A Perfect Environment for a Public Safety Drone – Beach!

I’ve gone on and on about how difficult it can be to fly a drone in a dense environment or anywhere there are trees.

But I heard from my friends at Oak Island Water Rescue in Oak Island, NC and they are getting the maximum benefit out of their drones because they have wide-open sky.

The Chief of Oak Island, Tony Young, shared the following information with me, to share with you.

Tony also sent a video with examples of some drone operations.

1. What percentage of all drone SAR flights have resulted in you finding the missing person or target?

We’ve only had our program for 2 years and we’ve done one “active” search when we knew someone was missing. He was actively avoiding all searchers by swimming and then kayaking away from the expected direction of travel (at night), so we were not successful in finding him.

We have successfully used our drone to locate floats offshore and ensure no one was clinging to them.

Also, we’ve used our drone to warn some kayakers to return to shore in a dangerous situation.

A Perfect Environment For A Public Safety Drone – Beach!

A Perfect Environment For A Public Safety Drone – Beach!

Overall, our success rate is probably quite high 90+%? but we only have the one launch where we didn’t have at least a good indication of where to look.

2. What have been some of your success stories and what made them successful from a UAS POV?

We’ve successfully directed two teenaged kayakers back to the beach when they were approximately 1/2 mile offshore with darkness falling (no lights/no pfds/no cell phones).

We’ve successfully located and surveilled several floats that were pulled out to sea and directed boats to the floats by placing the drone above them. In most cases, the drone negates the need to launch our surf boat and put personnel at risk for a child’s toy.

3. What are some of your unsuccessful flights and why do you think they were unsuccessful?

As stated in #1 above, we were unable to locate a missing person at night. He was reported to be attempting to swim across the inlet to the next barrier island (about 150 yds).

The IR camera on our Mavic Enterprise Dual is not well suited for night searches over water if there are winds raising a mist. We found that everything was virtually the same temperature in those conditions.

Also, keeping good visual contact with the drone (using LAASDON principles) was impossible even with “compliant” strobes. Eventually, we used our search boats as targets to keep us oriented.

4. What advice do you have for other public safety drone pilots to help set the correct expectation for a UAS SAR mission?

READ, TRAIN, READ and TRAIN some more. Don’t expect a drone to do magical things – it’s one more set of eyes for your team and while it’s very useful, it takes a lot of commitment to make it really work. Buy the best IR camera you can afford. If you have pilots (manned aircraft) on your team, utilize them – air sense has to be earned.

Tony also said, “Thank you for keeping us informed. As early adopters of the technology, things are changing so fast, it’s hard to stay abreast. Your emails and website help us get to the important stuff.”

Ah shucks. Thanks, Tony.

If you have success stories or lessons learned to share, contact me here.