If you just lost your drone, you’re going to want me to jump straight into this. So I won’t waffle, here’s the first thing you shouldn’t do.
DO NOT turn off your drones remote controller. That is the first and BEST advice I can give you.
Your controller is the lifeline between you and your drone at the moment. It’s the only thing that connects you to your drone and it’s the best thing you can use to find it.
Your controller should constantly be trying to reconnect to your drone as long as your drone, and remote controller still have battery power. So as soon as you get closer to the drone, the controller should reconnect and you’ll be able to see exactly where the drone is on the map.
01. Before Searching For Your Drone, Hit The “Return To Home” Button!
The first thing you’re going to want to do is hit the “return to home” button and wait for a few minutes. Make sure you press and hold it in to make sure it registers.
At the bottom of the remote screen, you’ll see telemetry information. It will show you what direction your drone is, and how far it is away from you. If you see that the distance numbers are decreasing, it means the drone is making its way back to you.
If those numbers don’t change at all, it means that you either lost connectivity to your drone, or your drone is stuck somewhere.
Take note of the last known direction and distance based on what your remote is telling you. This will give you a great starting point.
If your drone is stuck somewhere, let’s start with the best steps you can take first.
02. Find Drone With The Remote Controller
As you walk towards your drone, one of two things can happen. Your drone might reconnect, and you’ll get a live video stream and an updated location, which would make the below steps a lot easier. Or your drone will remain offline, and the hunt will be a bit more difficult.
Either way, here are the steps you need to take to find your drone:
- You should have the direction and distance that your drone is away from you displayed on the remote. So pack up your gear and start heading in that direction. The closer you get, the higher the chance is that your controller will reconnect to the drone.
- With the DJI, the controller should show you the drone course with the last known position. So as you’re walking or driving, the controller will show where you are relative to that course and last known drone location.
- All you need to do is keep following the course line until you get to the last known position of the drone. If your drone reconnects, you’ll get an updated location.
- Once you get to the last known location, keep your eyes and ears peeled. If your drone has landed in the crash position, it should be flashing red lights and it will be making a beeping sound.
- If you see or hear it, head in that direction. If you don’t, try the next step.
- When you think you’re in the general area of the drone, rev up the blades just for a second, and listen out for the drone motors or blades cutting shrub. Or you might hear the hiss of the blades and motors.
- Head in the direction. And repeat the above step if you have to.
If your drone and the remote is still on, then the above should work. Just make sure you find it before the battery dies on your drone. Without battery life, it won’t be able to let off the beeping noise and flashing red lights. Which will make it a lot more difficult to find.
03. Use The DJI “Find My Drone” Feature
Ok so let’s say you had an oops moment, and you switched off your drone controller, or it’s been ages since you’ve lost your drone, and your drone’s battery is probably flat by now. Try using DJI’s to find my drone app. Unfortunately, this step is only for DJI pilots, however, do some research to see if your drone has a similar feature on your mobile app. If it’s a high-end drone, the chances are high that it will.
IMPORTANT NOTE: You’ll know if your remote and drone have lost connection if the telemetry information on your remote controller screen, such as distance and direction, doesn’t update as you’re moving around.
This is a pretty cool feature that was added to the DJI Go app. When your drone loses GPS signal, the GO app is programmed to save the last GPS coordinates of the drone. So even if your remote controller has been turned off, at least you’ll still be able to access the drone’s last location on your mobile phone app.
This feature was introduced in 2017 on the GO 4 app. So if you’re flying a DJI, chances are that you have it.
Here’s how to use the GO 4 app find my drone feature:
01. First, open the DJI GO app and tap on the hamburger menu at the top right of the screen as shown in the red box in the image below.
02. Once open, tap on “Find My Drone.”
03. A map will pop open. You’ll see two locations. The blue circle is your location, and the red triangle should be your drone’s last known location. If your drone and remote are still connected, it will show your drone’s current location.
04. Head towards your drone’s last known location.
05. Once you’re there, look out for beeping sounds, flashing lights. You can also try to reconnect your drone to the controller. It’s worth a shot.
INSIDER TIP: If you think that your drone has got taken away by the wind, find your drone’s last known location. Once there, move in the direction of the wind while trying to reconnect to the controller.
04. Use “Flight logs” In Your Drone App
This is a pretty neat feature that most drone apps will have. For the sake of this article, I’ll be talking about the DJI GO mobile app, however, the same thing could be found in your drones app. Do some research.
So what makes logs so useful is that the flight log stores your drone’s flight path. And you can pull this information on a satellite map that shows the terrain. So even if your drone and your controller is off, this will give you an idea of where your drone was last spotted.
Here’s how you can access your flight log information:
01. Open the DJI GO app
02. Tap on the hamburger menu at the top right of the screen as shown in the red box in the image below.
03. Tap on flight records.
03. At the bottom, you’ll see “Flight list.” This will pull up a record of all your past drone flights.
04. A list of your previous drone flights will now pull up. Tap on your last drone flight. You’ll see a map pop up with a red triangle and a blue dot. The red triangle is the location of the drone, and the blue dot is your location.
