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Drone Laws in Washington

drone laws in washington

Even if you are following the strict rules and regulations for drones that have been put in place by the FAA, you may not be following any existing laws and/or rules that are set by the state you are flying in.

 

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This article will give a brief overview of the laws in your state, but we can’t keep cover all the minutae in only a thousand words. That’s why we highly recommend that you do some research on your own time and, ideally, enroll in a professional course if you’re actually looking to get certified. Though there’s lots of options for learning more about drone laws, we highly recommend Drone U. It’s a great way to learn about drone laws and piloting that’s cheaper than most of its competition, requiring you to pay only for the time it actually takes you to complete your chosen courses. Drone U also has a strong focus on community that will put you in touch with other drone experts who know what they’re talking about. And, perhaps most importantly, they keep their content as up-to-date as possible (something which we will also try to do with this article.)

All that said, let’s move on to the important stuff.

 

Flying Over Washington

Because of some serious accidents that happened with drones in Washington, including the crash into the Space Needle crash and the Pride Parade knockout in Seattle, you’re going to have a difficult time finding somewhere to legally fly in Washington.

The Marymoor Park Airfield in Redmond is a legally safe place to fly a drone, but only if your drone is registered with the FAA and you follow the liability and safety rules put forth by the MAR/C Club. You can learn more information on the Marymoor Park Airfield flying space by clicking here.

flying over washington drone laws in washington state

60 Acres, also in Redmond, is located next to the Sammamish River Trail offering up to 25 fields, parking areas, covered picnic areas, and more. It’s 100% legal and safe to fly your drone there, but you will need to check with them about when and where you can fly your drone that day because of other activities and functions that may be going on during particular days.

Unfortunately, it seems that only Seattle is where you want to be for legally flying a drone. Listed below are places and areas where you can legally fly a drone in Seattle:

– Luther Burbank Park
– Lake Sammamish State Park
– Heritage Park
– Mike Wallace Park
– Clyde Beach Park

Otherwise, you can check with the Washington Trails Association for more information on where you can and cannot fly trail wise. They will also be able to give you more information on where you are able to fly outside of major trails, as well.

 

The Registering Process in Washington

registering process in washington drone laws
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that all Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) owners follow strict regulations and laws. You will need to file your name, home address and your email address as a start.

From there, you will receive a Certificate of Aircraft Registration and Proof of Ownership. These will include an identification number for your aircraft. You must have this number displayed on your drone at all times. The number will be valid for up to 3 years.

All aircraft that weighs more than 0.55 pounds, or 250 grams, and less than 55 pounds, or 25 kilograms, must be registered. This also includes any added payloads, such as an onboard camera.

You must be at least 13-years-old in order to register and, effective December 21st, 2015, all newly purchased or made drones must be registered before their first flight. You are able to register through a paper-based process, but you can also do so online by clicking here.

Proximity to Airports in Washington

proximity to airports seattle drone laws in washington
As a general rule of thumb, and in accordance with the law from the FAA, you may not fly within a 5-mile radius of any airport. In 2012 the FAA enacted the Modernization and Reauthorization Act which requires hobbyist drone operators, meaning residential, to contact air traffic control and/or airport management if they are operating within a 5-mile radius of any local airport.

This is enacted nationwide, not only in Washington, under Part 101 of the Act, being Special Rule for Model Aircraft, to ensure that drone operations under unsafe conditions are disapproved before the drone can be launched.

Regardless of the local airport you will be flying near, and possibly breaching airspace, you will need to contact either the airport air traffic control tower or the airport operator.

You will need to establish an agreed-upon operating procedure with airport air traffic or the airport operator and answer a couple of questions. For example, questions relating to how long you are going to be flying for.

 

Unique Drone Laws in Washington

At this time of writing, all of the legal information listed below is deemed as accurate as possible and fully in effect.

Seattle Municipal Code 18.12.265

Motorized Models.

It is unlawful to operate any motorized model aircraft or motorized model watercraft in any park except at places set apart by the Superintendent for such purposes or as authorized by a permit from the Superintendent.

(Ord. 113436 § 17, 1987.)

 

Other Legal Issues With Drones in Washington

There are currently a number of bills in circulation within the state of Washington surrounding drones.

