Getting a drone for Christmas? What you need to know

There are things new drone owners need to know before they start flying.

New drone owners need to use common sense and operate them safely

Some estimates say one million drones could find their way under the Christmas tree this year. (The Associated Press)

It's all fun and games when it comes to drones, but those who sell them say new owners of the latest fad need to take the time to learn how to operate them safely. 

Drones range in price from $100 for a palm-sized version to those with GoPro-sized cameras that sell for $600 to $700, to more elaborate ones that can cost thousands. 

"It just makes everything look totally different and gives a whole new perspective on things," said Mark Langille with "It provides a bird's eye view which we seldom see."

It's estimated as many as one million drones will be given as Christmas presents in North America this year.

Go slow

"It's a gift and you want to get using it right away," said Langille. 

"It's that rush to get it out of the box and you may not necessarily read all the instructions or know a lot to do it safely," he said, noting with the right instruction and taking your time you can get it in the air easily in the first half hour.

Langille said people need to read the manual to ensure they don't crash it, lose it, or injure someone.  

"Most of the recreational systems are fairly small in terms of you're not going to necessarily kill somebody with it, but there is potential you could hit someone in the face or damage their car," he said, noting there was a recent case in the United Kingdom where a father was flying a drone and it injured his baby, causing permanent blindness.

Langille suggests new owners read the manual and then test fly their drone in an area where there are no people nearby. 

"Take your time, learn slowly don't try to get out there 1,000 feet in the air where you're over a neighbour's house and a gust of wind takes it away," he said.

Drone pilots are encouraged to use spotters as a means of staying safe. "Everything looks fine when it's working well, but it's when something goes wrong that you always have to be thinking about in the back of your mind," Langille said.

Aircraft interference the biggest concern

The increasing popularity of recreational drones has government officials concerned about the growing number of them invading airspace and creating hazards for aircraft.  

There are virtually no rules around recreational drones that weigh less than 35 kilograms, except that they should not be flown in clouds and should not pose a hazard to aviation safety.

Just this week, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced that recreational drone users will be required to register their drones by providing a name, address and email address, so that any owners who do get too close to aircraft can be tracked down.

Transport Canada has published a list of do's and don'ts for recreational drone pilots and plans to introduce regulations in 2016. Its website says since 2010 it has launched 50 investigations across the country into incidents involving unmanned air vehicles. 

Even if you don't live near an airport, Langille said drone pilots must be aware of the potential for nearby aircraft. "In Halifax we have LifeFlight and the Sea Kings," he said. "They're active 24/7, depending what's going on, and a lot of people are not aware they may be in the area so you need to know your surroundings and keep an eye out."

Is privacy an issue?

Halifax privacy lawyer and drone pilot David Fraser told CBC News drone pilots need to use common sense and be good neighbours. He said most people don't understand the technology and how intrusive or not intrusive it is, so it's safe to assume they're going to be "creeped out" by drones flying near their property. 

"When you see one of these things flying around, you have no idea what its capabilities are," he said. "The vast majority of consumer drones have wide-angle lenses that are essentially designed to take breath-taking landscape shots. To get information about an individual or creep in on their windows, the thing would have to be extremely close to you and the ones I have experience with are quite loud, so they're not really going to be stealthily sneaking up on people."

He said there have been reports of people living in a Vancouver high rise opening their blinds to see something hovering outside their window. Fraser said if it's a circumstance where somebody has an expectation of privacy, such as where it's hovering outside a bedroom or bathroom window, the criminal code provisions on voyeurism could apply.

In terms of flying over private property, "That's actually a little bit complicated because airplanes don't have to get your permission to fly over your property, but when it comes to something lower, below 100 feet or below the tops of peoples' houses, that can constitute civil trespass and you could sue somebody for damages," he said. "If you're flying above that but you're interfering with the normal enjoyment of the property, then that's something called nuisance."

Fraser cautions drone users to be aware of the Transport Canada requirements if they use the machine for anything other than fun.

Meanwhile, Flitelab's Langille is urging new drone owners to take it slow and have fun, but be safe.

"It's going to be an interesting week after Christmas," he said. "There's going to be a lot of people that don't get very far with them just from inexperience and there'll be other people flying where they shouldn't be."


Yvonne Colbert

Consumer Watchdog

Yvonne Colbert has been a journalist for nearly 35 years, covering everything from human interest stories to the provincial legislature. These days she helps consumers navigate an increasingly complex marketplace and avoid getting ripped off. She invites story ideas at


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