aerial Sailing photography drone boat

The best drones for sailing photography

Saling is a beautiful sport that can be captured in stunning aerial photos and videos. Drones are, of course, a perfect way to capture those views. But with that said, some considerations should be made when launching drones off of a boat and flying over the water to do your sailing photography

For starters, flying drones over open oceans, at the beach, or over large lakes can often entail gusty winds, so you’ll want a drone with high wind resistance levels. If you’re taking off from a moving boat, you won’t be able to rely on “return to home technology” to help safely land your drone (as the drone would otherwise land right into the water where the boat was upon launch).

Flying a drone over the water, particularly from a boat, is not the same as it is when flying over land. With that, you need to make sure you have the right drone. Whether you’re looking for the best drones for sailing photography, or to photograph other water sports via a moving boat, here are my top recommendations:

Here’s how those picks compare against each other:

DJI Mavic 3 ProDJI Mavic 3 ClassicDJI Air 3DJI Air 2SAutel Evo Lite+
Price$2,199$1,599$1,099$999$1,399
Camera-4/3 CMOS Hasselblad Camera-1/1.3″ CMOS Medium Tele Camera-1/2″ CMOS Tele Camera-4/3 CMOS-1/1.3″ CMOS Wide-Angle Camera-1/1.3″ CMOS 3x Medium Tele Camera1” CMOS1” CMOS
Approximate Flight time46 mins46 mins  46 mins31 mins30 mins.
Max Wind Speed Resistance 27 mph27 mph27 mph24 mph38 mph 
Dimensions (folded, without propellers, and presented as Length x Width x Height)231.1×98×95.4 mm 221×96.3×90.3 mm 207×100.5×91.1 mm 180×97×77 mm 210x123x95mm
Weight958 grams335.5 grams720 grams595 grams820 grams

Any new drone purchase can feel overwhelming when deciding between all the different options. Throw in the extra considerations you need to make when flying a drone over water, and you must make the right choice. With that, we’ve broken down the key features that you should look for when using drones for sailing photography.

Key features of sailing photography drones

Max Wind Speed Resistance 

It won’t matter how perfect of a shot you get if all of a sudden the wind picks up and your drone is blown away and forever lost at sea. Your drone needs to be able to withstand windy conditions. In general, drones are classified into 5 levels of wind resistance (Level 1-5).

Level 5 is the best you’ll find, which means drones can withstand winds of up to 39-46 miles per hour. Drones with higher levels of wind resistance are typically larger and heavier, as they have more powerful motors. Then again, they are also more expensive (and more annoying to tote around).

A Powerful Camera System 

As with any drone adventure, you’ll want your footage to turn out beautiful. But with sailing it is even more important. You’ll want your viewers to see the difference between the blue sky and the blue ocean. Having a drone that can capture sharp, clear images and videos is key. 

Check out Drone Girl’s more in-depth look at the best camera drones. 

Intelligent Features 

Most drones come with a wide range of intelligent features. The most important intelligent feature will be DJI ActiveTrack, or something similar (for non-DJI drones). ActiveTrack follows a chosen subject through the shot, whether they are in a car, on a skateboard, or in our case, on a sailboat. 

Drones that have the intelligent feature of ActiveTrack are often referred to as follow-me drones.

DJI ActiveTrack uses a combination of computer vision and GPS technology to track the subject and keep the drone in position. The computer vision system is critical to identifying the subject being tracked, while the GPS then calculates the position of the subject and the drone. Unlike old follow-me drones that simply relied on either pre-programmed GPS coordinates or the drone’s coordinates at takeoff, today’s top-tier drones instead use technology like ActiveTrack. That’s critical when flying drones from boats, as your position can be more unpredictable and is likely always changing. A GPS isn’t enough; a powerful vision system is critical.

top drone manufacturers of 2020
The DJI Mavic 3 Pro

The overall best drone for sailing: DJI Mavic 3 Pro 

The DJI Mavic 3 Pro is the best drone for sailing photography, thanks to its three cameras, flight time, intelligent features, and wind resistance.

The Mavic 3 Pro has a three-axis gimbal with three cameras built-in:

  1. A custom Hasselblad wide-angle camera (24 mm) for capturing stunning landscapes
  2. A medium tele camera (70 mm) for zooming in on the action
  3. A tele camera (166 mm) for capturing distant details

These three lenses allow you to capture every moment of your sailing adventure, from the wide-angle views of the ocean to the close-up shots of the boats and wildlife.

