Drone Laws in California

Agencies Responsible for regulating drones in the State of California

Federal Aviation Administration

FAA Drone Website: https://www.faa.gov/uas/

California State Laws – Text Search of California Laws

UAS Laws – General rules for flying drones in California

Drone operation in the State of California is broadly governed by The Federal USA agency responsible for drone safety, the FAA. Click here for details on FAA USA Drone Laws.

In addition, the California legislature has enacted several supplemental rules specific to California drone operations. The highlights are enumerated below. For more details go to the links above and search for unmanned aircraft

Are drones allowed in California?

Drones are allowed in California for recreational and commercial use, subject to FAA regulations and flight controls put in place by local governments. Read on for details.

Specific additional drone use laws by California State legislature

CHAPTER 4.5. Unmanned Aircraft [853 – 853.5]

A local public entity or public employee of a local public entity shall not be liable for any damage to an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system if the damage was caused while the local public entity or public employee of a local public entity was providing, and the unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system was interfering with, the operation, support, or enabling of any of the following emergency services:

(a) Emergency medical services or ambulance transport services, including, but not limited to, air ambulance services.

(b) Firefighting or firefighting-related services, including, but not limited to, air services related to firefighting or firefighting-related services.

(c) Search and rescue services, including, but not limited to, air search and rescue services.


An emergency responder shall not be liable for any damage to an unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system if that damage was caused while the emergency responder was providing, and the unmanned aircraft or unmanned aircraft system was interfering with, the operation, support, or enabling of the emergency services listed in Section 853 of the Government Code.

CHAPTER 3. Unauthorized Communications With Prisons and Prisoners [4570 – 4577]

(a) Except as provided in subdivisions (b), (c), and (d), a person who knowingly and intentionally operates an unmanned aircraft system on or above the grounds of a state prison, a jail, or a juvenile hall, camp, or ranch is guilty of an infraction, punishable by a fine of five hundred dollars ($500).

UAS in State Parks

Drones are currently allowed in State Parks, State Beaches, State Historic Parks, State Recreational Areas, and State Vehicular Recreation Areas except where prohibited by a District Superintendent’s posted order. Posted orders may prohibit drones for numerous reasons, including protection of threatened species; threats to cultural and natural resources; high fire danger; public safety; recreational conflicts; impacts upon visitor experience privacy; and park unit classification. Therefore, drone users should always check with their local State Park District for any specific posted orders.

Drones in State Wilderness Areas, Natural Preserves, and Cultural Preserves:

State Park regulations prohibit the use of motorized equipment (including UASs) within wilderness areas, cultural preserves, and natural preserves (Cal. Code Regs. tit. 14, § 4351.) Therefore, drone users should always check the designation of the park unit before operating a drone.

Specific additional UAV laws by local governments within California State

Calabasas City Municipal Ordinance 2017-354

This city ordinance allows local authorities to enforce FAA UAS drone-related rules and regulations. Authorities view any FAA violations as misdemeanors. The ordinance also stipulates the closest distance drones can fly to public events and school facilities without prior consent.

City of Hermosa Beach Ordinance 16-1363 (2016)

The city council introduced then adopted ordinance 16-1363 on April 26, 2016. It imposes specific restrictions for the operation of model aircraft, drones, and other unmanned aerial systems. Furthermore, remote pilots must obtain annual permits to fly. This city ordinance exists to protect the safety of residents.

City of La Mesa Municipal Ordinance 9.08.150 (2005)

This strict city ordinance bans drone and remote-controlled UAS in all city parks.

City of Malibu | Drone Filming Permit

Most of Malibu’s national park airspace falls under no-fly zone restrictions. However, there are certain exceptions for commercial filming purposes except on Sundays. Drone operators must apply for city filming permits. You can see more about film permit requirements here.

City of Yorba Linda Municipal Ordinance (2017)

This city ordinance states that no drone operator shall attempt to takeoff or land outside the pilot’s visual line of sight (VLOS). Takeoffs and landings must not occur within 25ft of other persons unless that person is the pilot’s designee. Moreover, no recreational or commercial drone pilot can operate from private property with (shouldn’t this be ‘without’) the owner’s consent.

