California Drone Laws – Everything You Need to Know

In this article, we have taken a detailed look at the federal, state, and local drone laws of the State of California.
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Last updatedLast updated: June 27, 2024
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Whether you are a beginner or experienced drone pilot, you must follow the existing laws, which are basically just safety tips and rules to help you fly safely in the national airspace. According to the FAA Trusted Source Become a Drone Pilot FAA’s rules for getting a pilot’s license (certificate) differ depending on the type of aircraft you fly. You can choose among airplanes, … , a drone is an unmanned aircraft that functions without the direct involvement of a human being. The description includes the drone’s controller and the communication links that a pilot uses to control the drone.

The FAA expects a lot from a drone pilot. The laws vary in different countries and states. To fly a drone in California, you must first register it depending on your flying purposes. You may be flying for recreational or commercial purposes. Next, go through the FAA rules and the entire patchwork of state and local regulations before taking off. In this article, we have provided simplified yet detailed information about the California drone laws.

Federal Laws

Here are the drone laws created by the federal government:

1. Have a Remote Pilot Certificate.

California Drone Laws - Everything You Need to KnowFor you to fly a drone for commercial purposes in the state of California, you must take and pass the FAA’s aeronautical knowledge test. This is a requirement of the FAA’s part 107 small UAS rule (part 107). Commercial purposes could be wedding photography or filming stunts for TV and theater.

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The main points to bear in mind from the commercial flight rules part 107 include:

  • Maintain a maximum ground speed of 100mph or 87 knots
  • Fly within the 400 feet above ground level limit. If you go beyond the limit, remain within 400ft of a structure.
  • Your drone must weigh less than 25kg or 55 pounds.
  • The unmanned aircraft/drone must remain within the visual line of sight of the pilot in command or the visual observer who is in close physical proximity with the remote pilot.
  • Keep the drone closer to you when flying so you can be able to see it clearly without any vision aiding devices other than corrective lenses.
  • Do not fly your drone over a person that isn’t directly participating in the operation or under a covered structure, or inside a covered vehicle that is stationery.
  • You can only operate your drone during the day or at civil twilight, which is 30 minutes before official sunrise, to 30 minutes after official sunset if you have appropriate anti-collision lighting.

2. Take and Pass the Recreational UAS Safety Test.

California Drone Laws - Everything You Need to KnowThis is a must for you to fly a drone for recreational purposes in California. You must also follow the FAA’s recreational model aircraft rules, including paying 5 dollars for registration if your drone weighs more than 250g. In addition to the registration, there are more rules that you must follow, and they include:

  • Altitude limits– you can only fly your drone at or below 400 feet above the ground when you are in uncontrolled airspace.
  • Flying within a line of sight– You must keep your eyes on your drone unless you are flying with the help of a visual observer who is next to you physically.
  • Flying in controlled airspace– you can’t just fly anywhere. You can check with the B4UFLY app Trusted Source B4UFLY | Aloft B4UFLY is the simple and easy way for drone operators to check airspace before taking flight on mobile and desktop devices. before taking off.
    There are flying restrictions placed across the country, and you need the authorization to fly either Class B, C, D, or E airspace. You can get authorization by acquiring a written agreement from the FAA for a fixed flying site or use the popular DroneZone or LAANC.
  • You cannot fly at night unless your drone has adequate lighting that will allow you to know its location and orientation.
  • You also can’t fly your drone above a person or a moving vehicle. You can’t fly when under the influence of alcohol or drugs. And, you can’t fly in a manner that interferes with emergency response activities.

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3. Obtain a Federal Certificate of Authorization

This is a requirement for flying a drone as a government employee in the state of California in the fire or police department.

State Laws

California Drone Laws - Everything You Need to KnowBesides the federal laws, you must beware of the laws at the state level. The state of California has a few drone-related laws. Most of them were created as a result of irresponsible drone activities in the past. Some of the key regulations you must consider include:

1. Emergency Service Interference

This law is in Chapter 817 section AB 1680. It was passed in 2016, and it makes flying a drone over a scene of an emergency in a way that interferes with the responders’’ activities a crime against public health and safety.