HB 1049 – 2017-18

AN ACT Relating to unmanned aircraft; adding to a new section to chapter 47.68 RCW; adding a new section to chapter 4.24 RCW; and prescribing penalties.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:

NEW SECTION. Sec. 1. A new section is added to chapter 47.68 RCW to read as follows:
It is unlawful for a person to launch an unmanned aircraft in Washington state without specific federal authorization unless the unmanned aircraft is clearly and prominently labeled with the name and phone number of the unmanned aircraft’s owner and operator.
It is unlawful for an operator of an unmanned aircraft to, without specific federal authorization, operate the unmanned aircraft over real property without lawfully owned or occupied by a person, other than a public agency, without the consent of a lawful owner or occupant of the real property.
Subsections (1) and (2) of this section do not apply if the unmanned aircraft is lawfully in the flight path for landing at an airport, airfield, or runway and the unmanned aircraft is lawfully in the process of taking off or landing, pursuant to specific federal authorization.
Any person who operates an unmanned aircraft in violation of subsection (1) or (2) of this section commits a class 2 civil infraction punishable under chapter 7.80 RCW. The penalties provided in RCW 47.68.240 do not apply to this section.

This section may be enforced by any law enforcement officer.

For purposes of this section:

“Law enforcement officer” means any general authority, limited authority, or specially commissioned Washington peace officer or federal peace officer, as those terms are defined in RCW 10.93.020.
“Public agency” has the same meaning as defined in RCW 42.30.020.
“Radio-controlled aircraft” means an aircraft with no human pilot on board that is entirely manually controlled using a handheld radio transmitter and that is not capable of autonomous flight.
“Specific federal authorization” means lawfully permitted under the federal aviation administration modernization and reform act of 2012, P.L. 112-95, as in effect of January 1, 2015, except that “specific federal authorization” does not include operation of an unmanned aircraft as federally authorized under the special rule for model aircraft provided in section 336 of that act.
“Unmanned aircraft” means an aircrafter, other than a radio-controlled aircraft, with no human pilot on board.

NEW SECTION. Sec. 2. A new section is added to chapter 4.24 RCW to read as follows:
Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, a persona who owns or lawfully occupies real property in this state may bring action for trespass against any person, other than a public agency, who operates an unmanned aircraft over the real property if:
The operator of the unmanned aircraft has flown the unmanned aircraft over the property on at least one previous occasion; and
An owner or lawful occupant of the real property has notified the owner or operator of the unmanned aircraft that an owner or lawful occupant of the real property did not want the unmanned aircraft flown over the property.
A person may not bring an action under this section if the unmanned aircraft is lawfully in the flight path for landing at an airport, airfield, or runway and the unmanned aircraft is lawfully in the process of taking off or landing, pursuant to specific federal authorization.
In any action brought under subsection (1) of this section, a person may recover actual damaged or elect to recover, without proof of special damages, five hundred dollars as liquidated damages. A person may be awarded injunctive relief in the action.
This section is not intended to limit the rights and defenses available at common law under a claim of liability for wrongful occupation of real property.
A prevailing plaintiff under this section is entitled to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and legal expenses. These expenses are not confined to the costs allowed under RCW 4.84.010.
For purposes of this section:
“Public agency” has the same meaning as defined in RCW 42.30.020.
“Radio-controlled aircraft” means an aircraft with no human pilot on board that is entirely manually controlled using a handheld radio transmitter and that is not capable of autonomous flight.
“Specific federal authorization” means lawfully permitted under the federal aviation administration modernization and reform act of 2010, P.L. 112-95, as in effect on January 1, 2015, except that “specific federal authorization” does not include operation of an unmanned aircraft as federally authorized under the special rule for model aircraft provided in section 336 of that act.
“Unmanned aircraft” means an aircraft, other than a radio-controlled aircraft, with no human pilot on board.

FREE Part 107 Training Videos

 

HB 1031 – 2017-18

AN ACT Relating to the use of unmanned aerial systems near certain protected marine species; and amending RCW 77.15.740.

BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF WASHINGTON:

Sec. 1. RCW 77.15.740 and 2014 c 48 s 22 are each amended to read as follows:
Except as provided in subsection (2) of this section, it is unlawful to:
(a) Cause a vessel, unmanned aerial system, or other object to approach, in any manner, within two hundred yards as measured in any direction, including vertically, of a southern resident orca whale;
(b) Position a vessel to be in the path of a southern resident orca whale at any point located within four hundred yards of the whale. This includes intercepting a southern resident orca whale by positioning a vessel so that the prevailing wind or water current carries the vessel into the path of the whale at any point located within four hundred yards of the whale;
(c) Fail to disengage the transmission of a vessel that is within two hundred yards of a southern resident orca whale; or
(d) Feed a southern resident orca whale.
A person is exempt from subsection (1) of this section if that person is:
Operating a federal government vessel in the course of his or her official duties, or operating a state, tribal, or local government vessel when engaged in official duties involving law enforcement, search and rescue, or public safety;
(b) Operating a vessel in conjunction with a vessel traffic service established under 33 C.F.R. and following a traffic separation scheme, or complying with a vessel traffic service measure of direction. This also includes support vessels escorting ships in the traffic lanes, such as tug boats;
(c) Engaging in an activity, including scientific research, pursuant to a permit or other authorization from the national marine fisheries service and the department;
(d) Lawfully engaging in a treaty Indian or commercial fishery that is actively setting, retrieving, or closely tending fishing gear;
(e) Conducting vessel operations necessary to avoid an imminent and serious threat to a person, vessel, or the environment, including when necessary for overall safety of navigation and to comply with state and federal navigation requirements; or
(f) Engaging in rescue or clean-up efforts of a beached southern resident orca whale overseen, coordinated, or authorized by a volunteer stranding network.
For the purpose of this section((,)):
“Unmanned aerial system” means an aircraft that is operated without the possibility of human intervention from on or within the aircraft, and any hardware or software associated with its operation; and
(b) “Vessel” includes aircraft while on the surface of the water, and every description of watercraft on the water that is used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on the water. However, “vessel” does not include inner tubes, air mattresses, sailboards, and small rafts, or flotation devices or toys customarily used by swimmers.
(a) A violation of this section is a natural resource infraction punishable under chapter 7.84 RCW and carries a fine of five hundred dollars, not including statutory assessments added pursuant to RCW 3.62.090.37
(b) A person who qualifies for an exemption under subsection (2) of this section may offer that exemption as an affirmative defense, which that person must prove by a preponderance of the evidence.

 

FAQ on Washington Law and Drones

If you do not see your question, or an answer to it, listed below, feel free to get in touch with us and we’ll gladly give you one.

Is a drone/UAS considered the same as a model aircraft?

The United States Congress has defined and concluded that a model aircraft is only considered a drone or a UAS when the following points are met:

– It’s flown for recreational purposes or as a hobby and not for any business or commercial reasons
– It’s flown within visible distance, meaning being able to see it at all times, of the individual operating it
– It’s capable of sustaining flight within the atmosphere, meaning that it can fly

If your model aircraft, regardless of whether or not you acquired it pre-built or built it yourself, meets the above points to your knowledge, it’s considered a drone/UAS.

What is the Small UAS Rule?

The Small UAS Rule requires those who have unmanned aircraft systems, or UAS, that weigh less than 55 pounds, payload included, to register their aircraft with the FAA. This only applies to recreational or hobby fliers and not commercial drone use, however.

Is the FAA’s Small UAS Rule still in effect?

Yes, it has been in effect from August 29th of 2016 and is still in effect at this time of writing.

Do I have to carry my Certificate of Aircraft Registration while flying my UAS at all times?

Yes, you must have the registration certificate from the FAA at all times during flight operation. In accordance with federal law, all UAS operators must show their certificate of registration to any local, state, or federal law enforcement officer when they are asked to do so.

What do I do for registration if my UAS is over the 55-pound limit?

If your UAS weighs more than 55 pounds, including payload, you will need to register it by clicking here.

 

sUAS Service Agreement

Drone Laws in Washington

Knowing the laws, regulations, restrictions, etc., regarding drones in your state is extremely important. Remember to educate yourself, follow the rules, fly safely and responsibly, and have fun!

justin dronethusiast

Justin is a certified Drone Enthusiast with several years experience piloting as many UAV aircraft as he can get his hands on. While shooting footage as a hobby has now become more of a full time job, Justin still enjoys the peaceful feeling of getting a birds eye view while hiking or on vacation with his family. Reach out to Justin by using the Dronethusiast Contact Page or email at dronethusiast@gmail.com.

