November 26, 2014

Sailboat drone 101: How to fly a drone from your boat

updated: 8/25/2016 

 

Ok, you've decided you're going to learn to fly a drone from the deck of your boat.

 

Good call!

Combining a boat and a drone is an exciting endeavor. You can take photos of your boat from angles that would previously require a helicopter. You can also capture outrageously scenic video of the surrounding area.

However, you want to do this without bothering others and without damaging your drone. In this article, I will walk you through the process of learning how to fly a drone from a boat.

Here is video of a practice launch from my sailboat.

video

(video above is compressed to fit on page, the raw video footage has high resolution: 1080x720)

How to fly a drone from your boat.

 

Practice flying your boat drone while stationary in calm waters.


Drop anchor in a quiet cove that is not in a restricted air space. Choose a light wind day. Wind is an issue. Practice on a day when winds are 5 mph or less. You don't want to challenge your drone with high winds at the beginning of your training. Each model of drone will be able to handle wind differently. Lower end models tend to get thrown around more.

What's the best drone for sailing?



best drone for boating
Ryan launching the DJI phantom 2 Vision + from the deck of my boat.

Here, we are using the DJI phantom 2 Vision +. 

That was our first drone. I've since upgraded to a newer model. But I will always have love for the 2+.

In my opinion, the DJI phantom remains the best drone for sailing. I felt that way when I first wrote this post in 2014 and I still feel this way in 2016. The GPS lock is great, it withstands wind, it can fly at a good distance from the controller...

I just returned from a trip to the Columbia River and got excellent drone video with a more recent model, the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced Quadcopter Drone

The Phantom 4 is already out, but I've heard they are still working out the bugs. Most people have no issue with Phantom 3, plus its much cheaper...

The phantom may be too nice of a drone to be learning to pilot from a boat. You run the risk of losing a high end model in the ocean.

That said, the advantage to practicing with this higher end drone is 2-fold. First of all, it takes incredible photos/video. Secondly, it has GPS based navigation, so it can hold a steady position. This makes for easy flying.

But do yourself a favor, don't fly your drone from a boat in heavy weather - until you've got the hang of it..

how to fly a drone from a boat
holding a locked GPS position

Is it legal to fly a drone in public waters?

 

Okay, your boat is on anchor and the wind is light. You're ready to launch the drone from your boat.

As mentioned, first make sure you are not in restricted air space. Often, waterways and coastlines are near flight paths for commercial airplanes or for coast guard, military or other officialdom. You do not want to bother these people or risk an incident with real aircraft.

I have found that this page is an easy way to determine the location of No Fly Zones near your location. Additionally, you can check this FAA link to keep up with the latest federal rules for drones.

Even if you are not in a restricted air space, you want to be conscious of not bothering people. People go to the water to relax. Some people enjoy watching drones, but many people do not. Don't be annoying with your drone. Fly away from people and don't creep people out by flying near them with the drone camera pointing at them. Common sense and human decency go a long way with this activity.

flying a drone from a boat
verifying the connection between drone and controller before launch
Make sure all batteries are topped off and the link between drone and controller is set. If you lose connection with the drone over water, it will probably splash down in the sea.

learn to fly a drone from a boat
the carrying case for DJI phantom, with the batteries topped off


phantom 4 over water
ready to launch

Be a team

Have one guy, let's call him the drone pilot, be in charge of controlling the drone. Have the other guy, let's call him the captain, be in charge of managing the boat. The captain should also be ready with a giant fishing net. This is good to have nearby in case the drone almost returns to the boat, but actually returns a few feet from the boat. With a big net you can scoop the drone from the air just before it drops into the water.

