How to Use a Drone for Private Property Surveillance

Writing about how to make money from drones has become a hobby of mine, as there are so many ways a quadcopter or UAV can bring in income. However, as I've noted before, it is essential to follow best practices when using drones for paid work in the United States. That typically means obtaining some kind of a permit from the FAA. A number of people fly under the radar, so to speak, and use drones for commercial purposes without alerting the FAA, but that's not something I'd ever do or recommend.

With that said, I get emails from time to time asking how to do certain things with drones, and after the article I wrote the other day of how to make money with a drone, I received an email from someone who didn't want to make money, but simply wanted to make sure he didn't have any trespassers loafing around his property. He lives in a rural area with a lot of land, and has had issues with squatters and other folk due to having a number of abandoned barns and shacks on his land, and he simply wanted a reliable way to scan his property without driving all around it all day or hiring someone to fly an airplane over it every few days. Could a drone help here?

Absolutely. We went back and forth a few times, and here are some of the points we covered about how to use a Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter as a surveillance drone. Of course, any drone with a way to shoot video or photography could theoretically be used, such as the Phantom FC40 or a Phantom 2 Vision or an AR Drone 2.0, not to mention pretty much any drone with a GoPro attached to it, such as the original Phantom or the Blade 350 QX, but I know the Phantom 2 Vision+ best, so that's what I had in mind when writing about using drones for private surveillance work.

1. The footage can only be used as evidence - not for spying

This is the most important point to understand when using a drone for private property surveillance. If you have a strong feeling that some folks are sneaking onto your property to vandalize it, you can record them doing so and turn the evidence into the police when pressing charges. You can't simply keep recording them and then start following them all around your property until you see them open up a laptop and start taking down their bank information and credit card numbers. Spying is a no-no whether it involves drones or not; make sure you're staying on the right side of the law if you want to use drone footage as evidence of a crime committed.

2. Video gives you more useful information than photography

A second important point is that you'll want a drone that can shoot video, and preferably stream that video back to you in real time. Yes, it's definitely possible to get good information with nothing more than a camera that takes pictures every minute while you do flyovers throughout your property, but nothing beats real time information and rolling video footage. It gives you so much more information than still pictures ever could, and it makes evidence-gathering (see above) dead easy. That's part of why I only use my drones with video capabilities when doing anything that requires gathering information; it's like having a second brain in the sky.

3. Have a plan for what to do if you see something you don't like

So you had a hunch that some folks were sneaking onto your land and drawing crop circles or tipping cows, and you sent your drone up there to shoot some video and saw exactly what you were looking for. Now what?

Depending on your personality, you might want to go confront the people directly, but I wouldn't. First of all, I've got a family to look after, and second of all, why take the risk of entering into a fistfight with someone? Don't forget that the person might be mad simply because they saw your drone flying above them, and that might make them forget that they weren't supposed to be on your property in the first place. Just call the police and let them handle things. Or if you've got some other plan, that's fine as well, but make sure you have a plan of what you'll do if your surveillance videos reveal that bad things are indeed happening on your property.

Finally, remember that you need to have the proper permits to do this legally. They aren't very hard to get, and it's a good way to have a bit of extra ammunition on your side when bringing your case to the police. Personally, my drone of choice when doing private property surveillance work is the  DJI Phantom 2 Vision+. You can read a full review of mine here, and you can buy it from Amazon here.


Hi! My name is Mike, and I'm the author of this personal drone blog. If you find the information on my flying drone review blog useful, you can shop through Amazon here.

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