Drone Laws in California Explained (2023 Regulations)


Drone laws in California encompass a wide range of regulations, and both recreational and commercial drone operators must adhere to the rules for drone operations. As UAS technology continues to evolve, drone pilots must be aware of the FAA regulations and local jurisdiction laws.

We will delve into everything you need to know about drone laws in California, including safety measures and key educational resources

Federal and State Drone Regulations

Federal Drone Laws in California

To operate a drone legally in California, drone operators must pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Aeronautical Knowledge Test and register their drone. Users must follow the federal airspace laws, as these take precedence over state drone laws.  

Let’s discuss the FAA Aeronautical Knowledge Test requirements and registering your drone with the FAA to help with this process.

  • FAA Aeronautical Knowledge Test requirements: This test evaluates a potential pilot’s understanding of aviation regulations, airspace classifications, emergency procedures, radio communication protocols, weather patterns, and more.
  • Registering your drone with the FAA: All drones weighing between 0.55 lbs (250 grams) and up to 55 lbs (25 kg) must be registered online through the FAA DroneZone. Only registered drones can be flown outdoors for recreational or commercial purposes.

California drone laws are in place to ensure the safety of all individuals and property. These laws include:

State Drone Laws in California
  • State drone laws: California state legislature passed laws that prohibit drone operations in certain areas, including state vehicular recreation areas and state parks. Additionally, state-wide laws prohibit flying drones over private property without the owner’s consent.
  • Local drone laws: The California code includes local laws that may further restrict drone flying in some areas. Check with local regulations and authorities before flying a drone in a specific location.

Recreational Drone Use

Recreational drone users should check the FAA regulations and California drone laws before flying drones. The FAA requires recreational drone users to pass a recreational UAS safety test before flying drones. Additionally, drones must be flown below 400 feet and within the operator’s line of sight.

Local Jurisdictions’ Drone Policies

Local Drone Laws in California

In California, local jurisdictions have specific policies and regulations regarding drone usage. For instance, recreational drone users in Los Alamitos must obtain an annual permit to fly their drones within the city limits.

  • Los Alamitos annual permit requirement for recreational flyers: This policy ensures that all drone operators adhere to local laws while flying within the city’s jurisdiction.
  • The Port of Los Angeles as a “No Drone Zone”: Due to safety concerns, the Port of Los Angeles prohibits flying drones in its vicinity without proper authorization from port officials.

Drone pilots must familiarize themselves with any additional local restrictions before operating their unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Legal Restrictions on Drones Over Sensitive Areas

In California, Senate Bill 1355 prohibits drone operations over sensitive areas including prisons, jails, and juvenile facilities. However, employees of these institutions may be exempt from this restriction under certain conditions.

  • Prohibition of Drones over Prisons, Jails, and Juvenile Facilities: This law aims to protect the security and privacy of inmates and staff members in these locations.
  • Restriction on Drones within State Park Wilderness Areas or Cultural Preserves: You cannot fly drones in specific zones like State Park wilderness areas or cultural preserves managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation. This restriction aims to prevent potential damage or disruption caused by unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), 

Restrictions on unmanned aerial vehicles in sensitive areas are crucial to maintain public safety, safeguard the privacy of those present, and avert any potential criminal activity. 

Diligent drone pilots should familiarize themselves with these restrictions to ensure responsible flying practices.

Penalties for Violating Drone Laws in California 

California Drone Law Penalties

Operating drones in emergency situations can lead to serious consequences. In California, individuals who interfere with emergency operations using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) may face misdemeanor charges. 

  • Misdemeanor charges for interfering with emergency operations using UAVs/RPAS: Drone pilots must exercise caution and avoid flying near accident scenes or other emergencies to prevent hindering first responders.
  • Criminal charges for resisting lifeguards’ efforts during rescue situations involving UAVs/RPAS: Obstructing a lifeguard’s ability to perform their duties by operating a drone near an ongoing rescue operation is dangerous and illegal.

To ensure the safe operation of UAVs/RPAS, operators should take advantage of available safety education and training opportunities. Take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) or attend an in-person class from organizations like UAV Coach.

FAQs in About Drone Laws in California

What are the drone laws in California?

Drone laws in California are a combination of federal and state regulations. Drone operators must follow FAA guidelines, including registering their drone and passing the Aeronautical Knowledge Test. Follow local jurisdiction policies like no-fly zones around airports and restrictions in specific parks or areas. Senate Bill 1355 also prohibits flights over prisons and jails.

Can someone fly a drone over my house in California?

Yes, someone may be able to fly a drone over your house in California. Flying a drone over private property without permission may violate privacy rights under California’s “invasion of privacy” law (CA Penal Code § 647(j)). However, if the flight does not capture images or invade your personal space while maintaining FAA altitude limits, it might be considered legal.

What are the new drone laws for 2023?

New drone laws depend on legislative changes at both federal and state levels. Stay updated with FAA regulations, California legislation, and local ordinances that may affect UAV operations within specific jurisdictions.

Can I fly my drone around my neighborhood?

Yes, you can fly your drone around your neighborhood. But you must comply with FAA rules, respect neighbors’ privacy rights under CA Penal Code § 647(j), avoid restricted airspace near airports or other sensitive locations, and adhere to any other local ordinances regarding park usage or residential areas.

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I’m a huge fan of drones, cars, and anything that moves fast! Having bought, tested, and raced drones over the years, tinkering and experimenting with different parts and types, my fascination with drone technology led me to start this blog. So if you enjoy drone content covering the latest drone reviews, recommendations for the best drones for certain uses, and informative content on programming drones and other fun areas, stick around!

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