Or, if the sailing drone is fitted with some homemade water landing gear, you can scoop the drone from the water before its electronics are fried (skip to last 10 seconds of this video link to see the homemade landing gear in action).

flying phantom over water
fishing net ready for a quick 'drone overboard' situation
Then, go fly the drone cautiously. Make a quick loop around the boat. Get comfortable, get confident.

best drone for sailing
my sailboat seen 40 feet above the starboard beam

drone sailboat
looking west to the Pacific Ocean (photo credit: Ryan Petterson)

Practice retrievals in light conditions 

 

Finally, practice retrieving the drone from your boat. Boats often have standing rigging, spars, antennae and fishing poles to negotiate.

First try to remove as many of these obstructions as possible. Then, launch and retrieve from the part of the boat that is furthest from these obstructions.

And, most importantly, keep a giant fishing net nearby. If the drone is just out of hands reach and the wind picks up. It's nice to reach for it with the net.

boat drone
the captain secures the drone, while the drone pilot works the controller

Here, I've cleared all halyards, lines and fishing poles from my cockpit to allow for an unobstructed landing space for my sailboat drone.

The only remaining obstruction was the backstay.

Okay, this is enough to think about for now. I will be posting the video from the Columbia River soon.

Stay tuned...


November 23, 2014

Learn to fly a drone from a boat.

It is a terrible idea that carries the possibility of becoming a great idea. Your first mate keeps the drone flying 30 feet above your starboard quarter. You heel your sailboat over in a small craft advisory and lean out on the windward side. The camera on the drone captures images and video that would have previously required a helicopter. You frame the best shot and hang it in your living room. You sit on your couch, crack a beer and stare at your beautiful boat captured from the perfect angle.

Your life feels infinitely more complete.

flying drone on sailboat
practicing the sailboat drone in calm waters on anchor


In theory, all this greatness is possible. In theory, this could be done for a couple hundred bucks and a little bit of practice and a little bit of gumption.

But there are concerns. Here is a list of concerns I came up with upon my first sailboat drone outing. 
  • How will the drone handle a stiff breeze? 
  • How can a drone 'return to a home position', if the home position is moving at 6 mph across an ocean?
  • Will the VHF and other signal frequencies emanating from a boat interfere with the drone-remote controller? 
  • If the drone lands in the ocean, will that destroy the drone? 
  • Is there effective water landing gear that could keep a downed drone floating and dry while you flip the boat around to retrieve it?
  • How do the coast guard and other authorities feel about recreational drones flying along the coastline?

At the moment, I do not have answers for these questions. But I will be researching all of this and posting the glory shots (if we get them) in the next series of posts.

sailing with a drone
first deployment from the cockpit


40 feet off of starboard in Mariners Cove, San Diego
South Mission Bay from a drone, looking west to Mission Beach.

For more, please follow this first instructional post on How to fly a drone from a boat.

November 20, 2014

Autumn sailing in San Diego

The seasons are finally changing in San Diego. There is a brisk chill to the air. Nights are cold. Days are still warm and the sun still shines, but we now have clouds out to decorate the sky. This is subtle, but it is enough to confirm that the seasons are changing in Southern California.

Autumn sailing in San Diego
Autumn sailing in San Diego

 Sailing in the Fall in San Diego

Autumn sailing in San Diego
High contrast clouds in a late Autumn sky

November 14, 2014

Nautical pendant lamps make great Holiday gifts.

The Holiday season is upon us. That means fewer warm days for sailing and of course, you need to shell out and pick up some gifts.

Well, what do you get for the sailor who has everything. A bigger boat? No, don't curse a sailor with a bigger boat. That's more wood to varnish.

What you want is to pick up a few nautical style hanging lamps. These make for unique and Sea-worthy gifts.
nautical pendant lamps
Red and Blue 'marine'buoy' pendant lamps

Nautical Pendant Lamps

Now here's where it all ties in together. I am the sole proprietor for a company that builds and sells nautical hanging lamps. You can follow this link King Tide Lights for my main site.



nautical pendant lamp
the 'duracel' medium size pendant lamp
nautical hanging lamps
Blue and Red Marine Buoy Pendant Lamps

These lamps are built from repurposed industrial steel. I've designed many of them to look like marine buoys. They create great downward facing lights for a reading area or corner of a room.

