Is It Legal to Fly A Drone At Night? Yes! Should You Do It? Well...

As drones become more common in our society among hobby pilots and enthusiasts, people who aren't familiar with drones will undoubtedly become worried when they see them buzzing about or hovering, whether they have reason to be worried or not, such as when they see a drone flying at night (or during the day, or anywhere...). Of course, as a responsible drone, quadcopter, or quadrotor pilot, you know that no one around you has anything to fear. However, as we are ambassadors for the future of drones, it is important to always follow best practices on every flight in order to keep from spreading a bad impression about drones.

As a result, when someone sent me an email asking if it were legal to fly drones at night, I was happy to chime in.

Is it legal?

The truth of the matter is that yes, it's legal to fly drones at night, as drones aren't any different in the eyes of the law (in most cases) from radio-controlled helicopters, airplanes, or similar devices. However, drones that come with cameras do have additional liabilities that their pilots should be aware of. To put it simply, spying is still against the law, unless you happen to be working for her majesty's secret service. And I'm not. Except when watching James Bond movies.

Should you do it?

So yes, you can certainly fly your drones at night. That said, you'll want to be even more careful when flying at night than you would be when flying during the day, simply because visibility is so much less at night and because people are going to be much more suspicious if they see you flying a drone at night than during the day. This goes double if someone notices something like a GoPro attached to a quadcopter flying around their house.

The debate between whether something should be done is usually easy to settle when that something is illegal or dangerous. It can be tougher to make the right decision when that something is legal, but dubious. Personally, I do fly my drones at night, but I only do so when I'm far away from people who don't know that I fly drones, and I make it easy to identify myself as the pilot. There's no need to be coy or pretend a UFO is flying around just to play tricks on people; it's not worth getting my drone shot down or having people panic and call the police.

Those might seem like overreactions to you or I, but it's not unusual for people to call the police in fear when they see drones flying where they don't think they belong. A lady  in San Mateo California, called the police simply because she thought someone was trying to peek into her neighbor's bedroom window with a drone.

While sitting on her front porch one recent late evening, San Mateo resident Denise Nelson saw a 2-foot diameter drone hovering in the sky in front of her.

“I can hear it and it was coming closer like a buzzing sound from an electric scooter,” said Nelson. “It was the freakiest thing I’ve ever seen.” 

Alarmed that it was close to her neighbor’s bedroom window, no one was in sight and the drone was being controlled remotely, she called police for advice. Nelson was also concerned that someone could have been using the device to case a home for potential burglary or invasion of privacy.

Yet another reason to play it safe

The article doesn't specify what kind of drone it was, or whether it was actually doing anything wrong in the eyes of the law, as the drone was presumably flown away by the time the police arrived. But it led to an article in a major newspaper about big bad drones, and now, what do you think anyone who reads that article will think the next time they see one anywhere? That drones are out to spy in their bedroom windows!

Remember the rules of best practice, and you'll be fine almost all of the time. There's always another day to fly, as long as you don't get carried away trying something you'd probably think better of with a good night's rest. Lawfully or not, people have gotten charged, arrested, and even jailed for flying drones, quadcopters, and multirotors inappropriately. Those five minutes of fun aren't worth it to me; I've got a family to come home to after every flight.


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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