Before you head out with your drone to explore what the beautiful state of California has to offer you, you have to be aware of the drone laws in California or else you risk getting into trouble with the law.
Are drones allowed in California?
Flying a drone is legal in the state of California. However, it has federal, state, and local laws that govern the flying of drones in the state. Some state parks require no license to fly a drone for recreational purposes, while some local parks require a permit to operate a drone in them.
In this article, I will cover everything you need to know about California drone laws for you to enjoy a pleasurable flight with your drone and stay clear of any legal proceedings.
- Federal Drone Laws In California
- Federal Drone Laws for Public Drone Flying In California
- State Drone Laws In California
- State Highway System
- Senate Bill 807 (2016)
- Assembly Bill No. 1680 (2016)
- Assembly Bill No. 856 (2015)
- California Code of Regulations Title 14 Sec. 4351
- California State Parks Drone Laws
- California Wildlife Drone Laws
- Key California Regulations That Apply to The Use of Drones
- California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 550 (aa) – General Regulations for Public Use on All Department of Fish and Wildlife Lands(opens in new tab)
- California Fish and Game Code 10501.5 – Refuges and Other Protected Areas(opens in new tab)
- California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 251 – Prohibition on Pursuing or Shooting Birds and Mammals from Motor-Driven Air or Land Vehicles, Motorboats, Airboats, Sailboats or Snowmobiles(opens in new tab)
- California Code of Regulations, Title 14, Section 251.1 – Harassment of Animals(opens in new tab)
- California Fish and Game Code 3503 – Take of bird nests(opens in new tab)
- Local Drone Laws In California
- Sacramento County Drone Laws
- Marin Count Drone Laws
- Santa Clara Valley Drone Laws
- La Mesa Drone Laws
- Chula Vista Drone Laws
- Rancho Palos Verdes Drone Laws
- Port of Los Angeles Drone Laws
- University of California, Santa Barbara Drone Laws
- Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Drone Laws
- Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary Drone Laws
- Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Drone Laws
- San Francisco Drone Laws
- Malibu Drone Laws
- Los Alamitos
- Yorba Linda Drone Laws
- Calabasas Drone Laws
- Hermosa Beach Drone Laws
- Santa Clara County Parks Drone Laws
- Santa Cruz District – California State Park Drone Laws
- MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District Lands Drone Laws
- Orange County Parks
- Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority Drone Laws
- Inland Empire District Drone Laws
- Los Angeles Drone Laws
- Frequently Asked Questions on California Drone Laws
- Final Thoughts
Federal Drone Laws In California
The federal drone laws in the United States are the drone laws that apply to California and every state in the United States of America and were created by the federal government.
If you have a small drone that is less than 55 pounds, you can fly recreationally by following the Drone Laws in the USA as defined by FAA Part 107 guidelines.
Federal Drone Laws for Recreational Flying in California
You can fly your drone for recreational purposes in California as a hobby without seeking monetary compensation as long as you follow the FAA law (Part 107) and also check the state jurisdiction for additional licensing, permission, and clearance requirements.
Below are the federal rules to follow while flying your drone for recreational purposes in California to keep you, your drone, and everyone safe in the airspace.
- Fly your drone only for recreational use or as a hobby.
- Follow the safety guidelines of an FAA-recognized Community Based Organization (CBO). Recreational flyers should follow the safety guidelines of existing aeromodelling organizations or use the FAA-provided safety guidelines per Advisory Circular 91-57B.
- Keep your drone within your visual line of sight or use a co-located visual observer (physically next to) and in direct communication with you.
- Don’t fly close or interfere with a manned aircraft.
- Fly below 400 feet in controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, and E) after obtaining permission from LAANC or FAA Drone Zone.
- Fly below 400 feet in uncontrolled airspace (Class G). Note: You can also be prohibited from flying in a Class G airspace in areas designated as prohibited areas, restricted areas, military operated areas, alert areas, etc. except with prior authorization from the FAA.
- Take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) and carry proof of test passage.
- Always slap your registration number on the exterior surface of your drones and always carry the proof of registration with you. As a recreational flier, you are exempted from registering and marking your drones by the FAA as long as your drone weighs less than 0.55 lbs (250 grams).
- Do not dangerously operate your drone. For example:
- Do not interfere with emergency response or law enforcement activities.
- Do not fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
- Avoid flying near or over critical infrastructure.
You should be aware that you could be liable for civil and/or criminal penalties if you intentionally break any of these rules and regulations listed above as a recreational drone pilot.
