How to Find a Lost Drone and How to Avoid Losing One

In this article, I will show you how to avoid mistakes that could lead to the loss of your precious drone. If you have lost one, I will describe how to use a series of tools that can help you to find and retrieve it

Over the years I have lost several drones. I have to push them to the limit for reviews and sometimes take significant risks

You will find interesting info in these related articles

If you prefer to watch it as a video, you will find my YouTube article at the end of this one

Mistakes to Avoid

1 – Take Off with a Low Battery Level

Video by Vicvideopic

I had received my new Mini 3 Pro a few days before and I was testing the low-light capabilities, flying well after sunset in very dark conditions

I only had one battery, as the Fly More combo is not yet available where I live

The battery was charging and I wanted to catch the last bit of twilight, so I decided to fire the drone up even though the battery was just above half-level

The drone started with low battery life
The drone started with a low battery life left

The screen recording shows that the aircraft took off with about 15 minutes of flying time, which is very tight

2 – Fly Away before Updating the Home Point

Before taking off, it is suggested to wait a few seconds, so that the Home Point is updated to the correct location

When flying back home the most useful tool is the display of the distance from the home point on the lower left part of the screen

Video by Vicvideopic

Since I knew that I had low battery life, immediately after take-off I started flying toward my target for the first clip, instead of waiting for the satellites to lock

For this reason, the home point was updated a bit further away from my location and this does not help when trying to land the aircraft in very dark conditions, as the best way to retrieve a drone for landing is to have an accurate home point and check the distance of the drone in the lower left part of the screen

After three rapid clips, I started bringing the drone back home. I noticed that Mount Etna was putting up a show right then, and I was very tempted to shoot some spectacular footage. But I decided to behave and bring the done back, as I only had six minutes left

I have never experienced any issues locating my position at this time of night

But with my unit and with the first release of the firmware, everything was extremely dark, and I could not even recognize my house

According to the distance displayed, the drone was supposed to be very close, but I could not see the flashing LEDs, as my home point was not correctly registered and the distances shown were misleading

3 – Wrong Return To Home Altitude

Another mistake to avoid is choosing a very high Return To Home altitude

This value should be set to an altitude just above the surrounding obstacles. If it is set to a very high value, precious battery time will be wasted ascending and then descending

Video by Vicvideopic

Time was running short now and I started to panic a bit. I decided to hit the Return to Home Button to have the drone closer as quickly as possible, but I had not checked the RTH altitude which was set by default to a whopping 100 meters

It took a lot of time to ascend, and come back down, further draining the battery. At this point, I made a last desperate bid to try and bring it back, but the battery was gone and the aircraft landed

How to Find a Lost Drone

1 – Make a Screen Recording

Video by Vicvideopic

A useful way to help retrieve a lost drone is to make a screen recording of the mission, as the file will be saved in the mobile device which remains with you, while the footage shot with the lost drone is not available

The new RC controller with the built-in screen is very handy for that, as long as there is a memory disk inserted

The Record Screen function in the RC controller
The Record Screen function in the RC controller (photo by Vicvideopic)

Slide on the screen with a finger twice downward to access the quick menu and choose screen record. Here is my analysis of the RC controller

If you are using a controller with a remote device, like the RC N1, you can install a screen recording app to do the job.  I suggest always recording each mission just in case

By watching the last seconds of the screen recording I recognized the area so I was aware of the general location. Even in the case of an unknown location, it helps a lot to watch the screen recording together with Google Maps to have a good idea of the position

I knew that the area was a sort of jungle of thorny bushes, pretty scary, but from the very last seconds of footage, I could see that the camera had a clear view, therefore it was not buried deep down

I could also see that there was some tall grass about 5 to 10 meters from the camera, which will help as a reference point

2 – Access the Flight Log

Video by Vicvideopic

DJI Fly can access the log of the flights, even when the aircraft is not connected

Tap on Profile and on the next screen, on More on the bottom left. In the Flight Data Center, each flight is listed

Tap on a mission for the route traveled compared to the Home Point, on a regular map, or on a satellite one

At the first light of day, I started my rescue mission. The area where the drone had fallen was in a sort of canyon with overgrown, thorny vegetation

It has been very hard to get there because of the very steep terrain with a jungle of thorny bushes. Living dangerously!

3 – Use Find My Drone

Video by Vicvideopic

Find my drone is available even when the drone is not connected

It shows the exact location of the drone on the map. It also shows the position of the remote controller relative to the drone

If the drone is still on with some battery life left, it is possible to get the aircraft to beep and flash, which makes it very easy to find it

But in my case of course the battery was dead. Once I finally managed to access the area, I could easily check the position and the distance of the drone compared to the remote controller that I was carrying

Once I got to about 30 meters (100 feet), the area was covered by very steep thorny bushes, so it took a very long time to make my way through it

But I was able to check my position relative to the aircraft, so I could slowly get closer and closer

I double-checked the last few seconds of the screen recording of the last flight, and the camera had indeed some room around it, so I was confident that it was not buried under the bushes

I could also identify the tall vegetation shown in the very last second of the footage and that helped me to better locate the position

I ended up finding the poor little guy sitting on top of the bushes, he was really scared and happy to see me. Happy ending! 

If You Prefer to Watch This as a Video


I am Vittorio Caramazza, aka Vicvideopic, the founder of this website and author of all the posts. I am a videographer and photographer contributing to several stock agencies. I am an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and Lightroom. I have 10 years of experience with dron videography and photography. I was struck by drone syndrome in 2013. I have owned and tested in depth the following drones: Phantom 3, Phantom 4, Phantom 4 Pro, Mavic 2 Zoom, Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic Mini, Mini 2, Air 2, Air 2s, Autel Evo Nano Plus, Mavic 3, Mini 3 Pro, Mini 3. My home has turned into a breeding ground for drones. I am the owner of two YouTube channels specializing in Videography and Photography, with a focus on drones My main channel is VicVideopic (in English): My other channel is Drone Mitico, the Italian version.: I am currently based in Sicily (Southern Italy), but I tend to move quite often. After all, this is one of the main benefits of being a digital nomad…

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