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Can You Bring a Drone to Catalina Island?  

5 mins
Drone Blog
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You can take a drone to Catalina Island and fly it in many locations.

Unmanned drones are a lot of fun to own and fly on the island. A drone with a good video camera system can provide you with outstanding views of Catalina Island and its shoreline.

Although you can take a drone to Catalina Island and fly it, you will have to be careful where you do it.

Several areas are off-limits, and so are some types of filming. Flying a drone where you should not while you are on Catalina Island likely will not land you in jail, but it easily could ding you with a hefty fine, confiscation of the offending drone, and lots of regret.

So that you do not run afoul of the law, let us take a closer look at where you can fly a drone on Catalina Island and where you cannot.

Locations where you cannot fly a drone on the island #

Catalina Island is relatively affordable to visit by taking a ferry from San Pedro or Long Beach to the very popular island that is less than 20 miles from the California Coast.

The greater Los Angeles area is one of the world’s most densely populated and has lots of people who love to fly drones.

With Catalina Island just a fun ferry ride away, it is a great destination to fly a drone in the areas that allow it. Before you can do that, you need to learn where you cannot fly your drone on the island.

Catalina Island has a general restriction against flying over areas where people would expect to have privacy. That generally means no drone flights over any private homes or properties owned by the island’s many residents.

You also need to avoid flying over people in general and in fairly congested areas.

With an island like Catalina, it always is best to go for a panoramic video that might include Avalon or Two Harbors from a distance.

Catalina Airport is a restricted flight area #

One area where you definitely can not fly a drone is anywhere within 5 miles of Catalina Airport.

The airport is privately owned but is open for public air travel. There are no commercial flights to or from the airport, but it is an active airport that allows private pilots and commercial flights to use it.

The Catalina airport is located on the island’s highest point at about 1,600 feet in the center of the island. Occupying the highest point on Catalina Island means one of the best locations to fly a drone is off-limits.

The airport is located about 6.5 miles northwest of Avalon and about 8 miles southeast of Two Harbors. Those are the two primary settlements on the island, with Avalon attracting the most visitors.

Avalon is larger than Two Harbors and a little closer to nearby Long Beach on the mainland. So Avalon is where most of the visitors go when visiting Catalina Island.

You can bring a drone to either location and generally have the freedom to operate it, but not over people. The island does not allow drones to fly over people for safety and privacy reasons.

Drone flights are off-limits in nature preserves #

California law bans the use of drones over nature preserves. Being a fairly large island, Catalina Island has several nature preserves. You are responsible for learning where any might be and avoiding flying over them.

You should avoid flying over the Catalina Island Conservancy Nature Center, which is about a mile northwest of Avalon. You might disturb some of the many species of birds and possibly strike one while flying. Even an offense that you did not intend to do with your drone might create a lot of trouble.

The island receives cruise ships and pleasure boats of many types. It also has a couple of harbors that are popular for boaters and yacht owners. You definitely should not fly over any cruise ships that might dock at the island.

Flying over moored vessels also might violate local laws, so you should check with a harbormaster before doing so.

You should ask around when you are in Avalon or Two Harbors to learn what the local expectations might be regarding drone flights and shooting video footage. That is the best way to make sure you do not break any local laws or irritate the island’s residents.

Filming permit required for Catalina Island #

If you intend to film footage with your drone and use it in any commercial manner, you should obtain a permit to do so.

Without a film permit, you are violating local ordinances if you intend to post your video on your YouTube channel, use it in promotional materials, or for any other commercial purpose.

The city of Avalon abides by the filming guidelines put forth by the California Film Commission. The guidelines require you to have an observer as well as a drone pilot to film commercial footage and use it afterward.

You also need a different permit if you want to use a drone to film in areas controlled by the Catalina Island Conservancy.

Even with the permits to film with a drone, you cannot fly over people. That is true for Hollywood film crews as well as recreational drone operators. It also is good common sense.

Suggested drone flight areas on Catalina Island #

If you can make it to Starlight Beach on the very northwest tip of Catalina Island, you could shoot terrific drone footage.

The beach is surrounded by tall cliffs and large boulders and rock formations just offshore that make for stunning drone video footage. You also get a terrific view of the Pacific Ocean as its vast expanse stretches beyond to the west.

Ribbon Beach is located south of Starlight Beach and is even less accessible. You could get some great footage of a lesser visited side of Catalina Island while still maintaining a safe distance from the island’s airport.

Closer to Avalon, you can find terrific drone flight space along the Garden to Sky Summit. You can make the journey on foot and follow the hiking trails to the top, where you can get some panoramic footage with a drone.


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