As a recreational drone pilot, you are obliged to learn the rules and regulations put in place by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the proper use of drones for recreational flying.
You should also apply common sense when operating your drone in crowded public places, historic resources, and public places to keep everyone safe.
Federal Drone Laws For Commercial Drone flying in California
You can fly your drone for commercial purposes in California with the aim of seeking monetary compensation as long as you follow the FAA law (Part 107) and also check the state jurisdiction for additional licensing, permission, and clearance requirements.
Below are the federal rules to follow while flying your drone for recreational purposes in California to keep you, your drone, and everyone safe in the airspace.
Step 1: Learn the Rules
- Read and understand the dos and don’ts as a commercial flyer the under Part 107 rules. Review a summary of the Part 107 rules (PDF). Still unsure if Part 107 rules work for you and your intended UAS operation? Check the FAA user identification tool.
- You can obtain a waiver to exceed some limit put in place by the FAA that is not covered by Part 107. Below are some laws in Part 107 that are subject to a waiver.
- Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft. *
- Always operate your drone during the day. *
- Keep your drone from out of the Visual line of sight from an aircraft operation *
- Keep your drone in your Visual line of sight. *
- Operation of multiple small unmanned aircraft systems. *
- Yielding the right of way. *
- Don’t fly your drone over people. *
- Restriction from certain airspace. *
- Operating limitations for small unmanned aircraft.
- *The FAA will not waive this section to allow the carriage of property of another by aircraft for compensation or hire.
- You should read about the Part 107 Waiver application process if your drone operation requires a waiver.
- Commercial drone operators should steer clear of flying close to airports as it might be challenging for human aircraft to spot and avoid a drone in flight. Keep in mind that the UAV operator is accountable for any safety threat their drone poses in an airport area and must avoid crewed aircraft. Read more about flying near airports.
Step 2: Become an FAA-Certified Drone Pilot by Passing the Knowledge Test
- To be eligible to get your Drone License (Remote Pilot Certificate), you must be:
- At least 16 years old
- Able to read, write, speak, and understand English
- Be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a UAS
- Review the entire process to get your Drone License or Remote Pilot Certificate.
- Study for the Knowledge Test by reviewing the Test Prep materials provided by the FAA.
- Obtain an FAA Tracking Number (FTN) by creating an Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) profile before registering for a knowledge test.
- Schedule an appointment to take the Knowledge Test at an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center.
- Once you’ve passed your test, complete FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) using the electronic FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA)*
- You are now eligible to operate as a commercial drone pilot.
Step 3: Register your drone with the FAA
- Pay the registration fee of $5 with your credit card or debit card to get a valid three year license to commercially fly drones.
- Visit dronezone.faa.gov and select “Fly UAS under Part 107” to create an account and register your drone.
- After that, mark the exterior surface of your drone (PDF) with your registration number for identification and tracking if it were to get stolen
Always be sure to fly your drone safely and within FAA guidelines and regulations. It is up to you as a drone pilot to know the rules of the sky and where it is safe to fly. You should try the user identification tool if you aren’t sure if Part 107 is right for you and your operation
Federal Drone Laws for Public Drone Flying In California
Federal public laws are drone laws for federal, state, local, or tribal government entities, including schools and universities that use unmanned aircraft systems or drone technology for their operations.
Federal Restrictions & Requirements
- Be a political subdivision of the United States government, a State or U.S. territory government, the District of Columbia, or an Indian Tribal Government listed in the Robert T Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. § 5122)
- Own and operate the unmanned aircraft, or for non-federal public aircraft operators (PAO’s) have an exclusive lease on it for more than 90 days
- Fly missions that meet the statutory criteria of a governmental function on a flight-by-flight basis
- Not fly for a commercial purpose or receive compensation for flight operations.
First responders and other organizations responding to natural disasters or other emergency situations may be eligible for expedited approval through our Special Governmental Interest (SGI) process. Operations that may be considered include:
- Search and Rescue
- Law Enforcement
- Utility or Other Critical Infrastructure Restoration
- Incident Awareness and Analysis
- Damage Assessments Supporting Disaster Recovery Related Insurance Claims
- Media Coverage Providing Crucial Information to the Public
To apply for a waiver through the SGI process, you must be an existing Part 107 Remote Pilot with a current certificate OR you must have an existing Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA). To submit a waiver through this process, fill out the Emergency Operation Request Form and send it to the FAA’s System Operations Support Center (SOSC) at [email protected] .
