How To Not Lose Your Drone… Prevention, Recovery & Tips

You either came to this post because you lost your drone or because you’re smart and want to prevent this ever happening. I hope it’s the latter. If it is the first and you were out flying your drone and you lost it, I am sorry. That can be rough to lose sight of hundreds or thousands of dollars flying away into the horizon.

To start we will get into why these flyaways/mishaps occur. Then get into some tips & devices to prevent them. And finish it off with some more tips on how to recover your drone.

Why do drones get lost?

Why do drones get lost? Well, the biggest reason is connection. There are two levels of this, however. There is the disconnection of the video feed and there is disconnection from the transmitter. As well as, if applicable, the drone’s connection with GPS.

When you get disconnected from the video feed you become blind. This can make a pilot panic and scream frightened curse words into the air. This is especially frustrating if you do not have visual contact on the drone. The video feed will usually disconnect before the transmitter/telemetry signal disconnects.

Technically, you should always have visual contact on the drone here in North America [check your local regulations/laws], as it is against the rules to fly any further. But, we all know sometimes we just can’t help it and the drone has the ability to do it so we just go for it.

Now even if your video stream went black or fuzzed-up beyond recognition. There’s a good chance your transmitter still has a telemetry connection. Then you can push the RTH (Return To Home) and your drone will fly up to the RTH height (set in DJI app, Betaflight, or whichever software your drone connects to) and fly home. That is in a perfect world.

DJI is always seeming to warn us on the app about interference on the radio signal that it gets to the point where you ignore the pop-ups. Newer updates on DJI GO have made this a bit better and it is better on DJI Fly as well. But back on the older versions that damn app was crying wolf every 2 minutes.

If you do lose radio signal and the drone has GPS connectivity it should return home…once again, it should. A completely lost radio signal can be bad. If your radio signal starts to cut out you definitely need to hit your RTH button as soon as possible so you can get that signal out.

Interference can be caused by a variety of things. I worked on a construction site and the General Contractor crashed a drone due to interference from the concrete pump truck. Communication towers, high power voltage, and large metal structures all have the capability to screw with your signal.

Another common reason why people lose drones includes losing battery power before you get home. You must take wind into special consideration when flying your drone. Remember it takes more battery power to get back upwind than it does to coast with the wind. People often lose their drone by flying too far downwind and then they don’t make it back home.

How to prevent losing your drone?

There are several things you can do that help lower your odds of this costly mistake. I’ll list them out here and go into detail afterward.

  • Pre-flight Checklist
  • Set RTH point & altitude
  • Calibrate Compass
  • Find my Drone Telemetry Software Setup
  • GPS/RF Tracker
  • Stay within line of sight

Pre-flight Checklist

A pre-flight checklist is something that it is a great habit. It makes you become more aware of your surroundings, ensures that your drone is set up properly and preps you for a successful flight. I listen to a podcast sometimes called The Drone Trainer Podcast. They have a neat podcast but they also have a few decent downloads. Check out their pre-flight checklist here.

Set RTH Point & Altitude

Setting your Return To Home Point is important. Your drone should automatically set the home point as the point where you take off. However, it is not uncommon for the drone to skip over this, especially if there is a weak satellite signal.

If the RTH point was set in a previous flight but forgotten to be set in your next flight. You might press RTH and your drone would take off in the direction of where you flew last time.

The altitude can be adjusted in the RTH settings. Why is this important? If your RTH altitude is 30m (90ft) and there are huge 100ft trees around your takeoff zone then as your drone is cruising back home it just might smack right into the tops of the trees.

Even if your drone has obstacle avoidance sensors they can miss seeing branches, windows, and wires. And why rely on that when you can simply boost your RTH up to 150ft and easily clear the tops of the trees.

Setting up RTH point every time you fly and doing so properly is one of the best ways to prevent losing your drone.

Calibrate Compass

If you go to the park and see someone spinning around in a circle with their drone, they are not doing a love dance with their drone, and they are not drunk. It is more likely they are calibrating the compass on their drone.

Calibrating the compass is important. Some people calibrate the compass every time they fly. If you fly in the same location you calibrated the compass in your previous flight it is not of the utmost importance. However, if you fly in a new location you should do a calibration.

Look in settings for the Compass Calibration. Follow the steps. These include spinning the drone about its yaw axis followed by spinning it by its roll axis. Don’t let people judging you for spinning around with a drone be the reason that you skip a calibration, get weird magnetic interference, and lose your baby.

Find My Drone Telemetry SetUp

DJI’s apps have a Find My Drone feature already set up. You are able to look through your flight path to the end-point of the flight. Then take the GPS coordinates given and plug them into Google maps.

There is some third-party software such as Find My Drone, which enables users to get the last GPS Coordinates and directions to their lost/crashed drone. Note: This is an old application and DJI has most of these features built-in.

GPS/RF Trackers

GPS Trackers are a surefire way to find your lost drone. Sure they may look ugly/tacky stuck onto your drone but they ensure that you won’t lose your baby. There’s a lot to be said regarding GPS/RF Trackers and you have many different options. Check out here for a more detailed article on what GPS/RF Tracker you should get.

