Found A Lost Drone? Here’s What You Can Do

By Pilot Institute
Posted on March 25, 2022 - 5 minute read

If you intend to give the drone back to its owner, your best bet would be to look for the drone’s FAA registration number or serial number. This should be marked somewhere on the drone. You can ask for assistance from the local FAA office or law enforcement agency. In any case, be cautious when approaching a strange drone and only do so if you’re sure that the drone is powered down.

With a higher number of drones flying around nowadays, there is also a higher chance of them crashing, flying away, or getting lost. If a drone crashed in your backyard or you happened to stumble upon one on your hike, what should you do? Here are some of our tips:

Should you return the drone?

Assuming that the drone was not doing anything illegal when it crashed, attempting to return the drone to its owner is the most ethical thing to do.

If you would rather not do the work in locating the drone’s owner, the next best thing you can do is to report the presence and location of the crashed drone to the park authority or local law enforcement. Under no circumstances should you destroy or take apart a drone as it is still another person’s private property.

Assess its status

Most people who find lost drones stumble upon them on hiking trails, forests, or beaches. In some rare cases, drones can crash in other people’s backyards. If you happen to find a strange drone, do NOT approach or pick it up right away.

Even when a drone has crashed, it may still be able to receive signals from a nearby pilot. This pilot can very well be attempting to have the drone launch again. This means that the drone’s propellers can suddenly start spinning again. If you were holding the drone in your hands, these propellers can very easily cause injury.

The best thing to do would be to see if there are any active lights on the drone. If this is the case, then wait until the drone’s battery has died down and all of its light has been deactivated. Fortunately, this should only take a few minutes. If it seems like the drone has been in the bush for quite a while, then it’s safe to assume that it has no power left.

Stay put

If you find a drone that just crashed a few minutes ago, then it would be best to keep it at its original location for at least a few hours. Almost every single drone pilot will make an effort to locate a crashed drone based on its last GPS position or camera capture. Hold on to the drone if you must, but don’t move it to another location right away.

Look for any registration or serial numbers


Once you have managed to pick up the drone safely, you can start to look for any distinguishing marks on its body. This can be either an FAA registration number that can be traced back to its owner or the serial number from the manufacturer.

All drones that weigh more than 0.55 lbs. are required to be registered with the FAA. If the crashed drone you found is larger than the palm of your hand, then there’s a good chance that it has an FAA registration number. You can then give this registration number to the FAA or local law enforcement and have them look up the identity of the owner.

If the crashed drone weighs less than 0.55 lbs., then it may not have a registration number. An alternative is to look for a serial number and give this number to the drone manufacturer. In some cases, they may be able to retrieve the identity of the owner from their files.

Take note that this might not always work, especially if the drone has changed ownership several times. Third-party distributors might also not have the proper records system for tracing the identity of the buyer based on the serial number of the drone.

In some rare cases, a drone can be marked with the name and contact number of the owner. You can then get in touch with the owner with minimal effort.

Look for an SD card

What if the drone does not have any distinguishing labels or numbers? The process will become a bit more involved, and you will likely need to tinker with the drone a bit. At this point, you will have to retrieve the drone and hold on to it longer.

If you know your way around drones, you might already know where the drone’s SD card is located. You can also look for a manual of the drone online. The SD card will likely contain images or videos captured by the drone and can help you narrow down the identity or location of the owner.

Take note that not all drones come with onboard SD cards. This just means that any images or videos captured by the drone are sent automatically to the mobile device or remote controller held by the pilot. If the drone has no internal memory, then there is nothing that you can retrieve.

Post on social media

If all the previous measures fail, you will have to be a lot more proactive in locating the drone owner. You can try posting images or descriptions of the crashed drone in hopes that the owner will get in touch with you. The best channel for this would be any of the various social media channels. This is a lot easier if your city or town has a local drone club.

When everything else fails


What can you do if you still cannot find the owner despite your best efforts? Unfortunately, there is not much that you can do with a crashed drone if you don’t have its controller. You can attempt to pair it with a third-party controller if you’re willing to go through the work. The drone will likely also have some damage that needs to be repaired.

If you’re not interested in using the crashed drone, then you can just turn it over to the local law enforcement. If you found it in a park, then give it to the park office or a ranger. There’s still a chance that the owner will find it eventually, but it will all be out of your hands.

Final thoughts

As drones become increasingly more common, it also becomes more likely that we will all see crashed drones at some point in our lifetimes. When this happens, you can go the extra mile to look for its owner. You can leave things be, of course, but a bit of goodwill should not hurt in this case.

The great thing about modern drone use is that it places a great emphasis on traceability. This should make it easier to identify lost drones with minimal effort. If you can’t be bothered to look for the owner yourself, then the least you can do is to turn the drone over to the authorities.

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