lost drone found sign what to do poster

What to do if you find a lost drone

The following guest post was written by Oliver McClintock. McClintock is the creator of drone community MyDearDrone.

It’s not every day that a drone lands in your backyard, on your roof or driveway — but it does happen. What do you do if you find a lost drone?

Lost quads are found in 3 general conditions:

  1. Dead – no spinning props, no lights, and possibly in several pieces if the unit crashed.
  2. Active – no spinning props, but lights are on, and possibly in several pieces if the unit crashed.
  3. Live – Still trying to fly, lights are on,  and possibly in several pieces if the unit crashed.

Here’s what to do if you find a drone in each of these conditions:

Dead Unit (safe to approach with caution): Most drones have lights and indicators visible from outside the unit. These lights enhance visibility at long-range, and can indicate the current status of the onboard navigation system, such as flight mode, low battery, GPS status, etc.

Related read: How to get the longest FPV range on your drone

Most of the time, if a unit is completely “dark” with no marker lights or status lights illuminated, the unit is off or has drained its battery pack below a working level. Drones in this category are safe to approach (with caution). From there, check for an identification tag or marking (some owners will mark their unit with a contact name and phone number).

Active Unit (proceed with extreme caution): The props are not spinning, but the lights are on. In this case, you may proceed, but be cautious!

Many drone manufacturers add an “autoland when the battery is low” feature in their systems. It’s like a “return to home” feature, where the drone returns to the exact point it is launched from, but in some cases, the unit may not have enough battery life remaining to make the return trip. In that case, the drone “autolands” as a safety measure. Most systems shut down their motors after an autoland so the propellers won’t be spinning, but not always.

Live Unit (do not approach, and keep bystanders clear of the area): The lights are on, the props are spinning. No one should approach this type of unit unless they are very accustomed with the specific model operation or there is some imminent danger to a person or property.

Have you discovered a lost drone? Here are some tips to locate the owner do:

  • If your drone includes an integrated camera, you can use that to make an effort to communicate along with the person who likely has a feed in his mobile device or computer.
  • If the owner was filming his flight, a hint to the home point or takeoff might be stored in the memory chip if you view it on your computer.
  • Does the quadcopter has a QR label code? If so, scan with your smartphone for details including a potential reward for giving back the lost unit to its proprietor.
  • Does it have an FAA registration number on it? Take this to your local police, and they may use that to find the owner.
  • You can call the aircraft manufacturer and give away its number to record it “found.”

The common law indicates that whoever is the owner of a property where the drone crashes could keep it, unless or until someone come to get it.

What have you done when you found a lost drone? Let me know in the comments below!

-By Oliver McClintock

McClintock is the creator of MyDearDrone, a free community to learn everything from news, reviews, guides and much more about drones and technology.

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  • Thank you, Sally, for the opportunity, and I will be happy to answer if there are any questions from the readers about the post. 🙂

  • ejosterberg says:

    I don’t think it’s true everywhere that you can keep a drone if the property happens to be found on your land. Maybe in many cases, but certainly not all. Do you have any example case law or statues that say this?

  • ejosterberg says:

    Keeping that drone might land you in legal trouble, Maybe you’ll become a felon for attempting to conceal you have it? http://law.justia.com/codes/georgia/2010/title-16/chapter-8/article-1/16-8-6 If that drone is valued at more than 600 bucks, expect to loose your voting rights and possibly spend a year or more in jail.

  • Jck says:

    i just hooked it up to a Custom controller and claimed it as mine MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  • Justin says:

    I’ve found two drones crashed on the cliffs. Both of them i made an attempt to contact the owners via local facebook buy/swap/sell groups. I had some other people tell me they lost their drones (which I gladly helped them out and took a look as I’m on the cliffs often) but they were different to the ones I’ve found. Never located either of the owners so just threw them out

  • Elena says:

    Found a drone in Hawaii (Diamond Head) its a Phantom standard. The owner probably lost it because there is a signal jam in the area. It has a camera but not blades. Can someone tell me what to do?

  • dollfacekim says:

    Ewe, I’m creeped out that someone’s drone got over my privacy fence and after watching me signaling “wtf?!” hand gestures it tried to leave and fell upside down with a broken propeller. I can’t wait to see what the story behind that will be when they come trying to retrieve this drone. LMFAO! And please, getting in trouble for keeping it?! Not in this situation, I’d think.

  • Andrew B Wich says:

    Just lost mine in Colorado Springs. 80922 area. Shot in the dark here.

  • Dave says:

    Lost my drone today. 68046 zip code. I’m pretty sure it went down in a farmer’s field 1/2 mile to 1 mile away. I lost orientation and instead of flying it back, I flew it farther away. We went out to look but didn’t locate it. It will probably get plowed under next time the farmer goes through with his tractor. But it’s registered, and the registration number is clearly displayed. Not sure if I even care about getting a crashed and probably un-flyable drone back. The company is out of business, so the opportunity for repair is limited.

    • Sean m says:

      Post it on facebook group find my quadcopter. Just started the group cause I found someones expensive quad in perfect condition but have no way to get in touch with them.

  • Jon says:

    I found a mavic air and post in local paper and also in find my quad on Facebook have not found owner yet it’s a nice one nothing wrong from the looks of it other than achiped blade have not tried to power it yet it was wet from the rain storm sitting in rice still it’s been almost 3 weeks since I found it now what can I do with it if it will power up and if it don’t power up thanks hope I can make some use out of it

  • Patti says:

    Found a drone. Placed an ad in Lost & Found on Craigslist. So far….. no response and it’s been a week. What am I going to do with this drone? I do not know how to access the camera and there are no visible numbers on the drone.

  • poopoo says:

    I have “acquired” multiple drones with a Red Ryder “retraction device”, caught while lingering/trespassing over my home and in my airspace. likely due to the amount of work i put into making my property a private oasis. All were caught on film before acquisition as proof of trespassing. A couple of them turned out to be mighty nice $1k+ models (I work in tech and often with drones).

    after destroying the gps devices and tracking I stripped them for parts I make a pretty penny. But sometimes i just smash them for the sheer joy of it and then leave the pile at the end of the road for the owner to recover. Play stupid games, and trespass, I win/you lose.

    Please, keep ‘em coming.

  • Ese says:

    Found a DJI Mini 2 drone yesterday hiking in the North Cascades (Maple-Heather pass loop). Wondering how to find the owners. It has some videos on the SD card but nothing that would give me a clue.

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