16 comments

  1. Hello, I’m with Seattle Parks and Recreation, and writing to ask you to correct inaccurate information posted at http://www.dronethusiast.com. Per SMC 18.12.265, flying drones and other model aircraft is legally prohibited in _all_ Seattle parks. Please correct your website to no longer list Alki, Carkeek, Golden Gardens, Green Lake, and Pritchard as places where drones can legally be flown. Thank you!

    • Thanks, Laurie! We have updated our information.

    • Flying a drone by an FAA certified pilot is IN FACT, NOT illegal, when flown above your parks. Congress has specifically stated numerous times that the FAA is the only government agency that can regulate the airspace above our country, not Seattle Parks and Recreation, not Seattle Police, not the Washington Governor, etc.. A recent Federal Appeals Court case (Singer v. City of Newton, MA) affirmed that a city does NOT have the legal authority to regulate drone use in airspace above their city, albeit it was in another District, it sets the precedence for this type of activity. The judge ruled that the city does not have the authority due to Federal Government pre-emption. All it takes is for your city to issue one citation, the offender takes it to court, and you’ll quickly lose the case. Fly safe everyone.

      • I agree with you Derek. The problem is they gt you by Law=fare. Who wants to go to the trouble and expense of fighting them just to prove a point? We need a gofundme account to finance fighting these things.

      • Correct, but they cannot fly from the park. Overflight itself is generally permissible, as long as the intent is limited to that.

  2. What happens if i don’t register a drone before flying?

  3. Hello, I am curious about the contradicting information in your post. You sate a few parks that you can fly legally but then state that it is “legally prohibited to fly in ANY park in WA state. Please clarify as to why these parks are exceptions. Thanks!

  4. PacNW UAV Enthusiast

    Lake Sammamish State Park is in Issaquah, WA, 15 mi west of Seattle.

  5. PacNW UAV Enthusiast

    Err- whoops. LSSP is 15 mi *east* of Seattle.

  6. A security guard politely told me yesterday that operating a drone anywhere in Seattle was illegal unless you have a Seattle Master Film Makers license and permission first. If that’s true it would make it the most strict rules anywhere I’ve ever been. An outright ban. Is there any truth to this?

  7. Can a HOA in WA State ban the use of drones by a licensed commercial sUAS pilot? Is there any precedence for this? I was shooting some real estate photos of common areas like the pool and tennis courts and was told they have a strict no drone policy by a staff member. I didn’t see it posted anywhere and was wondering if there’s any precedence for this. I see other listings for this area with drone images, even some listed by an agent that lives at the community.

  8. In spokane county rural property can a recreational drone be frown over private properties?

  9. Someone was anonymously flying a drone just east of the Montlake Cut and pursued a bald eagle (only for a matter of seconds). They were flying about 20 feet over traveling boat traffic, including myself on a paddle board. I’m curious if all of that is legal. Seemed like poor judgement but wondering if still legal. I could not see was operating the drone.

  10. Potential DroneCustomer

    I really don’t see the purpose of buying a drone when the vast majority of use cases it is illegal to use it.
    It’s pretty much like owning a gun. You have very few and specific places you can fire a gun, and anything else is illegal.
    So I don’t see how a drone market can sustain itself when a thousand people have to gather at the same place with their drone and fly them over the same boring scenery.
    Yeah, that’s cool for a day… then what? It’s a novelty that is totally stifled from any practical use.
    My ideal use case was to follow criminals. Our neighborhood is constantly hit with car prowlers, and nothing would be greater than launching a drone and following this human garbage back to their car and get their plate, or follow them while calling 911 and giving real time update of their exact location. A drone allows YOU to remain safe while following a criminal.
    Just insane that this use is totally illegal.

  11. I have a neighbor who is flying over my property all the time has threatened to run my out cause I am a renter his drone is very small but the noise is quite annoying.
    He is now flying it in the dark and is much lower than his normal 300 ft or so. Anyone have some suggestions how to deal with this?

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