nautical pendant lamps
Medium size white and blue pendant lamp


Two large pendant lamps make for excellent dinner lighting


November 9, 2014

The summer that would not die

San Diego is a machine. It is a summer day machine. It will not quit. 
It is November. I don't remember the feeling of cold air on my skin.
I think we had a chilly day somewhere in March....maybe in March. 
Not sure.
The forecast calls for more sun and something about the 80s and the 70s continuing on till x-mas.
Possibly longer. 
It is all a pleasant blur.

another warm, pleasant day in November

November 4, 2014

San Diego boats for sale

There are currently thousands of used boats for sale in San Diego. Motor yachts, sailboats and fishing boats are waiting for new owners. Come down to Shelter Island and talk boats with Dave Koller.

Dave Koller
(619) 977-5040.
davekollerbroker@gmail.com

San Diego boats for sail
Meet Dave Koller, your friendly San Diego boat broker

If you are interested in selling or buying used boats in San Diego, I recommend you reach out to local boat broker, Dave Koller. Dave is a well-respected character along the waterfront, known for being friendly and knowledgeable. 






He was born in San Diego and is a true boat addict. He’s sailed extensively around Southern California, the Pacific Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands. When he’s not out showing boats, he’s most likely fishing offshore for Yellowtail or else racing sailboats in San Diego Harbor.

San Diego boats for sale

This past summer, Dave sold a wide range of boats, everything from small, older sailboats to luxurious motor yachts. Currently, in 2014, there are approximately 3,000 used boats for sale in San Diego. Many of these come with moorings already established. As a licensed broker, Dave can get you access to visit any of these boats.


So, come on down to Shelter Island and talk used boats with Dave. Whether you’re thinking about a 30 foot Bayliner or a 60 foot Sparkman & Stephens, Dave’s happy to drive you around town, walk the docks and find you the boat in San Diego.

Dave Koller
(619) 977-5040.
davekollerbroker@gmail.com



San Diego boats for sail
Boat broker Dave off Point Loma on his Endeavor 38.


San Diego boats for sail
Dave pulling in an Albacore Tuna near the La Jolla kelp beds



In true boat addict style, Dave has just become a co-owner for a Capri 30 sailboat. Follow this link to see the maiden voyage in good winds.

Sailing to Catalina Island: distance and time from Los Angeles

Are you considering sailing to Catalina Island from Los Angeles? Here, I provide distance and travel times for a boat to sail to Catalina Island (Avalon or Two Harbors) from the most popular LA harbors (Dana Point, Newport Beach, Huntington Harbor, Los Angeles Harbor, Marina del Rey).

sailing to Catalina island
Sailing to Catalina Island: routes from Los Angeles

In my opinion, the most compelling reason to live in Los Angeles instead of San Diego, is the close proximity of Catalina Island. In San Diego, we can drive to Mexico in 30 minutes. This is nice. However, in LA, you can sail a boat to the island, leaving midday on a Friday and arriving sometime Friday evening. That is very nice.

Once you arrive, you'll find sailing Catalina Island is incredibly fun - also there's lots of bays and bights between Avalon and Two Harbors to fish from and drop the anchor.

How long does it take to sail to Catalina Island? I get this question a lot. So, I thought it would be a good resource to have these distances and travel times posted on the site. There are lots of folks sailing to Catalina from Los Angeles, so hopefully this will be of use.

