of it myself. You must obtain permission from everyone you need to fly above and the property owner or person in charge of any land you wish to fly above. No exceptions!

Early this year, Steve Bryan and I were fishing a local surfcasting contest hosted by the Pania Surfcasting Club. Just after lunchtime a DJI Mavic drone flew above us as it slowly made its way along the beach – I suspect it was filming the event.

Whether the pilot knew it or not, he was flying in-zone of the Napier Airport. If the drone operator didn’t have express permission from the air traffic controller to fly there, then he was flying illegally. Secondly, when flying over land, he would have needed permission from either the Regional Council or the Napier City Council.

Thirdly, he would have to have had permission from EVERY contestant he flew above! Assuming he didn’t have that permission, that now that adds up to three breaches of the CAA rules and possibly a very expensive outcome had there been any court proceedings.

This type of irresponsible flying unfortunately gives all drone operators a bad name. I don’t condone violence or damaging other people’s property but I can see why some people get angry and take exception to this kind of flying.



There are a number of drone training courses available throughout the country. Just type “Drone 101 Training NZ” into your web browser for the options in or near your area. Some remote control model aircraft clubs may be able to help with training.

Finally, a good tip for those using drones for fishing purposes. Buy a circular polarising filter for your unit’s camera! It’s amazing what you can see once the glare is gone from the surface of the water - say no more!


October - 2018 - Bruce Basher

New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
Copyright: NZ Fishing Media Ltd.
Re-publishing elsewhere is prohibited



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