Can You Fly A Drone At Night In The UK

Can You Fly A drone At Night In The UK? [2024 Update]

As founder of the UK’s largest drone inspection company and a retained firefighter, I often fly drones at night to assist emergency services.

While flying drones at night in the UK is allowed, it comes with a unique set of challenges and regulations to ensure safety.

In this post, I’ll dive into the UK’s drone laws, required training, and essential safety measures for night drone flights.

Jamies’ Quick Answer

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The Legality of Flying Drones at Night in the UK 2024

You can legally fly your drone at night in the UK, as long as you adhere to the basic Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) principles. This means you must always be able to see your drone and the surrounding airspace.

According to the Civil Aviation Authority’s CAP 722 guidance, there are no specific bans on night-time VLOS operations.

So, if you’re a drone enthusiast or need to conduct drone flights after dark, this is great news.

However, you should be aware that flying at night comes with additional challenges compared to daytime flight.

Visibility is naturally reduced, and even though there are no explicit distance limitations, the lack of light can significantly affect how far you can see and control your drone.

This doesn’t just impact your flight experience but also the safety of your operations.

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Night Flight Visual Line Of Sight Rules

While night flights offer unique opportunities, adhering to Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) rules ensures safe and legal operations.

You must keep your drone within your line of sight at all times, but remember, the maximum distance you can see it might be much shorter at night.

This is due to reduced visibility and the need for your drone to be visually conspicuous against the night sky.

To maintain proper VLOS, make sure your drone has adequate lighting.

This lighting is crucial not only for you to see the drone but also to help you navigate and maintain orientation in the dark. Always be aware of the weather conditions, like fog or sun glare, which can further limit your visibility and affect how far you can see your drone.

Be cautious of potential visual obstructions that could block your view of the drone. The ability to see and control your drone clearly and constantly is vital.

Each flight’s maximum VLOS distance will vary based on these conditions and your eyesight capabilities.

By ensuring you can always see your drone, you’re not just complying with the law; you’re also safeguarding your operation against possible mishaps.

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Challenges With Drone Nightflights and How to Overcome Them

Flying drones at night introduces unique challenges such as reduced visibility and spotting obstacles in darkness.

You’ll need to adapt your techniques to maintain orientation and effectively gauge distances, ensuring safe navigation.

Dealing with reduced visibility

Reduced visibility significantly complicates drone operation at night, but attaching appropriate lighting can help you navigate these challenges effectively.

Ensure any lights you add are lightweight and securely attached, so they don’t negatively impact your drone’s performance or risk falling off in flight.

Anti-collision lights, which typically weigh just a few grams up to 2 oz, can be mounted with Velcro, adhesive, or a custom mount.

If you need illumination for your drone’s camera, add a compact but powerful LED searchlight. Smaller models, weighing about 1.5-6 oz, can illuminate objects up to 75 ft away without drastically reducing flight time.

Avoiding disorientation

After addressing visibility issues, it’s important to focus on avoiding disorientation during night flights with your drone.

A helpful tip is to look slightly off-center from your drone’s position. This compensates for the ‘night blind spot‘ that naturally occurs in the center of your vision in low light conditions.

Also, avoid staring directly at the drone’s bright lights once your eyes have adjusted to the darkness, as this can cause temporary vision impairment.

Make sure to set up a well-lit landing area and always have a backup landing spot planned. This preparation not only aids in safe landing but also minimizes the risk of losing orientation if your primary landing zone becomes unusable.

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Managing limited depth perception

When operating your drone at night, managing limited depth perception becomes crucial to ensure safe maneuvering and landing.

You’ll find it helpful to look slightly off-center from your drone’s position. This compensates for the ‘night blind spot‘ at the center of your vision in low light.

Also, avoid staring directly at the drone’s bright lights after your eyes have adjusted to the darkness, as this can impair your night vision further.

Additionally, setting up a well-lit landing area is essential. Have a backup landing spot planned in case you encounter any issues.

An illuminated landing zone significantly aids in judging the distance and depth when bringing your drone back down, making your night flights safer and more controlled.

