With prices dropping on new drones, enthusiastic amateur pilots are out in force. Hobbyists purchased nearly 2 million of the devices in 2016, and sales could reach 4.3 million by 2020, predicts the Federal Aviation Administration. Add in commercial uses, and the agency says sales could reach 7 million per year by the end of this decade.
You may already be insured
While the fun factor is huge, there’s a side of drone ownership that many new pilots don’t realize: They’ll need insurance.
Given the cost of drones — including a camera, they start at several hundred dollars and run well into the thousands — insurance is great to have in case your equipment crashes and burns or is lost or stolen. Even with a deductible of several hundred dollars, insurance can pay off.
But that’s not all. Drone pilots also can be held responsible for damages if their drone hurts someone or damages property. “[W]ith some models tipping the scales at up to 55 pounds, rogue drones can pose a significant threat to people and property,” points out the Insurance Information Institute (iii), an insurance industry trade organization.
Here’s the good news: If you already have homeowners or renters insurance, your drone may be covered against loss, theft or damage as part of your personal property. (Renters: Your landlord’s insurance will not cover you, so be sure to have an individual renters policy.)
“Many home insurance policies cover personal property and, while there’s an exclusion for aircraft, ‘model or hobby aircraft not designed to fly people or cargo’ are included in the policy, according to a typical homeowners policy from New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co.,” according to Insure.com.
But don’t take our word for it. Policies vary widely, so assume nothing. Read the fine print in your policy and call your agent or insurer if you have doubts or questions.
“Some insurers may exclude drone-related incidents from their policies — and those that don’t do so now may decide to eventually, as the number of drones taking to the skies increases and insurers learn more about the cost of drone-related claims,” according to the New York Times.
What about liability?
There’s a piece of the insurance puzzle that requires extra attention: liability. If your drone veers into someone else’s space, accidentally violating their privacy, or causes an accident in which someone is hurt, you could be sued. Once again, your pre-existing insurance coverage might be of help. According the iii:
The liability portion of your homeowners or renters policy may cover you against lawsuits for bodily injury or property damage that you or family members cause to other people with a drone. It may also cover privacy issues–for example if your drone inadvertently takes pictures or videotapes a neighbor who then sues you. It will not cover any intentional invasion of privacy.
However, even with liability coverage through a homeowners or renters policy, your payout limits may be too low. You may require additional liability protection.
One cost-effective option is to join the Academy of Model Aeronautics. The individual membership includes a general liability policy with a $2.5 million coverage per incident for bodily injury and/or property damage. While adult memberships are $75 a year, youth memberships for those under 19 are free.
This is secondary insurance, which means that it does not start paying until after your homeowners policy limits are exhausted.
Another way to beef up your coverage is to ask an insurance agent about purchasing a separate liability policy.
Two ways you’re not covered
Your homeowners, renters or even separate liability insurance may be of no help in two cases:
- The insurance options described above apply only to people using their drones for fun. If you are using a drone to make money, you’ll need a commercial insurance policy. Even picking up a few bucks as a sideline — photographing for websites or real estate agents, for example — will fall under the “commercial” category and require separate commercial insurance.
- Secondly, liability insurance is meant to cover accidents. If you can be proved to have deliberately caused damage with your drone or to have used it purposefully to spy on someone, your insurer may decline to pay.
Why liability coverage matters
Think you’ll never need liability coverage? Consider just three stories of drone disasters, any of which could create great financial loss for a pilot who does not have liability insurance:
- A drone filming a race in Australia dropped from the sky, hitting triathlete competitor Raija Ogden on the head, she told reporters.
- A toddler lost an eye when a neighbor lost control of his drone in Worcestershire, England, reports FindLaw, the legal website.
- Wedding photographer Davey Orgill accidentally flew his camera drone right smack into the bridegroom’s face during a pre-wedding photo shoot in Wyoming, says this Yahoo account. You can watch the video of the crash (ouch!) at Salt Lake City’s KSL TV.
A different kind of insurance: training
Another way to cover your rear is to learn safe operation of your drone (also called small unmanned aircraft systems, or sUAS), decreasing the chance you’ll stumble into trouble.
- Watch the FAA’s safety video. The agency requires all drone pilots to register. (Cost is $5, and registration must be renewed every three years. Drone owners age 13 and younger must have someone older complete the registration. Drone operators must carry registration proof when piloting a drone.) Read the FAA rules (stay at least five miles away from airports, for example).
- Read the Academy of Model Aeronautics’s safety code and learn the rules of the skies. “What to know before you fly” is an educational course teaching drone operation and use of the airspace.
- Follow the FAA’s eight basic safety rules of the skies:
- Fly at or below 400 feet.
- Keep your UAS within your sight.
- Never fly near other aircraft, especially near airports.
- Never fly over groups of people.
- Never fly over stadiums or sports events.
- Never fly near emergency response efforts such as fires.
- Never fly under the influence.
- Be aware of airspace requirements.
Are you tempted to get in on the action with a new drone? Share your thoughts in comments below or on our Facebook page.