Cruising sailor, Graham Keating, flies the SwellPro Spry+ Camera Drone and finds a very impressive waterproof drone offering
We’ve always enjoyed photography and video-making as we’ve cruised Maunie of Ardwall, our Vancouver 38 Pilot. And ever since we first met some American sailors in Vanuatu who flew a drone above our anchorage for some amazing aerial shots, we’d hankered after one of these – admittedly rather expensive – toys to add a new dimension to our sailing photography. We were, though, initially put off the idea after hearing several first-hand horror stories of an accidental twitch of the controller joystick, or a sudden loss of battery power, resulting in drones taking an early bath. No matter how much you rinse them in fresh water and dry them out afterwards, a dip in salt water is definitely ‘game over’ for a normal drone.
A bit of internet investigation yielded what sounded like the perfect solution – a fully waterproof drone called a SwellPro Spry+ which had gained some very favourable reviews.
At around £1,000 it was a substantial investment but I bought one, completed the online Civil Aviation Authority test for my pilot’s licence and, after a few trial flights on dry land, loaded the drone aboard Maunie for our three-month cruise from Dartmouth to the Outer Hebrides in May.
The drone has certainly allowed us to get some great shots of beautiful anchorages and Maunie under sail.
The Spry+ benefits from a chunky, waterproof controller with a built-in screen which means there’s no need to attach a vulnerable iPad or smartphone. It also has its own internal GPS so pressing the ‘Return Home’ button will bring it straight back to your current position, rather than the launch location.
The fully enclosed, waterproof Sony camera delivers very good quality still images, but the compromise is that its electronic stabilisation doesn’t deliver the super-smooth video of an exposed, fully gimballed camera. We haven’t tested the drone’s capability for landing and taking off in water (apparently it will even flip itself upright if it gets rolled over by a wave!) but it’s very reassuring to know that a rookie pilot error shouldn’t end in tears.
Drone permits and regulations
The use of drones is very clearly regulated and enforced with hefty fines for non-compliance. CAA regulations prohibit flying them over buildings and crowded spaces, with strict no-fly zones near to airports and other key facilities.
Some local restrictions also apply. Dartmouth and Fowey Harbour Authorities both prohibit their use without a permit. The high-pitched whine of a drone can be invasive, so we avoid flying over busy anchorages. If there are a few boats nearby we will politely ask their permission. However, despite these challenges, we’ve been really pleased that we’ve added the drone to Maunie’s cruising inventory.