The same municipal ordinance prohibits drone takeoffs, landings, and flight control within 500ft of special events and emergency response operations. The only exceptions are if the pilot has an official, city-issued permit for temporary use.

Los Alamitos Municipal Ordinance (2018)

The local ordinance for the town of Los Alamitos stipulates specific restrictions regarding drone no-fly zones and UAS activities within the town. It lays out city regulation with specific limitations on drone flight and operation within the city boundaries.

MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District Lands | Regulations Sec. 409.4 (2014)

This policy forbids drones operations on or over properties managed by the MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District. Exceptions are designated areas or pilots with an official written permit. Only commercial pilots can apply for permits at the last check.

Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority | Park Ordinance (2018)

Parks owned and managed by the Mountains Recreation & Conservation Authority prohibit all drone operations except in designated areas or with official permits. Pilots can only obtain permits from the Executive Officer or the EO designee.

National Parks | Municipal Ordinance (1984)

No drone pilots can operate radio-controlled UAS in national parks other than designated areas. Exceptions are with written authorization from a city manager or his/her designee.  The authorization is not guaranteed and depends on local factors. That may include the time of day, anticipated crowding of the requested areas, public safety, and other factors.

In addition to the local laws listed above, the National Park Service has banned drones in all Golden Gate National Parks in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more here.

Orange County Parks

This county ordinance bans the flying of drone operations in specified OC Parks. Some OC parks allow drone operations, but pilots must stay within the designated takeoff/landing areas.

Sacramento County—County Code 9.36.068 (2018)

This county code exists to prohibit drone operations in Sacramento’s county parks. The exceptions are designated, compatible areas provided with the express permission of the local Director. You can view the fee-based map here of all county parks that this code applies to.

San Francisco Park Code Sec. 3.09 (1981)

This code prohibits drone operations in San Francisco’s metropolis parks without prior permission of the Recreation & Park Department.

Santa Clara Valley Open Space Authority | Regulations Sec. 11.01.01 (2018)

This Santa Clara Valley, Open Space Authority policy bans the free use of unmanned drones and other UAS. Recreational drone pilots who wish to fly over the said property and structures must apply for a permit through official channels. The rules do not apply to law enforcement and emergency response organizations.

Santa Cruz District Superintendent’s Posted Order No. 715-001-17 (2017)

This regulation prohibits using model aircraft and UAS from land and facilities located in all state parks under the jurisdiction of the Santa Cruz District, with the exception of the following areas where drone use is allowed:

  • Seacliff State Beach: above the field on the Southern end of the primary day use parking lot.
  • Sunset State Beach: non-motorized gliders at the designated glider-port located across from the South campground.
  • Events authorized by Special Event or California Film Commission permit.

Requests for exemption may be made in writing by contacting the district superintendent.

University of California, Santa Barbara

UCSB Recreational UAS & Drone Policies: This section explains how to get approval to fly recreational drones and model aircraft on the UC Santa Barbara campus.

Specific additional laws in Jurisdictions within California

Many cities or towns within the state of California have specific restrictions within their jurisdictions. We recommend checking the local jurisdiction for the latest regulations.

Notes for recreational drone pilots flying for fun in California

If you have a small drone that is less than 55 pounds, you can fly recreationally by following the Drone Laws in the USA defined by FAA Part 107 guidelines.

Recreational UAS operations (i.e., flying for recreational purposes) in California are approved under FAA law, specifically Part 107. Please check the specific state jurisdiction for additional permissions, licensing, or clearance requirements.

Following these rules will keep you and your drone safe and will help keep the airspace available to everyone.

