Life Aboard

Best Drones for Cruising

Drones are awesome, there is no denying it. They can get to the perfect vantage point, and we all love the drone footage in our favorite YouTube videos! While drones may seem awesome at first, sailing with one may feel a little different.

Being a cruising YouTuber has it’s perks, first you get to meet other cruising YouTube channels and compare notes on different camera gear and techniques. The second perk is your toys will pay for themselves because the videos you make with these toys produce revenue.

But, as always, life isn’t always as easy as it may seem, and sailing with a drone can be a hazard (to the drone). There are a few important points that should be considered when looking at a drone for cruising with. First is size, then capabilities, then price.

DJI Phantom

Drones are often barely seen up in the sky, but when you get up close to them, you begin to notice how big they really are. Big, is never a good thing when you need to stow it safely in a sailboat!

One of the most famous drones, the DJI Phantom, is HUGE! Yes, it has incredible range, films in 4K, and flies at blazing speeds, it is still really big.

Our friends Jessica and Ryan from Jessica and Ryan Adventures have this drone and we got to see it in action first hand. It was amazing!

They would launch it and send it high up into the sky where they would get amazing images of the entire anchorage they were in. They could also fly it around the neighboring islands to see what looks like the best place to go explore by dinghy. It served as more of a reconnaissance aircraft to scout out hidden gems in the islands, and it did this task beautifully!

The drone flight sequence starts at around 4:50 seconds. This drone is fast, and the images it captures are unreal. How else could you get an effortless birds eye view?

So we know that this is the drone that most YouTubers use because it gets the best video from the most powerful drone! But what happens when you are not flying the drone? What happens for the other 99.9999% of the life of the drone when it is NOT flying?

Well it takes up space! Being a big drone, it takes up a lot of space. The body of the drone is larger than a square foot, and the propellers extend making it even bigger. The powerful propellers do not fold, so unless you remove them, it’s going to take up a lot of space.

That being said, if you have the space a budget for a Phantom, go for it! Our friends, Jessica and Ryan have a catamaran, giving them plenty of space to store the drone on a flat surface without fear of the surface tilting while under sail and the drone falling off. If you have an old monohull like we do, maybe think about this purchase a little harder.

All drones have a specially built carrying case, and the phantom is no different, but the phantom’s carrying case looks like a carry-on bag for a flight.

DJI Mavic

The next step down in size is the DJI Mavic. This drone offers similar performance to the Phantom, but in a more “travel friendly” package. The controller is smaller, the drone is smaller, and the drone also folds to make it stow tighter. To round up the whole “smaller package” concept, it’s carrying case is a backpack.

It still offers 4K video, almost a half hour of flight time, and a 3 axis gimbal for the camera, just like the phantom, but in a folding package that can stow more easily in a space limiting environment, like in a sailboat.

This gives you a nice compromise between space and performance, saving you a bit of space while only reducing the performance a slight amount.

DJI Spark

Now, if space and price are both limited, welcome to the smallest and cheapest of the “good” drones: the Spark.

This is the drone we went with, as it is tiny! The Spark is the size of a cell phone, and the propeller fold up to make it stow neatly in a tiny bag smaller than a purse.

This lets it safely live in a padded and protective bag, in our closet (while at sea) or on our navigation station next to the radio on a small shelf (while in port).

So, what are you sacrificing with the Spark to get the tiny size? A few things.

It won’t shoot in 4K, only up to 1080p. It won’t fly for a half hour, only about 12-15 minutes (depending on how fast you want to fly and how windy it is where you are flying), and it won’t fly as fast (6-8 mph in normal mode, low 20s mph in sport mode). Oh, and you are also giving up on the high price tag!

This was one of the biggest points that we considered when we bought our drone! We know the salt air is going to kill the drone. We also know that one day it might fall into the water and die! Losing a drone sucks, but it would suck a lot more if it was almost $1000 that went in the water!

When we bought our Spark, we inquired about the replacement cost of “just the drone”. Not the controller, and the case, and all the other parts that come in the kit, and we were very pleased to hear that it was only around $300. With this wonderful knowledge, we decided to upgrade our YouTube channel with the purchase of our new drone, the DJI Spark!

It fits in our narrow old monohull that we are sailing around the Atlantic without taking up too much space, and it gets great shots from the air! Yes, the flight time is rather short, but this just means that you need to plan your flight before you turn it on. We typically have an idea in mind, send the drone up, capture it, and then bring it back down. Having two batteries means we can do this multiple times on hikes and excursions.

Sadly, video editing is a long process, and the shots with the drone haven’t been reached yet at the time of this blog post (we started flying our drone when we made it to Horta, Azores), but in the channel trailer, at the very end, there is a drone clip filmed with the DJI Spark.

Drones are awesome, and they can take your cruising to a whole new level by showing you where you are from an entirely new perspective. We get used to thinking that sea level is the only way to view new anchorages, but a drone will show you the majestic and magical place you are anchored in, making you appreciate it all the greater!

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Light Houses

Light houses are a beacon of civilization on a dark and lonely ocean. They make great tourist attractions and are often listed in tour guides, but this is only when they are viewed from land.

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At sea, light houses carry a different meaning. They are a beacon of danger. They are usually perched on the edge of a cliff signaling the presence of dangerous rocks.

The color of a light house light can vary as well. White simply means that you are being warned of the danger where they are located. Yellow and Red indicate danger, and when you see that color, it means you are in harms way and need to move out to sea in a hurry!

While they stand to identify danger, they also signify the presence of human civilization. When you have been out at sea for weeks on end, seeing the flashing light of a light house will tell you that you have found your new land, and which direction to go to get to shore. You have been alone for so long, and suddenly, you are being guided towards humanity. You will no longer be alone, you will no longer be tossed around, you will soon arrive!

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V-Berth Airflow

Airflow in our V berth is nonexistent. At anchor, the hatch provides some ventilation for our heads, while our feet remain stagnant. In a rough seaway, the hatch remains dogged down and all airflow stops.  

Thos leads to mold and mildew in the forward cabin, which could all be remedied by better airflow.  

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The plan is simple, add a Dorade box and cowl vent forward of the V berth to bring fresh air into the forward cabin. This should help freshen the cabin and impede the growth of molds. 

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The problem is, waves and rough weather breaks over the bow first, making it critical that the Dorade box work perfectly to keep water from getting into the cabin.  

Stay tuned as the Dorade box takes shape and the airflow issue becomes resolved.  

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Dorade Template

To increase airflow in the forepeak, we want to add a vent. This vent will be in one of the most challenging areas, as well as one of the most necessary areas. 

The cowl needs to only let in air, and perfectly separate out water. Any water that comes through would then drip on our bed. Thankfully I had just finished designing a baffle system that will properly separate out the air from the water.  

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The dorade box fits nicely up next to our inner forestay, while keeping the the cowl in clear air while the sails are down. 

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Space on the deck is a premium, so finding a place that it fits the box well without impeding other deck hardware is imperative. 

Space needs to exist for the windlass to operate, as well as space to stow the sails when they are flakes on the deck.  

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This plywood template served a useful purpose of allowing us to actually see what it will look like on the deck before anything gets cut or glassed.  

Nos that we have found the perfect spot, it is time to build the real deal and glass it to the deck.  

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