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Drone Rules and Regs for the Caribbean

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One of the most incredible sights in the Caribbean is the beautiful mosaic of blue hues across the sea. It starts with a light turquoise off the beach reflected by the white sand and shallow reefs and moves on to the darker navy of deeper waters offshore. Standing on a hillside or mountain top and looking down is one way to capture this view. Another is by plane, helicopter, and now drone. Drones, technically called unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), are remotely controlled and enjoyed by hobbyists for taking photos. So, it’s a no-brainer that since a camera, even a cell phone camera, is a must-have for taking Instagram-worthy photos on vacation, that drones will be next. After all, according to the US’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), small recreational drones number over a half-million compared to just over half this number for commercial drones. 

What should you know about Drone Rules for the Caribbean before you go?

Grande Anse Beach, Grenada. Photo by Hugh Whyte on Unsplash
Grande Anse Beach, Grenada. Photo by Hugh Whyte on Unsplash

Flying on an Airplane with a Drone

Some 4.5 million visitors to the Caribbean this year are forecast to arrive by commercial airline, according to Aruba-based Tourism Analytics. Like a camera, drones can be packed in carry-on or checked luggage. The website uavcoach.com recommends getting a special carrying case to protect the drone from damage while traveling, and to make sure the drone is turned off and switches can’t be accidentally activated. The bigger issue on airplanes is the batteries. Drone batteries, based on lithium-ion, must go in carry-on bags. And there’s a limit based on size. FAA regulations say it’s okay to carry as many drone batteries on a flight as desired if they are under 100 Wh (watt-hours). However, if the batteries are between 101 and 160 Wh, only two are allowed by flight.

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Grenada. Photo by Hugh Whyte on Unsplash
Grenada. Photo by Hugh Whyte on Unsplash

Drone Rules & Regs

When it comes to drones and the rules and regulations for their safe and secure use, there is no one size fits all in the Caribbean. According to David Jessop, former managing director of the UK-based Caribbean Council, writing on the organization’s website (www.caribbean-council.org) about the topic, ‘Approaches range from a complete ban to wildly different customs interpretations on temporary imports.’ 

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The best bet is to do some homework before traveling to a specific island. Contact the island’s tourism board and/or the island’s airport or civil aviation authority. Online sites like www.droneregulations.info/ can be helpful. For example, in Barbados, those who want to fly their drone must obtain authorization ahead of time. The application for this is online at: https://barbados.seamlessdocs.com/sc/uasapplication  In the U.S. Virgin Islands, drones are now required to broadcast their location, which means having an ID number that can be cross-referenced with the device’s registration number. Additionally, drones are not allowed to fly in national parks like the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John as it may disturb wildlife. In St. Lucia, visitors must declare their drone with Customs and declare that they will return home with the drone as well. 

Some general guidelines are good rules of thumb. First, don’t fly a drone near an airport. One of the most common distances cited is to stay at least 3- to 4-miles from an airport or aircraft. Secondly, don’t fly a drone further than it can be seen, i.e., keep an eye on it. This means no night flying in some places. Third, common sense and respect, suggest not flying a drone over places where people expect privacy. Or, over crowds where if it crashes, it can hurt people.

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Carriacou. Photo by Hugh Whyte on Unsplash
Carriacou. Photo by Hugh Whyte on Unsplash

Drone Photography Tips

Taking great photographs and video footage by drone isn’t quite as easy as point and shoot. There’s a finesse to flying these crafts and practicing before a vacation is wise. That said, many websites offer tips for great shots. One tip is to ‘make something out of nothing’. While a huge stretch of the sea might seem beautiful, this image will be even more iconic with something to break up the monotony. Think small island, moored boat, or person on a brightly colored float. Another is using the gesture mode or one that lets an operator command the craft with arm or hand movements, to put the subject smack in the middle. This latter tip is definitely the way to create Caribbean vacation selfies 2.0.

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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