  1. Fly only for recreational purposes (enjoyment). 
  2. Follow the safety guidelines of an FAA-recognized Community Based Organization (CBO). Note: We have not yet begun officially recognizing CBOs. Recreational flyers should follow the safety guidelines of existing aeromodelling organizations or use the FAA-provided safety guidelines per Advisory Circular 91-57B.
  3. Keep your drone within the visual line of sight or use a co-located visual observer (physically next to) and in direct communication with you.
  4. Give way to and do not interfere with crewed aircraft.
  5. Fly at or below 400′ in controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, and E) with prior authorization by using LAANC or DroneZone.
  6. Fly at or below 400 feet in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace. Note: Drone flights may be prohibited in certain airspace or may require FAA authorization. A drone pilot can find navigable airspace, other Classes of airspace, and flying restrictions on our B4UFLY app or the UAS Facility Maps webpage.
  7. Take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) and carry proof of test passage.
  8. Have a current registrationmark (PDF) your drones on the outside with the registration number, and carry proof of registration with you.
  9. Do not dangerously operate your drone. For example:
    • Do not interfere with emergency response or law enforcement activities.
    • Do not fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
    • Avoid flying near or over critical infrastructure.

Recreational drone pilots should know that if they intentionally violate any of these safety requirements and/or operate their drone flight carelessly or recklessly, they could be liable for criminal and/or civil penalties.

Hobbyist rules in Parks, Recreation and Cultural Preserves

California State Parks recommends that recreational drone users check with their local State Park District before operating a UAS within a State Park. Each park unit may have its own posted orders. Even absent a posted order on drones, it is within the discretion of park staff to contact drone operators when drones threaten visitors, property, wildlife, or privacy. If a drone operator continues to fly in a dangerous or reckless manner, they may be asked to stop flying and remove the drone from park boundaries.

It is recommended that recreational drone operators consult the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules and regulations on the proper use of recreational drones and use common sense when operating these devices around crowded public areas, wildlife, or historic resources.

Notes for Commercial Drone Services operations in California

If you have a small drone that is less than 55 pounds, you can fly for work or business by following the Drone Laws in the USA defined by FAA Part 107 guidelines.

Commercial drone operations in California State are approved under the FAA Part 107. Please check the specific state jurisdiction for additional permissions, licensing, or clearance requirements.

There are three main steps drone owners must follow To fly under Part 107 rules:

Step 1: Learn the Rules

  1. Make sure you understand what is and is not allowed under Part 107 rules. Review a summary of the Part 107 rules (PDF). Still unsure if Part 107 rules work for you and your intended UAS operation? Check the FAA user identification tool.
  2. Some operations are not covered by Part 107 and will require a waiver. Here are some common examples of Part 107 sections that are subject to waiver:
    • Operation from a moving vehicle or aircraft (§ 107.25) *
    • Daylight operation (§ 107.29)
    • Visual line of sight aircraft operation (§ 107.31) *
    • Visual observer (§ 107.33)
    • Operation of multiple small unmanned aircraft systems (§ 107.35)
    • Yielding the right of way (§ 107.37(a))
    • Operation over people (§ 107.39)
    • Operation in certain airspace (§ 107.41)
    • Operating limitations for small unmanned aircraft (§ 107.51) 
    • *The FAA will not waive this section to allow the carriage of property of another by aircraft for compensation or hire.
    • If your operation will require a waiver, read about the Part 107 Waiver application process.
  3. Commercial Drone Pilots should avoid flying near airports because it is difficult for manned aircraft to see and avoid a drone while flying. Remember that the UAS operator must avoid crewed aircraft and are responsible for any safety hazard their drone creates in an airport environment. Read more about flying near airports.

Step 2: Become an FAA-Certified Drone Pilot by Passing the Knowledge Test

  1. To be eligible to get your Remote Pilot Certificate, you must be:
    • At least 16 years old
    • Able to read, write, speak, and understand English
    • Be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a UAS
  2. Review the entire process to get your Remote Pilot Certificate.
  3. Study for the Knowledge Test by reviewing the Test Prep materials provided by the FAA.
  4. Obtain an FAA Tracking Number (FTN) by creating an Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) profile before registering for a knowledge test.
  5. Schedule an appointment to take the Knowledge Test at an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center.
  6. Once you’ve passed your test, complete FAA Form 8710-13 for a remote pilot certificate (FAA Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application) using the electronic FAA Integrated Airman Certificate and/or Rating Application system (IACRA)*
  7. You are now eligible to operate as a commercial drone pilot

Step 3: Register your drone with the FAA

  • Registration costs $5 and is valid for three years. You’ll need a credit or debit card and the make and model of your drone handy to register.
  • Visit dronezone.faa.gov and select “Fly sUAS under Part 107” to create an account and register your drone.
  • Once you’ve registered, mark your drone (PDF) with your registration number if it gets lost or stolen.