The Mavic 3 Pro also has a 43-minute battery life. Battery life is critically important when using drones for sailing, as high winds can cause your battery to die quickly. 

The Mavic 3 Pro’s max speed wind resistance is 27 mph and of course, comes equipped with DJI ActiveTrack. This combination of cameras, wind resistance, and ActiveTrack is why it tops the list of the best drones for sailing. 

Here’s something interesting about return-to-home on the DJI Mavic 3. While many drones fixate on the position where the drone took off (which is not helpful on a moving boat), the Mavic 3 series can fixate on the remote control as the home point.

That said, the feature has to be set before launch, and updating the home position is important. That said, while the feature is far handier than what you get on most other drones, don’t rely on it entirely. DJI doesn’t share how often the home point gets updated, which is a problem, particularly on fast-moving vessels.

The DJI Mavic 3 Pro is the most expensive drone on the list, starting at $2,199, but — if you’re the kind of pilot who wants the latest and greatest — it’s worth the investment for its superior features and performance.

DJI Mavic 3 Classic
The DJI Mavic 3 Classic

The best drone for sailing (runner-up): DJI Mavic 3 Classic

If you prefer shooting big, sweeping ocean views or panoramas during your drone sailing adventures, the DJI Mavic Classic is a great option.

The DJI Mavic 3 Classic is a close runner-up to the DJI Mavic 3 Pro, particularly if you’re budget-conscious. That said —while the Pro and Classic share the same wind resistance (27 mph) — the Pro is superior to the Classic in almost every other way, especially the cameras. The Mavic 3 Pro has three cameras, while the Classic only has one (you won’t get those tele camera options). 

But the Classic is superior in the eyes of your bank account. The DJI Mavic 3 Class is 37.5% less expensive than the DJI Mavic 3 Pro, starting at $1,599. 

Plus, the Classic has a slightly longer flight time than the Pro, at 46 minutes.  

If you still aren’t sure between the Pro and the Classic for your sailing adventures, you can get an in-depth breakdown of the Mavic 3 Pro vs. Mavic 3 Classic here

drone remote ID proposal
A DJI Mavic Air drone in Scotland.

The best drone for sailing photography if you prioritize dual-cameras (budget pick): DJI Air 3

The DJI Air 3 is a great option for sailing photographers on a budget. It has a dual-camera system that can capture stunning photos and videos, and it has a long flight time of 46 minutes.

The Air 3’s dual-camera system consists of a 1/1.3-inch CMOS wide-angle camera and a 3x medium telephoto camera. The wide-angle camera can capture stunning landscapes, while the telephoto camera can zoom in for close-up shots of the boats and wildlife. Sailing photographers can now film in 60FPS with ActiveTrack, something you couldn’t do on previous Air models.

And like the Pro and Classic, the Air 3 has a max speed resistance is 27 mph.

The DJI Air 3 is a great value for the price. It’s not the most expensive drone on the market, but it offers a lot of features and performance for the money. If you’re looking for a great drone for sailing photography on a budget, check out the DJI Air 3 starting at $1,099.

DJI Air 2s. Photo courtesy of DJI

The best drone for sailing photography (ultra-budget pick): DJI Air 2S 

DJI Air 2s is the best ultra-budget drone for sailing photography. It’s small, lightweight, and easy to carry around, making it perfect for capturing photos and videos of your sailing adventures.

The Air 2S has a 1-inch CMOS sensor that can capture stunning 20-megapixel photos and 5.4K video. Like all other drones on the list, the Air 2s is a follow-me drone, coming equipped with ActiveTrack.

A few downsides to the DJI Air 2S is a shorter flight time of 31 minutes, only one camera, and a max wind resistance of 24 mph. Ultimately, this means you will be changing the battery more frequently, have fewer zoom capabilities, and be incredibly mindful of weather conditions. 

If you’re looking for an ultra-budget drone that can still take great photos and videos, the DJI Air 2S is the only drone on this list below $1,000 with a starting price of $799.