2. Emergency Responders are not Liable for Taking Matters into Their Own Hands

Also filed in 2016 in Chapter 834 section SB 807, this law limits the liability of any emergency responder who destroys a drone that gets in the way of their activities. If your drone is in the way of emergency operations, then it is a fair game if it gets destroyed.

3. SB 1355- No Flights over Correctional Facilities

This law bans the flying of drones over correctional facilities. If found guilty, you will pay a fine of 500 dollars. Correctional facilities include jails, prisons, and juvenile facilities. The provisions of the law are inapplicable to anyone employed by the jail, prison, or county department that runs the juvenile center. It also doesn’t apply to anyone who gets permission from the department of corrections and rehabilitation, the department that operates the juvenile hall/camp, or the county sheriff.

4. Privacy from Above

This is one of California’s drone privacy laws. It was filed on chapter 521 of the Assembly Bill 856 in the year 2015. The invasion of privacy law in California was amended to include the bill to protect the privacy of the airspace above the land of another person. You cannot fly your drone over someone’s land and capture images or videos without their consent.

5. Chapter 404 of the Assembly Bill 527- Pest Control Limits

This law makes it illegal to operate a drone or any other unmanned aircraft system in pest control unless the pilot has a valid manned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate.

Local Laws

After going through the federal and state laws, the last to consider are the ones put in place at a local level within the state of California. They include:

1. California State Park Drone Laws

California Drone Laws - Everything You Need to KnowCalifornia has a couple of parks, and there are restrictions on drone flights over above them in place.

  • Restricted drone use in County parks in Sacramento County
  • Restricted drone use in city parks across San Francisco without permission from the recreation and park department.
  • Ban on drone flights in all the areas run by the Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority unless you have permission.
  • Ban on flying drones in some Orange county parks
  • Ban on the operation of drones in parks in the city of La Mesa
  • Ban on flying drones in any park owned or run by the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority Trusted Source MOUNTAINS RECREATION AND CONSERVATION AUTHORITY The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority Park Ordinance is hereby amended to read as follows… with no permit.
  • Ban on the operation of drones in national parks.

2. Town-Level Drone Laws in California

California Drone Laws - Everything You Need to KnowThe town of Los Alamitos has a couple of drone laws. Be sure to check them out before taking off.

In Malibu, you have to obtain a permit to fly your drone for commercial purposes.

The city of Hermosa Beach also has restrictions on drone flights within its jurisdiction. Their laws include everyone and everywhere. You also can’t fly your drone in the vicinity of a school unless you have a permit.

The city of Rancho Palos Verde has a municipal ordinance that prohibits the operation of drones on any property owned by the city unless it is in areas designated for drone flying.

The city of Yorba Linda has a municipal ordinance that bans drone takeoff and landing outside of the pilot’s visual line of sight within 25 feet of another individual on private property without the owner’s consent. The ordinance also prohibits takeoffs and landings within 500ft of emergency response activities or special events without a permit issued by the permit.

The city of Calabasas has a municipal ordinance that gives the local authorities the power to enforce the FAA drone-related penalties when the FAA laws are violated. The city ordinance also bans drone flying near schools and special events.

Final Thoughts

Piloting a drone is increasingly becoming a popular hobby for many thanks to advances in computer vision and flight software. However, you just can’t buy the coolest drone and expect to fly right after unboxing it. There are a couple of laws you must be aware of before takeoffs or landings anywhere. Different countries have different laws. In some countries, getting certification and papers for your drone could cost you as much as flying a Boeing plane.

If you live in California and would like to pilot a drone there, you must familiarize yourself with the California drone laws. You have to navigate the entire local, state, and federal laws to be on the safe side. This is on top of registering your drone and abiding by the FAA rules. Our article has covered virtually all the rules and what is expected of you before flying your drone, whether it’s for fun or business.


Become a Drone Pilot
FAA’s rules for getting a pilot’s license (certificate) differ depending on the type of aircraft you fly. You can choose among airplanes, …
B4UFLY | Aloft
B4UFLY is the simple and easy way for drone operators to check airspace before taking flight on mobile and desktop devices.
The Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority Park Ordinance is hereby amended to read as follows…
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