Sail to Catalina Island

 

Distance in nautical miles:               (1 nm = 1.15 land miles)
Dana Point to Avalon:                          33
Dana Point to Two Harbors:                 38
Newport Beach to Avalon:                   26               
Newport Beach to Two Harbors:          32
Huntington Harbor to Avalon:               25
Huntington Harbor to Two Harbors:     27                   
LA Harbor to Avalon:                          25
LA Harbor to Two Harbors:                 22
Marina del Rey to Avalon:                   38            
Marina del Rey to Two Harbors:         31

I plotted out these distances based on my route (direct), and took an approximate start point for each distance at the outside of each harbor. Each mariner may experience a slightly different distance, depending on their mooring location and line of sail, but consider these good approximations.

sail to catalina island
My chart for plotting the waters of Southern California

I have made these routes in a 30 foot sailboat (1976 Newport), and considering the range of conditions I experienced (current, swells, headwind), let's say - my average speed for these trips was 4.7 nautical miles/hr. This average speed accounts for some sailing in good to moderate winds and then the engine turned on at moderately high RPM when the wind goes light. For most folks with a sailboat near 30 feet, just under 5 nautical miles/hr. is probably the correct average speed for mixed conditions.

Sailing to Catalina Island

 

At that average speed, the approximate time it would take to get from A to B is:

Time needed for each leg (if averaging 4.7 nautical miles/hr.)
                                                
                                                           Hours (in decimal)
Dana Point to Avalon:                             7
Dana Point to Two Harbors:                    8
Newport Beach to Avalon:                     5.5               
Newport Beach to Two Harbors:            6.8
Huntington Harbor to Avalon:                5.3
Huntington Harbor to Two Harbors:      5.7                 
LA Harbor to Avalon:                            5.3
LA Harbor to Two Harbors:                   4.6
Marina del Rey to Avalon:                     8.0            
Marina del Rey to Two Harbors:            6.6

Of course, sailors rarely use a completely direct path from one point to another (either due to some tacking or to unintentional meanderings) and so, it would be wise to plan an hour on top of these estimates.

How far offshore is catalina
Sailing the Alize' into the welcoming glow of Avalon harbor.

Before you untie the dock lines, you need at least one quality cruising guide on board. Fagan's book is generally regarded as the most comprehensive guide for sailing Central and Southern CA. It has kept me out of trouble a few times.
Plus, this book has a great section on anchorages around Catalina Island and a thorough section on harbors in Los Angeles. Amazon sells cheap used copies.






My sailing blog features posts of similar nautical information for other sailing regions on the west coast, please follow links below:

Sailing from San Diego to Los Angeles: nautical miles and time required for a sailboat trip (Mission Bay, Dana Point, Newport Beach, Huntington Harbor, Los Angeles Harbor, Marina del Rey).

Sailing from Seattle to Puget Sound harbors: distance and time for common sailboat trips (Blake Island, Kingston, Edmonds, Bremerton, Port Townsend, Gig Harbor, Tacoma, Everett, Oak Harbor, Victoria, Friday Harbor).

Sailing distance (nautical miles) and time for a sailboat trip from San Diego to Santa Cruz Island (Mission Bay, Smuggler's Cove, Avalon, Two Harbors).

And, if you are going to make the journey out to the island, you will want to prepare for some down time in the cabin. Once you lose sight of land, the hours start moving slow. This is a good thing as it gives us a chance to relax and shake out the stress of our regular lives.
However, you're going to need some light entertainment. Bring a book. To stay in the moment, bring a sea-faring book. If you're a history buff, I recommend, "Two Years Before the Mast" by Richard Henry Dana. If you're into single-handed sailing stories, I recommend, "Sailing Alone Around the World" by Joshua Slocum.

And of course, when in doubt...crack a beer and stare off at the horizon.

November 1, 2014

Sailing the Capri 30 off shore in San Diego

Dave Koller has become the proud new co-owner of a Capri 30 racing sailboat. The lines are drawn back to the cockpit. All the hardware looks intact. She's ready for some stiff winds.

racing capri 30 san diego
Ready to rip: Capri 30, light and fast

      San Diego has had a fairly light wind summer, so it is nice to have a few Winter storms arrive. We took the Capri 30 for a spin in a small craft advisory and got her heeled over pretty well, definitely got the starboard rail sunk deep in the water - two knuckles deep.


racing sailboats in san diego
Chris and Dave in the Capri cockpit


Curran at the helm

Bringing her back into the barn.