ARTICLE 1. Generally [11901 – 11911] – Agriculture Pest Control

(b) It is unlawful for any person to operate an unmanned aircraft system in pest control unless the pilot operating the unmanned aircraft system holds a valid manned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate or a valid unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate issued by the director and is certified or otherwise authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate an unmanned aircraft system approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to conduct pest control.

11902 (b) Each unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate shall designate the unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s status as a journeyman, apprentice, or vector control technician.

To be eligible for an unmanned pest control aircraft pilot’s certificate under the status of vector control technician, a pilot shall be certified by the State Department of Public Health as a vector control technician in the category of mosquito control pursuant to paragraph (1) of subdivision (a) of Section 2052 of the Health and Safety Code.

11905. Before an initial manned or unmanned certificate is issued, the applicant for an apprentice, journeyman, or vector control technician shall pass an examination to demonstrate to the director his or her ability to legally and safely conduct pest control operations and his or her knowledge of the nature and effect of materials that are used in pest control.

11910 (a) The director may refuse to issue a manned or unmanned pest control aircraft pilot certificate to an applicant and may revoke or suspend a manned or unmanned pest control aircraft pilot certificate after a hearing in which one or more of the following findings are made:

  1. The person is not qualified to conduct the pest control operations in accordance with the certificate.
  2. The application or certificate is for the operation of a manned aircraft in pest control and the person does not hold an appropriate and valid commercial pilot’s certificate and a current appropriate medical certificate issued by the Federal Aviation Administration.
  3. The application or certificate is for the operation of an unmanned aircraft system in pest control and the person does not hold a certificate or other authorization issued by the Federal Aviation Administration for the operation of an unmanned aircraft system authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration for pest control.
  4. The person has violated any provision of, or any regulation adopted pursuant to, this division or Division 7 (commencing with Section 12501) pertaining to pesticides, any regulation of a county agricultural commissioner, or any industrial safety order of the Department of Industrial Relations, or has not complied with any order of the director or commissioner as authorized by Section 11737.
  5. The person has violated any regulation or privacy guideline adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration pertaining to the commercial operation of an unmanned aircraft system.

Commercial rules in Parks, Recreation and Cultural Preserves

The FAA requires commercial drone operators to receive special authorization; either a Section 333 Exemption or a Special Airworthiness Certificate. The FAA defines commercial drone use as, among other things: filming for hire; selling aerial photography or videography; inspections for hire; surveying for hire, or flying to further a business purpose.

Operating a drone for commercial purposes within a state park also requires a permit. Commercial Drone users must submit a copy of their FAA authorization to the appropriate State Park District(s). Depending on the proposed use, the District Superintendent may require a Special Event permit, Right of Entry permit, or other approval.

Further, commercial photography or filming within State Park also requires a permit from the California Film Commission. (Cal. Code Regs. tit. 14, § 4316.)

Useful published information on flying drones in California

We have partnered with the FAA and other drone enthusiasts in supporting an internet educational campaign called Know Before You Fly. The tips, pointers, and resources apply to California Drone Users also. Please visit the site for additional information: Know Before You Fly

Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International – Mostly for commercial drone service providers and users.

Academy of Model Aeronautics – Mostly for hobbyists

NOTE: Small Unmanned Aerial Systems (SUAS), Small UAS, Remote Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS), unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), and drone are interchangeable terms unless specified. Model aircraft, toy aircraft, Remote controlled aircraft, and RC aircraft may be covered by the same regulations unless specified.

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