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Guidance for clubs on the use of drones 

Boats Launching Drones are becoming increasingly prevalent in their usage across all aspects of sailing, and it is important that clubs are aware of the regulations governing their use.

The use of unmanned aircraft is regulated the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Air Navigation Order 2009, which predates the recent rapid expansion in the availability of drones. Therefore, it is not as comprehensive as might perhaps be desirable. Nevertheless, Article 166 and Article 167 of the Air Navigation Order 2009 provide useful insight;

Article 166 of the Air Navigation Order 2009

(1) A person must not cause or permit any article or animal (whether or not attached to a parachute) to be dropped from a small unmanned aircraft so as to endanger persons or property.

(2) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made.

(3) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must maintain direct, unaided visual contact with the aircraft sufficient to monitor its flight path in relation to other aircraft, persons, vehicles, vessels and structures for the purpose of avoiding collisions.

(4) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft which has a mass of more than 7kg excluding its fuel but including any articles or equipment installed in or attached to the aircraft at the commencement of its flight, must not fly the aircraft: (a) in Class A, C, D or E airspace unless the permission of the appropriate air traffic control unit has been obtained; (b) within an aerodrome traffic zone during the notified hours of watch of the air traffic control unit (if any) at that aerodrome unless the permission of any such air traffic control unit has been obtained; or (c) at a height of more than 400 feet above the surface unless it is flying in airspace described in sub-paragraph (a) or (b) and in accordance with the requirements for that airspace.

(5) The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft must not fly the aircraft for the purposes of aerial work except in accordance with a permission granted by the CAA.

Article 167 of the Air Navigation Order 2009

(1) The person in charge of a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not fly the aircraft in any of the circumstances described in paragraph (2) except in accordance with a permission issued by the CAA.

(2) The circumstances referred to in paragraph (1) are: (a) over or within 150 metres of any congested area; (b) over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons; (c) within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft; or (d) subject to paragraphs (3) and (4), within 50 metres of any person.

(3) Subject to paragraph (4), during take-off or landing, a small unmanned surveillance aircraft must not be flown within 30 metres of any person.

(4) Paragraphs (2) (d) and (3) do not apply to the person in charge of the small unmanned surveillance aircraft or a person under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft.

(5) In this article ‘a small unmanned surveillance aircraft’ means a small unmanned aircraft which is equipped to undertake any form of surveillance or data acquisition.

Defining “aerial work”

Of particular importance for clubs and organisations is the definition of “aerial work.” Article 259 of the 2009 Order provides that “aerial work means any purpose, other than commercial air transport or public transport, for which an aircraft is flown if valuable consideration is given or promised for the flight or the purpose of the flight”.

The expression “valuable consideration” could have quite a wide application, since valuable consideration can be given in any number of non-commercial transactions and is not restricted to the payment of money.

We have sought the advice of the CAA as to whether the use of an unmanned aircraft by a club member to take video footage would fall within the definition of “aerial work.”

In response, the CAA have clarified further: “If the footage has been provided for free by a club member and the club uses it only for promotion of membership (marketing the club) then we would not usually consider it as aerial work. 

If any member (or the club) received payment from, or was commissioned by, a third-party, then it would be aerial work: e.g. sponsors paying for the club to film their yacht etc.” In essence, therefore, the operator of an unmanned aircraft must comply with Articles 166 and 167 of the Air Navigation Order 2009.

Insurance and risk assessment  

If a club allows an unmanned aircraft to be operated by a club member during a club event or from club premises, it must ensure that the operator holds the requisite permit from the CAA (where required under Articles 166 and 167 above) and appropriate public liability insurance

The RYA wishes to remind clubs that if any unmanned aircraft is to be operated from club premises then the club will need to conduct its own risk assessment and put in place such measures as it considers appropriate in order to mitigate any identified risks to club members, visitors and the general public.

The club should also confirm with its own insurers that any liability the club might have in connection with the operation of an unmanned aircraft from its premises is covered by the club’s insurance policy.

RYA Racing and Technical Services Manager Bas Edmonds said: “With drones being used increasingly regularly across all aspects of sailing, it is vital that clubs and centres are aware of the rules and regulations that govern their use.

"Whilst drones are very useful tools to have for racing and recreational sailing, if your club is to use a drone for any purpose, it is important to ensure you have the correct procedures in place with regards to risk assessment and insurance.”

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