Spotting obstacles in the dark

While managing depth perception at night is important, you also need to be vigilant about spotting obstacles like trees and power lines that are difficult to see in the dark.

To safely navigate these hazards, flying at higher altitudes can be a smart strategy, especially in areas where such obstacles aren’t illuminated. This approach minimizes the risk of collisions.

However, if your task requires closer inspection or filming at a lower altitude, remember to climb back up to a safer height immediately after completing the necessary manoeuvres.

This simple practice helps you maintain a buffer zone, ensuring you stay clear of potential dangers lurking in the shadows.

Always prioritize your and your drone’s safety by adapting to these night flight conditions effectively.

Navigating weather conditions

Before you launch your drone into the night sky, always check the weather conditions using a reliable drone weather app. Enter your planned flight location, and you’ll see detailed data like wind speeds and direction, temperature, visibility, and more.

Pay special attention to wind conditions; high winds at night pose unique challenges. Also, look out for precipitation, fog, or low clouds which can hamper visibility.

Most crucially, heed any weather warnings or advisories. Apps like UAV Forecast use a color-coded system—green signals good flying conditions, while red warns against it.

If conditions seem risky, it’s wisest to postpone your flight. Always ensure your drone’s lights are working properly to maintain visibility and control.

Keep Eyes Adjusted to Low Light

After checking the weather conditions, remember to keep your eyes adjusted to the dark to better manage your drone during night flights.

Steer clear of bright lights such as your illuminated launch area or your drone’s control screen.

These can severely impact your night vision, making it difficult to track your drone in the night sky.

To further aid visibility, minimize the time you spend looking at any screens. This helps you maintain better situational awareness and keeps your eyes more attuned to the low-light conditions typical of nighttime.

By following these steps, you’ll enhance your ability to safely and effectively control your drone during these challenging conditions.

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Working with a Spotter for Night Drone Flights

When flying drones at night, working with a spotter can significantly enhance your operational safety and efficiency.

You’ll need to choose a qualified spotter who understands both the drone’s capabilities and the specifics of nighttime flying.

Ensure your spotter is positioned correctly and briefed thoroughly on their responsibilities before the flight begins.

Selecting a qualified spotter

To ensure safe and effective night drone flights, select a spotter who’s well-versed in the nuances of drone operation and night-specific challenges. Choose someone familiar with the complexities of flying in reduced visibility and potential disorientation.

It’s crucial that your spotter possesses excellent communication skills to relay vital information clearly and quickly.

They must understand their critical role in maintaining visual line of sight with the drone and spotting any possible hazards that could arise during the flight.

Confirming that your spotter comprehends these responsibilities and can effectively communicate will vastly improve the safety and efficiency of your night flying operations.

Conducting pre-flight briefings

Before launching your drone into the night sky, ensure you and your spotter conduct a thorough pre-flight briefing. You’ll need to agree on specific communication protocols, including terminology and hand signals.

This clarity will be crucial for smooth coordination during the flight.

Review the planned flight path, altitude, and pinpoint any known obstacles or hazards in the area to avoid during the flight.

Also, it’s vital to discuss contingency plans for potential emergencies, such as loss of visual line of sight, sudden weather changes, or equipment malfunctions.

Establishing these strategies upfront can significantly mitigate risks and enhance safety during your nocturnal drone operations.

Positioning the spotter

Ensure your spotter is positioned to always have an unobstructed view of the drone, even if your view gets blocked. Typically, the spotter should stand 8-10 feet to your side.

This positioning allows them to see the drone from a different angle, which is crucial for maintaining visual contact at all times.

As the drone maneuvers during the flight, your spotter might need to move around to dodge obstacles and keep the drone in sight. It’s vital they adjust their position proactively to ensure continuous visibility.

Make sure they’re aware of their surroundings and can move freely without compromising their ability to watch the drone.

This collaborative effort will enhance safety and efficiency in your night flying operations.

Spotter responsibilities

Working with a spotter during your night drone flights is crucial, as their primary responsibility is to maintain visual line of sight (VLOS) of the drone at all times. It’s essential they alert you immediately if the drone drifts out of sight.

