Drones 101: A Guide To Registering Your UAV

FAADroneregEditor’s Note: We’re re-running this tutorial on registering your drone, but take a look at this article which shows updates the FAA has made. Also bookmark this tag to see the latest updates from the FAA.

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

On December 21, 2015, the FAA began mandatory drone registration for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones). While the cost of registering your drone is amazingly cheap, failure to do so comes with stiff penalties including up to $250,000 in fines and three years in jail. Seems severe, I know, but when the FAA is investigating hundreds of near misses with passenger jets, the situation has become that grave.

So what do you need to know about registering your drone? Here are the details …

weight-applicibilityWhat drones need to be registered. The FAA has decreed that drones weighing in between 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and 55 pounds (25 kilograms), for recreation or hobby, must be registered. Drones that weigh greater than 55 pounds fall under commercial drone use rules and as such, must be registered using the commercial certification and registration process. If you use your drone for activities other than recreation, namely filmmaking, real estate or other commercial videography, your drone then falls under the commercial drone category, even if it’s designed for recreational use, like the DJI Phantom 3 Standard. As such, it will require separate registration and certification.

Registration not required.

Registration not required.

But does that mean that every drone that falls under that weight limit is required to register? Well, no. According to the list we published recently, toy drones, like the Air Hogs Millennium Falcon or X-Wing fighter from Star Wars aren’t required to register at all. This may be due to the range at which it operates is extremely limited, but it’s more likely because they specifically weigh just under the .55 pounds weight limit. When in doubt, get out a scale and see how much your drone weighs. If it falls within the limit, chances are you will have to register it.

Registration required.

Registration required.

It also seems to imply that drones that are capable of carrying a camera package DO require registration (there are some exceptions). When in doubt, consult the FAA FAQ that outlines what constitutes required registration and what doesn’t. You can find that here.

What about my kid’s drone? If your child is under 13, he doesn’t need to register his drone. BUT YOU DO. Children 13 and over, however, will have to register his drone separately.

Is the Registration process complicated? Not at all. It took me about five minutes to accomplish, and you certainly don’t need a drone registration service to help you. That’s a scam. Just go to registermyuas.faa.gov and click on “register my drone.” From there, you just follow the prompts and insert your information. You will be required to provide a credit card number to register, so I would recommend that you avoid registering your drone at a public WiFi hotspot.

What does it cost to register my drones? The FAA is charging $5 for registration of drones that fall within the required weight limit. And to encourage users to register their drones right away, the FAA is offering a rebate of the full registration cost if users register before January 21, 2016. So if you register within the next month, the cost is essentially free. From January 22nd – February 19th, which is the drone registration deadline, the cost is $5 and covers an unlimited number of drones.

When you register, you will receive a unique registration number that applies to any and all unmanned aircraft you own for 3 years. After 3 years, you must re-register.

What if I just fly my drone in my backyard? You will have to register it. Any drone flights outdoors will require registration even if on your own private property. That’s because the skies belong to the public, even if your land belongs to you. However, if you just fly your drones indoors, then registration is not required. But the second you take it outside, you will be required to register.

Drone registrants must agree to safety rules. When registering drones at the FAA Drone Registration site, users will be required agree toand Acknowledgement of Safety Guidance statement, which will outline the basic rules of recreation drone use. These rules include:

  1. Flying your drone below 400 feet at all times.
  2. Flying your drone within line of sight.
  3. Being aware of FAA Airspace requirements for drones.
  4. You will not fly directly over people.
  5. You will not fly over stadiums or sports events.
  6. You will not fly over emergency response efforts such as fires or rescues.
  7. You will not fly near airports or any aircraft.
  8. You Will not fly under the influence.

Additionally, before you even enter the site, you have to agree to the System Use Notice that you understand that you are accessing government computers. As such, the government can monitor your activity while connected to the site to insure that registration is the only reason your accessing it for.

droneregnumberWill the FAA Send me a Drone Number Sticker? No. But they do require that all users mark your drone registration number on your drone before you operate it outdoors. And since the number is for an unlimited number of drones, you can just mark it on every single drone you own. The number must be visible on your drone without the use of tools to access it. Many drones have a quick release battery compartment and the FAA states that it’s OK to mark your drone registration number inside this door if you don’t want it to appear out in plain site.  Users can use a marker, engraving, a stick-on label, or any other method so long as the number remains easily visible.

The FAA also provides the ability to print out a wallet sized copy of your registration certificate, which includes a reminder of all the safety guidelines. It’s a good idea to print this out and stash it in your wallet for handy reference, or should you be asked by authorities if you have proper registration.

Is my registration information private? The answer is not only NO, but your information is searchable through the FAA’s drone registration online database. All someone needs to do is have your drone’s registration number and they can find out your profile information which includes phone, email, and physical address (so much for just a P.O. Box). This access to your private information is causing many privacy advocates, and R/C interest groups to cry foul. But the FAA also has to contend with the Freedom of Information Act, and other government laws which are designed to maintain a certain level of transparency in government. Additionally, with the recent security breaches of the U.S. Government Office of Personnel Management, it isn’t clear that the federal government could keep your information private, even if it wasn’t. But the law is the law.

You can bet that this capability will be challenged in court, but frankly, I don’t mind. Drones do have a nasty habit of flying away, and if your drones backup GPS locator fails, as mine did, you’re out a pricey bit of hardware. But if the drone has a registration number, at least there’s a chance that whoever finds it can find out your contact information and get it back to you (or sue you if it causes damage to their property when it crashes).

“The registration process is in violation of Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 in which Congress states the FAA may not promulgate rules or regulations on model aircraft.” – Academy of Model Aeronautics, statement

Another issue with this registration, according to the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), is that legally, the FAA should not have the jurisdiction to require hobbyists to register their drones at all. While working with the FAA to develop UAS registration guidelines, the AMA has been left with the perception that rushing to make hobbyists register their drones is classic overreach and in violation of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. In an effort to buy some time to make the process more in-line with the law, the AMA is telling users not to register their drones until the legal deadline of February 19, 2016. This will allow them to put pressure on the FAA to fine tune the registration guidelines.

That’s a gambit that could backfire, in my mind. If you violate the law by failing to register by the deadline of February 19th, will the AMA pay your fine? I rather doubt it. With fines for civil penalties up to $27,500 per violation, and criminal penalties of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years, the AMA isn’t in a position to give users legal cover. Then again, anyone who does something really stupid, like fly over a brush fire and preventing first responders from doing their jobs, has it coming.

The bottom line though is this… It’s a good idea for drone operators to comply with the FAAs mandate for registration. It shows the responsibility of the emerging market. That is really what the FAA is doing this for, anyway, to make sure all drone operators are aware of the rules of the game. In time, the courts will address all the privacy issues, since organizations like the AMA will file suit to force the FAA to do so.

Meanwhile, protect yourself. Get your registration number. The process is easy and it’ll take you about five minutes to accomplish. You will require a credit card to process, however (here’s to hoping for PayPal support soon). But remember, if you act before January 21, 2016, you will get your registration at no charge.


About James DeRuvo

James has a multi-faceted career that spans radio, film and publishing. A writer about the technology in the video industry for nearly 20 years, James is also an award winning film director, having garnered a Telly Award for his short film Searching for Inspiration. He's also worked as a producer of many talk radio programs in Los Angeles with topics ranging from entertainment to travel to technology.