05. As you drag the slider at the bottom, it will show the direction your drone moved in, and at the end of the flight past, it will show you the last location of your drone.
So how can you use this information? The great thing about this is that it will show your drone’s location on a map with satellite images. This way you’ll easily be able to use features around you like a road, building or trees that will help you locate the drone.
You’ll also clearly be able to see the direction your drone was moving in before it lost signal. So if it got carried away by the wind, at-least you’ll know what general direction to head into.
INSIDER TIP: Make sure the map is set to terrain mode so that you can see features. Spot a feature close to the drone and walk to that feature first. Once you have, you’ll know where you are relative to your drone. This will make finding it a lot easier.
05. No Flight Logs, No Controller Connection? Look For Lights And Listen For Sounds
I would only resort to only looking for these signs if you have to. Some entry-level drones won’t have cameras, flight logs or GPS trackers. In that case, all you have to find your drone is your senses and a bit of logic.
The best advice that I can give you is to give yourself a few minutes to calm down before you head out on the hunt. If you panic you won’t be able to think, and you’ll disorientate yourself. Once you’re calm, take these steps:
- Stop and think about where your drone could be. Since you can’t fly these drones too far, chances are it didn’t go very far. So make a mental note of the direction it was drifting, or direction is the wind blowing?
- Then begin to head in that direction. Look out for tall trees or large buildings. As you walk, also keep looking for lights and sounds. Smaller drones should also have crash signals such as flashing lights and beeping sounds.
- As you’re walking in the general direction, also rev up the engine. Often times your drone will get reconnected and you’ll hear the blades cutting a bush or tree somewhere.
That’s all you can really do for entry-level drones. Just stay calm, and keep a lookout.
06. Lost Drone Posters
You see them on every light post and bust stop showing lost dogs, cats, and even people. In 2020, expect every light post to filled with pictures of drones. Who knows, Walmart might even introduce a lost drone board. It’s becoming that common!
If you lost your drone in a residential area, this is a great way to get your drone back. Honest hearted people find lost drones frequently, however, most of the time they keep them only because they don’t know who the owners are.
Solution? make it easy for them to find you. If they see your lost drone poster, chances are they will contact you. I’ll tell you what, just because I’m a nice guy I’ll go ahead and also make it easy for you.
- I created a poster template that you can use for your lost drone on canva.com. All you have to do is edit it and download it here.
- After you click on the link above, edit the poster to include a picture of your drone. Or find a picture of a similar drone online.
- Follow this link to get a bunch of your lost drone posters printed at Walmart, and get them delivered straight to your door. I use their printing service often. They are extremely cheap, I got around 200 photos printed using their service the other day and it only cost me around $0.20c a photo. Low-quality a4 size printed paper should be cheaper than that.
- Once you get the posters back, go crazy. Paste them on every light post and bus stop in your area. Make your drone so popular, that even if someone did steal it, someone in their household will recognize the drone and get suspicious.
- Wait for the call. Let me know in the comments below if this worked for them, would love to know!
07. Check The Online Market Place
Ok so not everyone is as honest-hearted as I would like them to be. Some people will see your wondering drone as a quick way to make a few dollars. I’ve heard a lot of cases where people would see their own lost drones for sale on FB market place.
Monitor local market places, especially the FB market place. Also, check FB sales groups in your local area. This is usually the first place they try to sell them.
Online market places to check:
- Local FB groups
- FB market place
Spotted a drone that looks like yours? Find the serial number of your drone or any proof of purchase. Contact the seller and get all their details before you break the news that will ruin their day.
Get their phone number, address or as much information as possible. Then lay it on them. Tell them if they don’t courier your drone back to you, you’ll contact the police.
JUST DON’T set up a meeting. The last thing you would want to do is put yourself in danger.
How To Make Sure You Never Lose Your Drone Again
If you found your drone, great! If not, I’m sorry to hear. These things happen. Either way, you’re going to want to make sure this never happens again.
- Admit that it will happen again. The first thing you need to do is admit that it will happen again. Denial gives you a reason to be lazy which means you won’t prepare. This is what got you in this situation in the first place.
- Do a screen capture when you see the video footage is starting to lose signal. If the drone footage cuts out at that point, at least you’ll have aerial footage of the last location. This will drastically increase the chances of finding your drone again.
- Be prepared when flying in high-risk areas. If you know you’re flying in a high-risk area, make sure you know where it is. And take all the necessary precautions.
- Avoid flying in bad weather or at night. Most drones go missing in these scenarios, so you can avoid it by simply only flying when the weather seems suitable.
- Get a GPS tracker. This software costs money, however in a lot of cases it could be worth it. If you need to fly your drone in high-risk areas and bad weather, and you’re concerned that it will get lost, consider setting it up. It could save you thousands of dollars and an entry-level drone tracker such as the tk102 can cost as little as $30 to setup.
Losing a drone can be extremely frustrating. It might take some people months to save up for a drone, and they can disappear in a blink of an eye. If you’re one of them, take it on the chin and learn from your experience.
When you buy your next drone, take the recommended precautions above, spend an extra $30 on a GPS tracker, and when it does happen again—because it will—at-least you’ll be prepared! Don’t be that guy that loses a drone twice in their lifetime