Additionally, your spotter acts as your eyes on the ground, scanning for potential hazards like obstacles, people, animals, or other aircraft.

They’ll notify you promptly of any risks that could affect your flight.

Remember, they’re key in providing you with real-time updates on the drone’s position, altitude, and the environment around it.

This constant flow of information is vital for safely navigating and operating your drone in less visible conditions.

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Assisting the pilot

To effectively assist you during night drone flights, spotters provide essential guidance on orientation, closely monitoring your drone’s flight path to ensure safety and precision.

They’ll help you maintain orientation by offering directional cues, especially vital when visual references can be scarce in the dark.

Your spotter also tracks the flight time and battery life, crucial for alerting you when it’s time to consider landing.

During critical moments like takeoff and landing, they play a vital role, guiding you to dodge obstacles and secure a safe approach.

Rely on their eyes and judgment to complement your piloting skills, making night flights smoother and safer.

Post-flight debriefing

After your night flight, you and your spotter should debrief to evaluate how effectively you worked together and identify any areas for improvement.

Discuss any challenges you faced, what strategies succeeded, and where you could enhance your coordination.

This debrief is vital for refining your teamwork and ensuring smoother operations in future night flights. Focus on how well you communicated and whether your safety protocols were adequate.

This feedback will help you tweak your approach, potentially making a significant difference in your flight outcomes.

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Drone Features To Use for Night Flying In The UK

When you’re flying drones at night, you’ll need to tweak your drone’s camera settings for low-light conditions to ensure you capture clear images.

Always use the GPS and Return-to-Home features to keep your drone within a safe range and to assist in navigating back if you lose sight of it.

Additionally, attaching a strobe or beacon helps in maintaining visibility and is crucial for complying with regulations.

Set The Camera For Low Light

Adjust your drone’s camera settings manually to optimize performance in low light conditions. Switch off auto mode since it tends to struggle when lighting isn’t ideal. You’ll want full control.

Begin by setting a low aperture – between f/2.8 and f/4.0 – to let more light into the camera. Set your ISO next; start around 400-800 to avoid unnecessary noise.

Only increase if you absolutely must capture more light.

Keep your shutter speed between 1-4 seconds; any longer could cause blurring due to drone movement. Focus manually at infinity because autofocus often fails in the dark. Lastly, if possible, shoot in RAW format for greater flexibility while editing later.

These tweaks will significantly improve your night-time drone photography.

Fly with GPS and Return-to-Home

While setting your camera for low light is important, you’ll also need to ensure your drone’s GPS and Return-to-Home features are activated to safely navigate the night skies.

Start by powering on your drone in an open area. Wait until the app shows it’s locked onto at least six GPS satellites before taking off.

Then, head into your DJI Fly app settings and set a Return-to-Home altitude high enough to avoid any nearby obstacles. This step is crucial for night flights.

Lastly, make sure to test the Return-to-Home function manually at a safe altitude before your actual night flight to ensure it works. This preparation helps you handle unforeseen issues during night operations.

Limit flight range

To ensure you always maintain visual contact with your drone during night flights, you can set a maximum flight distance using the DJI Fly app’s geofence feature.

Open the DJI Fly app, navigate to Safety settings, and find the ‘Flight Distance‘ section.

Here, tap on ‘Max Distance‘ and adjust the slider to your preferred limit, typically between 15-500 meters.

This setting creates a circular flying zone, preventing your drone from straying too far from the takeoff point. If it reaches this limit, it’ll stop and hover, signaling ‘Max flight distance reached.

Always choose a distance that keeps the drone visible, particularly in unfamiliar or dimly lit areas.

This function serves as a virtual leash, enhancing safety and control.

Attach a strobe or beacon

Mounting a bright, flashing strobe or beacon on your drone greatly enhances its visibility during night flights. To ensure you’re doing this effectively, attach a LED strobe light or beacon securely to the top of your drone.

You can use adhesive pads, straps, or a mounting bracket specifically designed for your model.

This simple addition serves a dual purpose: it makes your drone visible to you, other pilots, and anyone on the ground, which is vital for safety and collision avoidance.

