Some simple rules for drone users

Department of Conservation —  31/12/2018

Got a new drone for Christmas?

Did you know the Civil Aviation Authority classify them as an aircraft? This means there are some rules you need to follow. These rules are not there to kill your fun – in fact there are some extremely important reasons behind them that you might be surprised about.

Drones are classed as an aircraft

Legal Facts:

• If you want to fly over publicly owned conservation land for private, commercial or research purposes you need to have authorisation from DOC. This is required under s17ZF of the Conservation Act 1987.

• Local government regulations vary between councils, so don’t assume they will be the same from one part of the country to another.

• You must have permission from the landowner before flying in private land

• There are special rules for flying near airfields and airports. Find out more:

But why do I need a permit from DOC?

Conservation land belongs to all New Zealanders and there are some impacts of drones that we have to think about.

1. Drones really mess with wildlife:

Even though an animal might not appear to be disturbed by your drone, it could be quite stressed. New Zealand native birds evolved with predators attacking from above, so drones naturally freak them out. The noise and shadows/proximity of drones above birds can scare parent birds away from their nest. When DOC recieve a drone concession application, they take into account what wildlife is in the area and if the drone will cause a negative impact on them. If you are granted a permit you still must fly your drone far away from wildlife – that’s at least 50 metres clear of birds, and 150 metres clear of marine mammals.

New Zealand fur seal/kekeno pup at Cape Palliser. Photo Herb Christophers.

Stay 150 metres clear of marine mammals

2. You could be offending Māori cultural values:

Flying and filming/photography over Wahi Tapu (sacred) sites is inappropriate. Part of the DOC drone permit process involves asking hapū and iwi to give their views on the cultural impact. You wouldn’t appreciate someone flying their drone over a place that is sacred to your family – so, getting a permit ensures that you are respecting special cultural places.

3. You could be ruining someone’s holiday:

People go out in nature to enjoy peace and quiet and feel far away from technology. Imagine if you’d just walked 6 hours to the top of a mountain to are finally admiring the view, then someone whips out a loud buzzing drone. Feel the mood and avoid disturbing other’s time in nature.

People go out in nature to enjoy peace and quiet

4. You could be invading someone’s privacy:

Some people don’t want to be filmed. Make sure you get permission before you fly over people or property, whether you have a camera on or not. More on privacy here.

5. You could cause an accident or stop someone from being rescued

Your drone might look harmless but it can have some very serious impacts on safety.

• Other aircraft operating in the airspace are at risk from your drone if you don’t have a permit to be there. This includes emergency service aircraft not being able to take off or land due to unauthorised drones in the area.

• Fire risk, as a result of a crash – the integrity of the drone battery can be compromised after a crash, potentially leading to an explosion and fire. Fires can spread quickly, especially in summer, which can destroy precious habitats and wildlife – and put people in danger.

Drones can pose a risk to safety

So, if you want to use your drone on conservation land – apply for a permit. We are constantly working to make the process easier. Flying your drone with a permit is how we #visitthekiwiway.

Or, leave your drone at home and use your camera and selfie stick to take photos on solid ground. You could even turn off your technology and be present in the moment with nature – it’s great for your wellbeing.

Reporting unauthorised drone use

If you see or experience inappropriate drone use report it to your local DOC office or you can call our emergency hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

14 responses to Some simple rules for drone users

    Chris Sayer 17/01/2019 at 6:42 pm

    I wonder if helicopters interfere with nature?


      Yeah but the helicopters have responsible people flying them. Can’t say the same thing about a lot of the people flying drones.

    Alan Rennie 10/01/2019 at 8:12 pm

    DOC need to disband now, we dont need them, each area is unique in NZ we need proper conservationists who know each area, no Thar in Auckland .

    Mark Cremins 09/01/2019 at 8:02 pm

    my aircraft does not drop 1080 anywhere


      Got any better ideas on how to get rid of all the pests in areas that you can’t get to on foot?


        What part of NZ do hunters not hunt? All of NZ is accessible.!


    Some of us use our drones for fishing only so if councils wish to restrict beaches and have seperate bylaws they must be made available to everyone and added to the airshare map so we know where we can use them.I know I go by the airshare map for no fly zones for my fishing.Also make the DOC info available on airshare Most of us respect the drone laws but is becoming hard to follow everything with so many differant departments trying to make their own regulations . We need all the rules for drones in one place so we know where we stand

      R Stuart Nicholson 08/02/2019 at 8:56 pm

      Using drones for fishing: Presumabluy not as a sport, but to put food on the table for the family. Please tell us, Graeme, how drones are used to maintain sustainable fish resouirces.

    Elise-Maree 05/01/2019 at 4:44 pm

    My thoughts are that all drones should be registered when purchased, no matter where they are purchased. It should be a lot further away from wildlife, especially during breeding seasons. If they fly over your property without your permission you can take them down. This technology can be fantastic for some businesses, such as surf life saving, mapping, etc. It is a minority acting as total morons who are ruining life for other people and wildlife. Lets hope our beautiful albatross have no unfortunate incidents, ever.

      Gerard Stam 08/01/2019 at 2:10 pm

      Elise-Maree Registration will make absolutely no difference.
      Lets face it, cars are registered yet every year they kill and main thousands of people and cause millions of dollars in property damage.
      There is yet to be a single death directly attributable to a civilian drone yet they are vilified.
      Simply put, CAA needs to enforce the rules that are already in place.
      As far as the Conservation Act goes, it was written in 1987 when this technology was not available.
      DOCs reason for requiring a concession are a joke.
      1. Drones really mess with wildlife:
      Bullshit, there has been studies done that disprove this but they were ignored because it does not suit DOCs agenda.
      2. You could be offending Māori cultural values:
      Yup, I’ll give them that one, but those same areas are constantly videoed and photographed by tourists.
      3. You could be ruining someone’s holiday:
      So could someone with a bluetooth boombox hooked to their cellphone, this one is just common courtesy. Most of us don’t want to fly when others are around.
      We just want stunning, unspoiled scenery.
      4. You could be invading someone’s privacy:
      This is not DOCs brief.
      Plus it’s already covered by the privacy act, no different to filming someone with a normal camera or cellphone. There is no legal expectation of privacy in a public place.
      5. You could cause an accident or stop someone from being rescued
      Again I’ll give them that one, as far as rescue aircraft, just mention drone and they will run away home trembling, but a civilian drone as yet has not taken down another aircraft.
      As far as fire risk is concerned, smokers are a far greater fire risk. I can find no information on any model aircraft or drone starting a forest fire.
      As usual many people are afraid of new tech and immediately cry foul when confronted with it.
      Sorry about the rant, i did not intend for it to be this long.

        Elise-Maree 08/01/2019 at 2:19 pm

        Sounds like you are seriously anti DOC. Without them we would be so much worse off.
        I know how hard these people work and strive to take care of our precious endangered species.

        GSVNoFixedAbode 17/01/2019 at 11:15 am

        Agree with that rant. Also (and this goes to CAA regs) there is no distinction between a simple 250g / $100 micro quad with camera, and a 2kg / $3k screaming banshee with gimbals/lenses etc.


        I’d be interested to read the studies that show that drones do not mess with wildlife. Can you please provide references?

      mary magdalene 17/01/2019 at 7:09 pm

      Here, here,
      get a life! leave other people alone while they are on holiday , in nature, anywhere nature,
      go away!
      even the beach ,,really?
      sad day in heaven when your life is soo boring that you have to spy on other peoples lives to enjoy yours
      or twisted