Basically, more expensive systems such as DJI drone’s come equipped with GPS abilities. That’s how you can see the map view on your display on where the drone is. The drone will rely on its GPS connection to RTH. However, having some redundancy can add some peace of mind and is not a bad idea at all.

If you have a custom-built drone, this is especially a good idea. There can be more software issues that occur and having a good tracker is a must.

A good/popular option is Trackimo. Although expensive it is the most well known and a great option. Check out that post I mentioned before on some more affordable options

Stay Within Line of Sight

Fly within visual line-of-sight, meaning you as the drone operator use your own eyes and needed contacts or glasses (without binoculars), to ensure you can see your drone at all times


The quote above is from the FAA defining the regulation to fly within visual line-of-sight. Flying Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) is something that is not even regulated in some countries but carries heavy restrictions and regulations in most countries such as USA & Canada.

Maintaining visual sight is one of the best ways to not lose your drone! You should be able to fly it home with no GPS (ATTI mode). If you can see the drone but cannot discern the orientation, roll one direction, then pitch forward and see what direction the drone heads. Then Yaw back towards yourself and fly it closer.

How to recover your lost drone?

So you had not read all my info yet on preventing a lost drone and you lost yours. Or maybe you did everything you could to prevent losing your drone but some crazy unlucky circumstances occurred and now you gotta do your best to get your baby back. RTH did not work and you are sweating!

The first thing to check is your telemetry data. See the video below from Life Down Under where he loses battery life and goes down in the bush. He goes into the DJI app to his profile > Flight History and selects the last flight. Scrolling to the end of the flight path to his “Landing” he can see the GPS coordinates and plugs them into Google Maps. Check it out below.

Let’s say your drone does not have GPS. Like an FPV drone, custom-build or something less expensive. If you have a second drone that is a great way to look for it. As you can scan from the sky and search a larger area faster. If you don’t have a second drone maybe now is a good time to invest in one!

A good tip is to try to get a screenshot of the screen if you know you are going to crash land. This gives you an idea of some of the landmarks and can help in the recovery of the drone. You can try to match up that big tree or that little creek to where you are searching on the ground.

When you think you are close try to push the throttle forward and listen to see if you hear any props hitting branches etc.

If you have a GPS tracker, recovery boils down to simply using your tracker info, following it and finding your drone.

You managed to find your drone! But…it is in a tree. This is common if you went down in the forest or bush as the branches essentially catch the drone. There are several options…

  • Climb Tree
    • Only climb the tree if it is safe to do so. Recovery is not worth a broken arm or leg. That will cost you more than the drone!
    • Climb up to the branch and attempt to shake the branches to dislodge drone or if it is easy to reach out and grab your baby
  • Rope Throw Recovery Method
    • Tie a rock or heavy stick around one end of a rope.
    • Throw the object over the branch. You can swing it around and try to lasso it or just use your arm
    • Once you get it over the branch closeby to the drone have a friend grab the other end and saw it back and forth while bouncing and pulling it down. Shake the branch just like Shakira was shaking during the 2020 SuperBowl halftime show.
  • Extension Ladder
    • Get an extension ladder out there
    • Make sure someone holds it as you go up
  • Pole
    • Those swimming pool poles are pretty long and can work to reach quite high and poke the drone
    • Or make your own pole with duct tape and whatever pole-like material you can find
  • Water Bottle/Rocks
    • As you start to get more desperate to recover the drone, now try to hit it with your water bottle or rocks to dislodge it
  • Use a Rescue Drone to Recover your Drone
    • You can use a drone to recover your drone in a couple ways.
    • If your drone is way too high to throw a rope over the branch. You can tie the rope (I suggest paracord) onto the Rescue drone. Fly the rescue drone up and over the branch and back down. Un-tie it. And commence rope pulling/sawing/shaking/bouncing techniques.
    • Note: This one is risky and you may end up with 2 drones in a tree.
      • If the branch is partway up and it is just difficult to have the rescue drone bring the rope back down directly on the other side, then tie a large knot at the end of the rope and attach it so that it is hanging from the rescue drone and barely attached (lightly with tape).
      • Gently fly up and drop the knot beside the treed drone. Try to hook it on the drone or the branch and then take off so the knot pulls off the rescue drone. Then fly rescue drone back down and hopefully, the knot will catch on the branch or the drone as you pull it.

If none of these managed to help you find your drone. You can always post a lost dog sign for your drone. That means post a picture of your drone around your neighborhood if that is where you lost it and maybe someone will call!

If you really can’t find it the last step is… acceptance. Mourn for a few minutes for your baby and move on. Buy the next newer model and get back out there.

I hope you will find some of the information in this article helpful and it will either prevent you from losing your drone or help you get it back.


Dan Rodman

I'm a Mechanical Engineer who is passionate about the drone industry. I work as a project manager in Construction and have used drones for commercial purposes. Then, of course, it is my main hobby at home. FPV drones, custom builds, commercial drone industries, and everything else drone related is always of interest to me!

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