Moreover, the flashing light acts as a clear marker, helping you track your drone’s orientation and position against the dark backdrop.

Especially in featureless settings, a strobe is invaluable for maintaining spatial awareness and direction.

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Required Lighting for Night Drone Flights in the UK

You’ll need at least one green flashing light on your drone for night flights in the UK, as mandated by the Civil Aviation Authority.

This specific light is essential as it must be clearly visible from a reasonable distance, helping to prevent potential collisions with other airspace users.

Most drones come equipped with built-in lighting systems. It’s crucial to check that these are functional before you head out. The green light not only meets legal requirements but also assists in maintaining your drone’s orientation during the flight.

Additionally, while the green flashing light is the minimum necessary, you can opt for extra lighting to enhance visibility.

Options like spotlights or additional strobes can make your drone more noticeable in the sky, and they’re particularly useful if you’re capturing night-time photography or videos.

These extra lights can also add dramatic effects to your shots, giving your footage an edge.

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Operational Authorisations and My Drone Night Flying Procedures In UK

Before you launch your drone at night, you’ll need to secure the proper operational authorisations from the UK’s aviation authorities.

You must conduct a daylight reconnaissance to assess site safety and identify any potential hazards.

Ensure your drone and the launch area are adequately illuminated to comply with night flight regulations.

Daylight reconnaissance and site safety assessments:

To ensure safe night drone operations in the UK, you must conduct a daylight reconnaissance of the flight area to spot potential hazards like power lines or trees.

This initial assessment is crucial as it reveals obstacles that could become invisible or hard to detect at night.

You’ll need to check if the area is free of physical barriers that could interfere with your drone’s flight path.

During this daylight visit, you’re also making sure the location is appropriate for night flying and assessing any site-specific risks.

This thorough scouting helps in planning your flight strategy, ensuring you’re prepared for a safe operation once the sun sets. Always prioritize this step to mitigate potential risks.

Identifying and recording hazards

Identifying and recording potential hazards during your daylight reconnaissance is a critical step in securing Operational Authorisations for night drone flights in the UK.

As you scout the area, you’ll need to note any potential hazards, restrictions, or obstacles that could impact your flight path. This isn’t just about avoiding collisions; it’s about ensuring the safety of all crew members and the public.

Make sure you document these hazards thoroughly.

Whether it’s uneven terrain, nearby power lines, or temporary structures, knowing these risks ahead of time allows you to plan safer flight paths and take necessary precautions.

This preparedness is key to maintaining safety during night operations and keeping everyone informed.

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Illuminating the launch site

When flying drones at night in the UK, ensuring the launch and landing areas are well-lit is crucial for safe operations. Adequate lighting helps you maintain visual contact with your drone and navigate the surroundings effectively.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) recommends lighting the launch site to near-daylight conditions. This level of illumination not only aids in safe takeoffs and landings but also minimizes the risk of accidents or mishaps.

You’ll find it easier to control your drone and handle any unexpected issues if you can clearly see the drone’s environment.

Ensure your setup includes sufficient lighting to create an environment that closely mimics daylight for optimal visibility and safety.

Aircraft lighting and illumination requirements

You must equip your drone with specific lighting to ensure visibility during night flights in the UK. These lights aid in maintaining the necessary safety standards and help prevent collisions.

Your drone should have anti-collision lights that are visible from at least 3 statute miles away. Although this is a common standard in the US, it’s a good practice to follow in the UK as well.

Moreover, upcoming regulations indicate that drones will need a green flashing light for night operations. Keep an eye on this requirement as the implementation date is still under review.

Ensuring your drone is properly lit not only complies with current guidelines but also prepares you for future regulations.


In summary, you can legally fly your drone at night in the UK, but you must adhere to specific regulations.

Ensure your drone has appropriate lighting and maintain Visual Line of Sight at all times. Using a spotter can greatly enhance safety and compliance.

Before each flight, conduct a daylight reconnaissance to identify potential hazards.

By following these guidelines and securing the necessary operational authorisations, you’ll be set for safe and successful night-time drone operations.

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