If approved, the FAA will add an amendment to your existing COA or Remote Pilot Certificate that authorizes you to fly under certain conditions for the specified operation. If denied, operators should not fly outside the provisions of their existing COA or part 107. Operators have the option to amend their requests.
* This process is called the Special Government Interest (SGI) amendment process and is outlined in FAA Order JO 7200.23A
State Drone Laws In California
California state drone laws are drone laws that apply to the entire state of California and were created by the California State Legislature.
State Highway System
The California state government created an act that prohibits the use of drones over the California State Highway System (SHS) unless you obtain a Caltrans encroachment permit. Both commercial and recreational drone activities must abide by this restriction. Be aware that the SHS contains shoulders, weight stations, berms, islands, vista spots, and rest areas in addition to state highways and interstates.
Senate Bill 807 (2016)
Pilots who use drones in a way that hinders or interferes with the work of emergency professionals, firefighters, police officers, or military personnel may now be charged with a misdemeanor infraction.
Assembly Bill No. 1680 (2016)
By amending Section 402 of the Penal Code, this legislation makes UAV operations that interfere with emergency services illegal. Pilots who use drones in a way that hinders or interferes with the work of emergency professionals, firefighters, police officers, or military personnel may now be charged with a misdemeanor offense.
Assembly Bill No. 856 (2015)
This act amends Section 1708.8 of the Civil Code to include UAV activities relating to privacy.
It is against the law for drone operators to fly into someone else’s airspace and take pictures without that person’s permission. This includes secretly photographing, filming, or recording someone while they engage in intimate or private activities. If this limitation is broken, the offender might be hit with a civil fine of between $5,000 and $50,000.
California Code of Regulations Title 14 Sec. 4351
This act prohibits the use of motorized vehicles or equipment within any state wilderness, cultural preserve, or natural preserve within the California State Park System unless given approval by the Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation. This is assessed on a case-by-case basis based on staff recommendations.
California State Parks Drone Laws
According to the California State Park policy, drones are currently allowed in state parks, state beaches, state historic parks, state recreational areas, and state vehicular recreation areas except where prohibited by a district superintendent’s posted order.
Drones may be prohibited by posted orders for a variety of reasons, such as the need to conserve endangered species, safeguard cultural and natural resources, protect the public from fire hazards, prevent conflicts between recreational activities, protect visitor privacy, and protect park units.
Drone pilots are advised to always check with their local State Park District for any posted orders that may be specific.
Drones in State Wilderness Areas, Natural Preserves, and Cultural Preserves:
State Park regulations prohibit the use of motorized equipment (including UASs) within wilderness areas, cultural preserves, and natural preserves (Cal. Code Regs. tit. 14, 4351.) Therefore, drone users should always check the designation of the park unit before operating a drone.
Recreational Flying Drone Laws For California State Parks
You don’t need a license to fly a drone for recreational purposes in California State Parks. However, the park authorities recommend that recreational drone users check with their local State Park District before operating any UAS within a state park.
When drones endanger people, property, animals, or privacy, park personnel may get in touch with drone operators even if there isn’t a posted order. A drone user may be ordered to cease flying and take the device out of the park’s limits if they continue to operate it in a risky or irresponsible manner.
Operators of recreational drones are advised to take caution while flying these machines near populated areas, animals, or important historic sites and to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) laws and regulations on their safe use.
Commercial Flying Drone Laws In California State Parks
You need a license from the California Film Commission (Cal. Code Regs. tit. 14, 4316) to fly a drone or shoot a scene for commercial purposes. Commercial drone operators are also required to submit a copy of their FAA authorization to the appropriate State Park District(s) before filming.
The District Superintendent may require a special event permit, right of entry permit, or other approval depending on the reason for filming.
Research Drone Laws In California State Parks
You need a scientific collection permit (DPR 65) to use a drone for any scientific research or surveys within a California State Park. You’re further required to obtain and submit a copy of your FAA authorization to the appropriate state park district (s).
Public Agency Drone Laws In California Parks
You need a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) as required by the FAA to operate public aircraft in California state parks. You’re required to submit a copy of your COA to the appropriate State Park District(s) before operating a drone for governmental purposes within a state park
California Wildlife Drone Laws
Drone pilots operating in California wildlife are tasked with taking precautions to prevent disturbance of wildlife and abiding by other laws put together by the authorities to ensure safety for everyone.
