As an environmental scientist, I’ve witnessed firsthand the incredible potential of drones in helping us understand and monitor our changing planet. Drone mapping has become an indispensable tool for researchers studying the effects of climate change on ecosystems around the globe. However, before embarking on your drone mapping mission, it’s crucial to prioritize safety. In this blog post, I’ll share essential tips for operating drones safely and responsibly in the field.

Follow safety regulations

Always familiarize yourself with and adhere to local drone regulations. These rules are put in place to ensure the safety of both operators and the public. Check with your local aviation authority for specific guidelines, such as maximum flight altitudes, required distances from people and structures, and any necessary certifications or licenses.

Conduct a thorough visual inspection

Before each flight, carefully inspect your drone for any signs of damage or wear. Check the propellers, batteries, and camera gimbal for any cracks, looseness, or abnormalities. Ensure that all components are securely attached and functioning properly. Additionally, survey your intended flight area for potential obstructions like trees, power lines, or tall structures that could interfere with your drone’s path.

Maintain a safe distance from people and objects

When selecting your mapping area, choose locations that are free from crowds and away from people who are not part of your team. Flying near individuals can be dangerous and may also compromise the quality of your data due to movement or shadows. Additionally, maintain a clear line of sight with your drone at all times, and avoid flying near or behind objects that could obstruct your view.

Monitor battery levels and plan for safe returns

Always keep a close eye on your drone’s battery levels during flight. Plan your mission to ensure that you have sufficient power to complete your mapping task and safely return the drone to the launch point. As a general rule, begin your return journey when the battery reaches 30% capacity to allow for any unexpected delays or headwinds.

Stay up to date with firmware and software updates

Regularly check for and install any firmware updates for your drone and associated software. These updates often include crucial improvements to safety features, flight stability, and bug fixes. By keeping your equipment up to date, you minimize the risk of mid-flight malfunctions and ensure that you have access to the latest safety enhancements.

Establish clear communication protocols

If you’re working with a team, establish clear communication protocols before your mapping mission. Assign roles and responsibilities, such as the pilot, spotter, and data manager. Ensure that everyone understands their tasks and can communicate effectively during the flight. Use walkie-talkies or other reliable communication devices to maintain contact, especially if team members are positioned at different vantage points.

Be prepared for emergencies

Despite careful planning and preparation, emergencies can still occur. Develop an emergency action plan that outlines procedures for dealing with potential issues like a lost connection with the drone, a crash, or a flyaway. Make sure all team members are familiar with the plan and have the necessary contact information for local authorities or emergency services.

Respect wildlife and sensitive habitats

As environmental researchers, it’s our responsibility to minimize our impact on the ecosystems we study. When conducting drone mapping missions, be mindful of wildlife and sensitive habitats. Avoid flying too close to animals, as this can cause stress and disrupt their natural behaviors. In ecologically sensitive areas, consult with local authorities or conservation groups to ensure that your activities align with best practices for protecting the environment.

    Looking to learn how to run a drone mapping mission in a given software package or more tips on how to plan and execute your mission? Check out our guide to planning & running successful drone mapping missions.