Autel Evo Lite+

The best drone for sailing photography (DJI alternative): EVO Lite+

The Autel EVO Lite+ is a great alternative to DJI drones for sailing photography. If you are looking for a DJI alternative due to its market dominance, the EVO Lite+ is a solid and reliable option.

It has a 6K camera that can capture stunning photos and videos, and it has a long flight time of 40 minutes. It also boasts the highest wind resistance of any drone on this list at 38 mph, making it the most wind-resistant drone on the list.   

The EVO Lite+’s camera is capable of capturing 6K resolution video at 30fps, or 4K resolution video at 60fps. It also has a 1/1.28-inch CMOS sensor that can capture more detail in low-light conditions.

Like its DJI competitors, EVO Lite+ comes with a follow-me mode that Autel calls a “dynamic track” with similar capabilities. 

If you’re looking for a great DJI alternative for sailing photography, the Autel EVO Lite, starting at $1,399, is a great option.

Once you’ve found the perfect drone for your sailing photography, it’s time to take your new drone out to sea! Flying in open waters can be intimidating to even the most trained pilots.

We have answered some of your questions about using drones for sailing photography:

Mini 2 Mastery DJI Mavic Mini 2 training course
Barton Springs in Austin, Texas. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Can you fly a drone from a boat?

Yes, you can fly a drone from a boat. Of course, flying a drone from any moving vehicle, including a boat, calls for closer scrutiny of the airspace you will be flying in. As part of your planning, keep in mind that airspace restrictions still apply even over the sea. 

While you can fly a drone from a boat, it is best practice to calibrate on land. Generally, drones need a still location that is free of electromagnetic interference to calibrate properly. A poorly calibrated drone can exhibit wildly unpredictable behavior, including failing to maintain its location and heading. This is a recipe for disaster when flying over open water. 

Additionally, be aware of ferrous metal on boats, as well as radar and radio transmissions. Those things can affect the ability of a drone to understand your radio transmissions.

How do you launch and land a drone on a moving boat?

Launching and landing a drone from a boat can be risky, but it’s sometimes necessary. 

If you can launch a drone from the boat’s deck, that’s generally ideal. That said, sometimes hand-launching (though not recommended by some experts) is crucial, especially on smaller boats.

When hand launching a drone from a boat, safely, lock your elbows, keep the drone as far away from you as possible, and take note of the wind direction to avoid any accidents. 

For landing on a moving boat, you cannot rely on your drone’s auto-landing function. After all, most of those functions simply have the drone land at the same spot it took off — which you might have floated away from at that point.

You may also want to consider disengaging the downward-facing sensor or any automatic landing protection for manually landing on a boat. That’s because most downward sensors can be unreliable when flying over water, as the reflections from the water can confuse the sensors.

aerial Sailing photography drone boat
Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Can you fly a drone over water?

Yes, flying a drone over water is safe, as long as proper precautions are taken. In fact, by many metrics, it’s safer than flying drones over land, as there are likely fewer obstacles to potentially fly into, and likely no people or other important objects on land to worry about flying over. Even still, you should log many, many flights on land before flying over water. 

When you are ready, there are a few things you can do to fly safely:

Maintain a height of at least 2 meters above the water. If you need to fly below for a special shot, you’ll want to disable the Vision Positioning System (VPS) on your drone. VPS maps the surface below to help position the drone and the light reflecting off of the surface can cause issues with this technology. 

If you’re using DJI drones, you might use features like the DJI GO 4 app to “Enable Max Distance” when planning a shot that requires flying long distances.

Given the fact that return-to-home features likely won’t serve you for drone flights over water, always operate your drone within your line of sight. 

Finally, be aware of the wind speed as it will affect the battery level. Strong winds can cause your battery level to drop very quickly. Keep in mind that you can assume the winds up in the air near your drone are even stronger than the ones you experience on the ground.  Then again, you might also use the wind to your advantage by flying your drone in the same direction that the wind is blowing.

Are DJI drones water-resistant?

Sort of! While most DJI drones are water resistant, none are truly waterproof. The level of water resistance of a DJI drone depends on the model. Some models, such as the DJI Mavic 3 and the DJI Mini 3 Pro, are more water-resistant than others. However, even the most water-resistant DJI drones should not be submerged in water.

You might get away with splashes, but avoid getting your drone wet. 

What drone do you prefer for sailing?  What tips do you have for using a drone on the water? Tell us in the comments! 

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