Many animals perceive a drone in operation as a threat or a predator and will respond instinctively if such objects come close to them. The response could be overt, such as fighting or running away, or it might be covert, undetectable to the untrained eye. Both outcomes may be harmful to animals.
Avoiding Wildlife Disturbance
Below are some basic best-practices that will help you avoid disturbing wildlife when you operate your drone:
- Be alert for wildlife, especially birds, before you fly.
- Launch and land at least 300 ft from any wildlife in the area.
- Never fly lower than 100 ft over wildlife.
- Do not pursue or otherwise provoke a response from wildlife with your drone. If you notice a response, back off.
- When possible, have a wildlife observer with you to help you spot and avoid wildlife.
Key California Regulations That Apply to The Use of Drones
Aircraft. No visitor shall operate any aircraft, hovercraft, or hot air balloon within department lands except as authorized by a Special Use Permit issued by the department.
(The FAA classifies drones as aircraft, which therefor includes them in this regulation)
In Simple Language: You have to obtain a Special Use Permit (PDF Form) before you can operate a drone on department lands.
(a) It is unlawful to fly any aircraft, including any airplane or helicopter, less than 3,000 feet above water or land over the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, and less than 1,000 feet above water or land over the Año Nuevo State Reserve, the Farallon Islands Game Refuge, the Point Lobos State Reserve, the California Sea Otter Game Refuge, and Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, and San Nicolas Islands, except for rescue operations, in case of any emergency, or for scientific or filmmaking purposes under a permit issued by the department after a review of potential biological impacts.
(b) This section does not apply to the landing of any aircraft, including any airplane or helicopter, on Anacapa, San Miguel, Santa Barbara, San Nicolas, and Farallon Islands for administrative or operational purposes of the National Park Service, the United States Navy, or the United States Coast Guard.
In Simple Language: You have to obtain a letter of authorization from the area manager before you operate a drone on protected properties.
(a) General Prohibition: No person shall pursue, drive, herd, or take any bird or mammal from any type of motor-driven air or land vehicles, motorboat, airboat, sailboat, or snowmobile.
Additionally, no person shall use any motorized, hot-air, or unpowered aircraft or other device capable of flight or any earth orbiting imaging device to locate or assist in locating big game mammals beginning 48 hours before and continuing until 48 hours after any big game hunting season in the same area.
No person shall use, at any time or place, without department approval, any computer, telemetry device, or other equipment to locate a big game mammal to which a tracking device is attached. For purposes of this subsection, “use” includes but is not limited to personal use or intent by another to obtain information from such personal use.
Evidence of an act constituting a violation of this section includes but is not limited to flying slowly at low altitudes, hovering, circling, or repeatedly flying over any area where big game may be found.
Except as otherwise authorized in these regulations or in the Fish and Game Code, no person shall harass, herd, or drive any game or nongame bird, mammal, or fur bearing mammal.
For the purposes of this section, “harvest” is defined as an intentional act which disrupts an animal’s normal behavior patterns, which includes, but is not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering. This section does not apply to a landowner or tenant who drives or herds birds or mammals for the purpose of preventing damage to private or public property, including aquaculture or agricultural crops.
It is unlawful to take, possess, or needlessly destroy the nest or eggs of any bird, except as otherwise provided by this code or any regulation made pursuant thereto.
If you have drone questions or concerns, please contact the CDFW Drone Program at [email protected].
Local Drone Laws In California
California drone laws are drone laws that apply only to certain regions, cities, or counties within the state of California and were created by various authorities within the state.
Drones are prohibited in Sacramento, along with many other sports, unless done on fields, courts, or locations intended for such activity, or with the Director’s special consent.
Drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles are prohibited in Marin County parks. All county-managed parks, playgrounds, cycling and multi-use routes, recreation centers, and other locations and facilities used for active or passive leisure are subject to these statutes.
Drones are prohibited on land or in the air within the boundaries of the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority without prior authorization from the authority. This regulation does not apply to drones employed in emergency response, firefighting, or law enforcement.
Drones and all other types of motorized or non-motorized model unmanned aerial systems, with or without any remote control, are banned in all city parks.
Drones are prohibited in any Chula Vista City Park or Recreation Area unless in locations that the Director of Public Works has specifically designated with signs.
Drones are prohibited in any of Rancho Palos Verdes City’s parks or on any city-owned land except for Point Vicente Park/Civic Center.
A drone operator must get a Parks and Recreation Department authorization from a nearby pilots’ club, the Southern California Organization of Radio-Controlled Helicopters (SCORCH), in order to fly here. The operator must be an active member of the AMA, and there are fees involved with applying for a permit.
