Are Drones Waterproof?

Introduction

If you are new to the hobby of flying or just got a drone as a holiday present, you might wonder if your drone is waterproof or not. Having a waterproof drone is a nice feature that might allow you to fly in rainy weather or better help you survive an intentional crash over the waters (happens to a lot of us).

But the question is, are drones waterproof? The simple answer is No. Most commercial drones are not waterproof or even water-resistant. Most common drones from DJI or other leading manufacturers are not waterproof. Some agricultural or special purpose drones come with water-resistant sealing but they are not commonly purchased by hobby flyers.

You might wonder why can’t the drones be waterproof or even water-resistant. It’s not technically impossible to waterproof a drone but it’s a feature not worth putting additional cost in. The design decision to not make drones waterproof is purely economical and not technical.

What happens if a drone gets wet?

We are all aware that water is an electronics-killer agent. If you drop your cellphone or any other electronic in water, that will be the last time you will see it working. Let’s understand how water affects electronics in general and drones in specific.

Water is a great solvent, and your normal tap water has many dissolved minerals. Minerals, when dissolved in water, become ions and carry electric current. So even your tap water, which isn’t so “salty,” is a great conductor of electricity.

So, what happens if a drone gets wet? When water gets in contact with the internal electronics of your drone like the control board or even the motor coil connections, it short-circuits them due to its electric conductivity. This short circuit destroys the delicate electric components inside.

In essence, it’s not the water that damages the drone. It’s the dissolved salts that do the trick. Technically speaking, 100% distilled water will do no harm to your drone even if completely dipped inside (do not try at home).

Even if you manage to turn your drone (or any other electronic device) off by pulling out the battery in time, you still run a risk of the secondary effect of salty water i-e corrosion. Salts in the water get deposit on the surface of the circuitry after the water evaporates and they are great agents of surface corrosion in electronics circuits.

How does waterproofing work?

Waterproofing something means designing the container or outer shell of the circuit in such a way that water cannot get inside. This is the simple concept of waterproofing.

When you examine your drone closely, you will see a number of ways water can get inside the main body if the drone is submerged into water. The most obvious points are motor sockets, body joints, and battery compartment.

To make the drone waterproof, all these joints should be delicately sealed with a water sealant like O-rings or gaskets through and through. Every joint on the body is a weak link for water penetration and should be tightly shut off for the drone to be truly waterproof. This is how the smartphone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung achieve waterproofing but it is a very costly operation.

Now you know why most manufacturers don’t go through the additional hassle to make your drone survive a crash in the lake? It’s not technically impossible but it’s costly.

Waterproof Vs. Water-resistant

Many people use the terms “waterproof” and “water-resistant” interchangeably but both have different interpretations.

‘Waterproof’ means the device is completely impenetrable by water when immersed for a long time. On the other hand, ‘water-resistant’ is waterproof to a certain limit. Electronic companies never claim their devices to be waterproof. They always use the word ‘water-resistant’ because they can never make a device truly waterproof so, in case of a legal challenge, they will have protection against claims.

But for everyday Joe, waterproof or water-resistant carry the same meaning i-e if the device gets wet, it will survive.

Water-resistant standards are defined by IEC Standard 60529 via a single-digit IP code that defines ‘how much’ water-resistant a device is. If you look at your latest iPhone specification, it will have IP68 rating. The first digit ‘6’ represent protection against dust and the second digit ‘8’ represent level of protection against water.

The below table summarises the IP levels for general electronics like smartphones and if a company decides to build a ‘waterproof’ drone, and decides to get an IP rating for it, it will follow the same standard.

