Drone Laws in San Diego

Agencies Responsible for regulating drones in San Diego

Federal Aviation Administration

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

California State Laws – Text Search of California Laws 

Updated April 4, 2022


UAS Laws – General rules for flying drones in San Diego

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

The CA State and San Diego legislatures have enacted several supplemental rules specific to San Diego drone operations. Click here for details on CA State Drone Laws.

The highlights of San Diego UAS regulations are enumerated below.

Can you fly a drone in San Diego?

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

Specific additional San Diego Drone Laws

County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Drone Application

7. UAS Operations On, Over, Or In County-Owned Property or Facilities

In accordance with the preemption principles and other limitations noted above, the County may restrict and/or regulate the operation of UAS by persons who are on or in County Property and County Facilities. The County may also regulate UAS operation to the extent there is a danger to the safety or health of persons on or in County Property or County Facilities.

7.1 Outdoor County Property Open To The Public

UAS may be operated by persons on County Property under the following conditions:

  1. 7.1.1  All FAA rules and regulations must be followed. Following FAA regulations is a matter of public safety. Violation of FAA regulations is considered a danger to the public. Persons operating UAS while on County Property who are observed violating FAA regulations will be asked to leave and/or be cited.
  2. 7.1.2  No ordinance, regulation or rule has been enacted or adopted prohibiting UAS operation by persons on the County Property.
  3. 7.1.3  The UAS operator is at least 25 feet away in linear ground distance from any other UAS operator.
  4. 7.1.4  UAS may not be launched or landed within 25 feet of any, permanent or temporary structure, or vehicle on County Property. A UAS that is launched or operated from County Property shall not be flown within 25 feet of any person other than the UAS operator and her or his immediate party if any, permanent or temporary structure or vehicle on County Property.
  5. 7.1.5  All ordinances, rules and regulations otherwise governing the use of and permission to be on the County Property must be obeyed.
  6. 7.1.6  UAS shall not be flown in a careless or reckless manner.
  7. 7.1.7  All special conditions imposed by the County must be obeyed. See Section 7.4 below.

9. Requests For Recreational Use Access; Departmental Requirements

Launching, landing, and operation of UAS for non-commercial, non-governmental, recreational, or hobbyist purposes by persons on County Property generally does not require written permission as long as all other applicable requirements herein are met. As set forth above, permission is always required for UAS operation in or on County Facilities.

However, the County and/or its departments may impose a requirement for written permission to operate UAS while on County Property. Such requirements may be temporary or permanent.

If such a requirement is imposed, it shall include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following conditions:

9.1 Persons requesting permission to operate UAS for recreational or hobbyist purposes on County Property must:

  • Request permission one business day in advance of the proposed use date and time.
  • Provide proof of insurance upon request.
  • Affirm that their UAS operation is not for commercial purposes.
  • Agree to comply with all Federal, State and local laws and all FAA regulations.
  • Agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless the County of San Diego from any and all liabilities, losses, claims or damages resulting from UAS activities on County properties.
  • Agree to maintain a valid permit of access for the duration of all operations. All access is granted as “single use” event permission(s) unless otherwise stated by the County department or agency controlling access to the specific County Property.
  • Agree that no person other than the permittee will operate the permitted UAS.
  • Not delegate, assign, or allow the use of their permit or permission by any other party.
  • Agree that permission may be revoked at any time for any reason.

Changes Coming in the Future

California State Legislature has taken up and is considering a number of proposed bills. We highly recommend checking with the local jurisdiction for the latest information.


Notes for recreational drone pilots flying for fun in San Diego

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, however, San Diego has specific restrictions listed below.

Recreational drone operations in San Diego are approved under FAA Part 107 but restricted in San Diego as per local rules. Please check the specific city and 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. For recreational flyers, the FAA does not require you to register or mark a drone which weighs less than 0.55 lbs (250 grams).
  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 California Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

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.

Recreational Drones:
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.


Notes for operating Commercial Drone Services in San Diego

If you have a small unmanned aircraft 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, however, San Diego Drone Laws have specific restrictions listed below.

Commercial drone operations in CA State are approved under the FAA Part 107 but restricted in San Diego as per local rules. 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 Drone License (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 Drone License or 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.

Commercial rules in Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Commercial Drones:
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.)

Research Drones:
Drones may prove a valuable tool for scientific research and surveys. The operation of a drone for research purposes requires approval from the FAA. Before operating a drone for research purposes within a state park, please submit a copy of your FAA authorization to the appropriate State Park District(s). California State Parks requires a scientific collection permit (DPR 65) for any scientific research and surveys within a State Park.

Public Agency Drones:
The FAA requires public entities to obtain a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization (COA) to operate public aircraft. Before operating a drone for governmental purposes within a state park, please submit a copy of your COA to the appropriate State Park District(s).

County of San Diego Department of Parks and Recreation Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) Drone Application

8. Commercial UAS Operations

Operation of non-recreational, non-“model aircraft” UAS for commercial or business purposes (“commercial UAS operation”) must adhere to all requirements of this Administrative Item, not in conflict with this section.

Commercial UAS operation by persons on County Property or on or in County Facilities requires prior written permission from the department or agency of the County that controls the County Property or County Facility.

8.1 Persons requesting to operate a UAS for commercial purposes on County Property or in or on County Facilities must:

  1. Request permission four business days in advance of the expected operation date and time.
  2. Receive written permission to use specific facilities or properties from the County department or agency controlling access to the property.
  3. Provide to the County proof of appropriate insurance coverage.
  4. Provide proof of compliance with all the requirements of 14 CFR Title 14 Part 107 Subpart C relating to Remote Pilot Certification.
  5. Agree to comply with all applicable FAA regulations.
  6. Agree to defend, indemnify and hold harmless the County of San Diego from any liabilities, losses, claims or damages resulting from commercial UAS activities on or in County properties.
  7. Agree to maintain a valid permit of access for the duration
    of all operations. All access is granted as “single use” event permission(s) unless otherwise stated by the County department or agency controlling access to the specific County Property.
  8. Not delegate or assign their permission or access to any other party.
  9. Agree that permission may be revoked at any time for any reason.

8.2 County Film Permitting Procedures

Persons or entities desiring to conduct filming on County property must comply with County Film Permitting Procedures as promulgated by the Chief Administrative Officer.


Useful published information on flying drones in San Diego

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 San Diego 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.


Traveling with a Drone?

Click here to read our Comprehensive Guide For Traveling With A Drone



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The content on this site (The latest Drone Laws/Drone Regulations) is collated by volunteers from public general information. This material is not presented as legal advice of any kind, and we cannot guarantee that the information is accurate, complete, or up-to-date. Do not substitute the information you find here for legal advice from a licensed attorney who is authorized to practice in the jurisdiction. When in doubt, contact the local aviation authority responsible for drone safety, utilize a licensed drone service operator, and/or consult a qualified attorney.

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