Drones are strictly prohibited in the Port of Los Angeles. But anybody may submit an application for a drone permit. Applications must be received at least three weeks prior to the dates of the drone flights. At the time of flight, there will be a $448 minimum Port Police escort charge due.
Drones are allowed for recreational use at the University of California. However, it must only take place in the vicinity of Campbell Hall and west of Steck Traffic Circle. Requests for drone flights must all be authorized. Faculty, employees, and students have the ability to request flights.
Drones and all powered aircraft are prohibited from operating over Monterey Bay below 1000 feet in the air unless they have received prior approval from the MBNMS. Requests for permits are evaluated individually and could be subject to operating limitations.
Drones and all powered aircraft are prohibited from operating under 1000 feet above sea level in the seas of the Greater Farallones. It is deemed a nuisance to marine animals or seabirds if the minimum altitude is not maintained over these seas.
Drones and any powered aircraft are prohibited from flying at heights lower than 1,000 feet above sea level within one nautical mile of any island in the Channel Islands.
Drones, helicopters, all types of aircraft, and other aviation equipment are prohibited from taking off or landing in any park in the city of San Francisco without the approval of the Recreation and Park Department, unless in cases of an emergency circumstance.
Drones are allowed for commercial filming as long as a filming authorization has been issued by the authorities. Applications and requirements must be filed seven days prior to the intended usage.
Drones are subject to certain restrictions in the city of Los Alamitos in order to protect people and property and to ensure that drone operations do not interfere with law enforcement or emergency response.
The city of Yorba Linda forbids the launching of drones 500 feet or closer from a special event or emergency response scenario, within 25 feet of another person, on private property without the owner’s permission, or without the operator’s line of sight.
Drones are prohibited in Calabasas over public events, within 25 feet of another person, on private property without the owner’s permission, within 1500 feet of any manned or unmanned aircraft, within 200 feet of a school facility, and within 100 feet of any public structure or facility. The law also includes limits on drone flight, in accordance with federal regulations.
Drones are allowed inside the city limits of Hermosa Beach as long as the operator gets a city-issued operating permit and identification number. A permit may be renewed after its first year of validity.
Drones are also prohibited from flying below 350 feet in the air and taking pictures of public schools while classes are in session. Additionally, they are prohibited from flying over a planned special event in a public park, the civic center complex, or a beach.
Drones are prohibited from launching or landing in any park area, building, facility, or piece of equipment in Santa Clara County Parks unless the Director has given valid permission for that purpose.
Drones, gliders, aircraft, and other unmanned aerial vehicles are prohibited in all Santa Cruz District Park Units, with the exception of Seacliff State Beach and Sunstate State Beach, unless given authorization by the district superintendent.
Drones and other remote-controlled aircraft are prohibited on all district lands and in all district water areas in the Mid-Peninsula except in designated areas or with a valid authorization.
Drones, as well as any unmanned aerial systems, motorized vehicles, and equipment, are not prohibited in all parks, beaches, and recreational areas in Orange.
Drone activities are forbidden inside any park owned or operated by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority unless express permission has been obtained by the Executive Officer.
Drones and any other model aircraft or unmanned aircraft systems are prohibited in any of the parks in the Inline Empire District.
Drones and other powered model airplanes are not permitted to land or take off in any Los Angeles city park or other Harbor Department-designated and controlled area.
Frequently Asked Questions on California Drone Laws
Is it illegal to fly a drone over private property in California?
It is legal to fly drones above a house or private property in California as long as you don’t hover around them or use your drone to capture or record them without permission from the property owner.
Can I fly a drone in California without a license?
Recreational drone pilots don’t need a license to fly a drone in California but you must pass a free online safety test (TRUST). However, commercial drone flyers must get a certificate (Part 107) from the FAA. Furthermore, all drones weighing more than 249 grams must be registered to operate in California
Can you shoot down a drone in California?
Shooting down a drone in Indiana is illegal and against federal law because drones are protected by the FAA. You could serve some jail time or pay a large fine if you shoot down a drone in Indiana. You are advised to report it to the authorities if you see a drone hovering above you or your property.
California is blessed with beautiful landscapes to explore with your drone for recreational or commercial purposes. However, you need to abide by the drone laws set by the FAA, the state, and the local laws in that city to enjoy the footage it has in store for you.
You should also check out the best places to fly a drone in California if you want to see beautiful places that are legal to fly in various cities.