IP CodeLevel of protection against water & moisture
1Protection against vertically dripping water
2Protection against vertically dripping water when the device is tilted at an angle up to 15 degrees
3Protection against direct sprays of water when device is tilted at an angle up to 60 degrees
4Protection from sprays and splashing of water in all directions.
5Protection from low-pressure water projected from a nozzle with a 6.3mm diameter opening in any direction
6Protection from water projected in powerful jets from a nozzle with a 12.5mm diameter opening in any direction
7Protected from immersion in water with a depth of up to 1 meter (or 3.3 feet) for up to 30 mins
8Protected from immersion in water with a depth of more than 1 meter (manufacturer must specify exact depth)

The most notable IP ratings are IP67 & IP68 which provide protection against water up to 1 meter and more depth.

How to fix a drowned drone?

If you are one of those less fortunate people who have got their drone into water trouble, let’s discuss how you can possibly fix it. Follow the below steps to maximize your chances of fixing your water damaged drone.

If your drone is under warranty and the manufacturer warranty covers any water damage, it would be better to send your drone back for professionals to fix. If it is out of warranty, follow the below steps to try fixing it yourself.

#1 Remove the battery immediately

As we discussed above, water is a great electrolyte and can easily short circuit your delicate electronic boards inside the drone. As soon as your drone crash or land in water, recover it and immediately remove the battery to reduce the chances of shortcircuiting.

If you were able to remove the power source before the water can short-circuit any components, the survival chances of your drone will increase considerably.

#2 Drain excess water

Once the battery is out, see how much water is filled inside the drone’s main body. Remove any covering that can facilitate the flow of water from the main compartment.

#3 Blowdry the circuits

Remove the main body cover carefully (see the manufacturer’s manual to better understand the internal assembly). Once the cover is off, you will see all the main circuits including the main controller board in the center.

DJI Spark drone main board inside
image credit: edn.com

Invert the drone and hold it in this position for a few minutes to make sure all the excess water is drained out.

Next, you are going to blowdry the circuitry completely to eliminate all the moisture. Set your common hairdryer on the lowest heat level (this is important) and blow the circuit from left to right in a repeated manner. Once you are sure that the internal components are fully dried out and no moisture is remaining, turn off the dryer.

#4 Spray with corrosion inhibitor

As discussed, apart from shortcircuiting, water damages electronics by inducing corrosion even after the water dries out. This is due to the minerals that are left behind by the evaporating water from the surface.

To solve this issue and avoid any future corrosion, we will use a polar bonding corrosion inhibitor spray. I have found this one available on Amazon safe for electronics. Spray all electronic circuits, exposed wires, and other metallic components including the motor thoroughly. Don’t worry, the spray will not interfere with the electrical conductivity of the circuitry.

Corrosion inhibitor basically forms a polar bond with the metallic surfaces and prevents any chemical reaction from taking place with other foreign elements.

#5 Test each component

Once you do everything above, it’s time to re-assemble the drone and test if everything works. Tighten the crews of the main cover, put in the battery, and turn your drone on and go through your usual preflight check routine.

If there are no shortcuts before you remove the battery, your drone will start working fine but if it misbehaves and doesn’t turn on at all, the damage may be severe and you will need tech support to fix it.

Are drones rain proof?

Although waterproof or water-resistant drones are not very common among top manufacturers, there are a number of commercial models out there that provide protection against water damage and enables you to fly in rain. These are all special purpose drones. You cannot expect cheaper drones to have rain protection. Even expensive DJI series like Mavic & Phantom don’t offer rain protection.

Are Drones Waterproof?

The Powervision PowerEgg X is an all-weather drone that you can even fly in heavy rain. The internal circuitry is protected in a watertight case.

Another such drone is the Swellpro SplashDrone 3+ which has modular components all individually waterproof to fly in extreme conditions including take-off from water.

Conclusion

Water and electronics never get along well. If you accidentally get caught in bad weather with your drone in the air, just press the return to home (RTH) button and land it as soon as possible.

Unless your drone is IP-certified water-resistant, you should not risk flying it in bad weather or over a large body of water (lake, river, etc.) with being extremely careful. Often we forget to look at the remaining battery levels and the drone drops dead over the lake. Especially if the drone is a custom build, you should always keep the battery in check and always calculate your battery timing before taking off.