If you'd like to explore shipwrecks, perform checks on your own boat, get close to aquatic nature, or take your fishing trips to another level, then you need one of the best underwater drones. Also known as remote operated vehicles, or ROVs, underwater drones are remote-controlled submarines – allowing you to shoot video from below the depths which scuba divers are limited (which is traditionally 40m / 130ft).
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Ten years ago, the camera drone market (literally) took off. The best drones (opens in new tab) are typically designed for aerial use, but could what goes up also go down? Yes – though the best underwater drones not actually the same vehicles. On the face of it, going underwater is easier than flying, so you might wonder why it’s taken nearly a decade for underwater drones to emerge.
The answer is two-fold. In part, they’ve been there all along, with grander sounding titles (and price tags)... Remember the framing story at the beginning of Titanic, in which wreck explorers guide robotic submersibles? That, in essence, is the kind of thing we’re talking about here.
The other reason that ‘underwater drones’ might not have had such immediate commercial appeal to inventive manufacturers is that photographers have had a long-established underwater solution in the form of waterproof and pressure-sealed camera housings. Some, however, would rather not don a scuba suit.
There are clear advantages to a remote presence underwater. You might want to discreetly explore a prospective fishing ground, traverse waters colder or more shark-infested than you’d want to dive into, or perhaps you just don’t want to put down that piña colada. For this and so many reasons, it’s time to 'robot' things up a notch.
Best underwater drones and ROVs(opens in new tab)
Travelling underwater is not a friendly environment for high-frequency radio used for the live video feedback on aerial drones, so the PowerRay is provided with a 70m (230ft) umbilical cable which gently rests behind it as it is propelled by its two horizontal props. The body also features a central vertical thruster to make changing depth a straightforward process which won’t cause tangling of the communication cable.
The depths can be a murky place, even the first few meters, so the Ray adds two dimmable 450 lumen headlights lights to illuminate your subject, which can be captured in 4K (30fps max) or 4,000 x 3,000 pixel stills. With a maximum ISO of 1600, the camera is more than capable in the depths the PowerRay can manage, though the 1/2.3-inch sensor could be bigger in a perfect world. 32 or 64Gb SD storage is provided depending on the version you choose (but you can put your own card in).
There is an PowerRay Explorer which is the basic video shooting drone, and a more expensive PowerRay Wizard edition which adds the PowerSeeker sonar device (which can detect the underwater landscape and use temperature data to identify fishing hotspots), bait dropper and a carry-on friendly travel case and Zeiss VR One Goggles, which provide an alternative means of exploring the depths from the deck.
The latter isn’t just good fun, it makes enjoying the 1080p live feedback easier than on your phone screen on a bright day, although the price differential between the Explorer and Wizard versions is considerable in some stores.(opens in new tab)
Supplied in a nice backpack, not unlike those photographers might use to carry a body and lenses, with a laptop in a separate bay, setting up is reasonably easy – an included towel means you can set the drone down on sharp coastal rocks safely.
On the downside, the protective caps for the 50m or 100m tether cable are easily lost, but otherwise the drone is solidly built and can be thrown into the sea after setup and can easily take a few knocks underwater.
The bright color is easily spotted too. Smart features include depth-lock (like altitude hold on a flying drone), and there is 64Gb storage to record to. The five thrusters make the drone quick to respond – useful as you need to tilt the body up or down to look around.
You can lock the pitch, but the camera (and accompanying 1,200 lumen lights) cannot be separately turned, making this a real pilot’s craft, and fun with it.
The thoughtful app is easily operated, VR compatible, and 4K UHD camera produces great results, with the only complaint really being that in rougher seas the image stabilization could be better. Overall, though, it's a great product, and very competitively priced against others on this list.(opens in new tab)
This is in many respects a smaller version of Chasing’s Gladius Mini. It’s certainly the same striking yellow, and very pleasingly incorporates the maneuverable five-thruster design, which makes it possible to tilt the body (and, by extension, camera) up and down.
If you think that might make it hard to control, worry not – the depth lock feature is retained from its bigger brother too. So how has Chasing sliced the price to below $500/£450?
Firstly the camera is a more modest 1080p, supported by only 250 lumens of light (at shallower depths this shouldn’t be an issue). Secondly the umbilical is significantly shorter, though the surface end is actually a floating Wi-Fi buoy, so you can throw it in the water and, so long as you’re within Wi-Fi range of it (admittedly not far given the water), you have control, maximizing use of the 15m (50ft) tether.
Finally that control is all on-screen using the app, so there is no physical controller unit. That means you’ll need to be cautious of getting water on the touch screen but on the plus side the battery is contained in the drone and is the only element you’ll need to charge and the 720p live feed is ideal for piloting with. For most, this will be all the underwater drone needed , and the app is well featured, even supporting live streaming to social media. This could make a boat trip more fun, or even add educational value to exploring lakeside pools.
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Like its natural namesake, the PowerDolphin skims along the surface, able to see above and below. Piloting is very familiar to aerial drone operators, featuring as it does a phone-ready remote controller with an app which uses your phone as a monitor (this will be very familiar to PowerEgg X users, since it’s the same controller and the same Vision+ 2 app! Available for Android or iOS).
While the craft remains on the surface, propelled forward by two propellers, the 4K camera can be expended on an arm to look an impressive 150 degrees down into the water, or 70 degrees above the surface in much the same way as an aerial drone’s camera gimbal can be tilted. Thanks to being above water, GPS return to home is available.
If you really just want to skim around the surface, you can make do with the PowerDolphin Standard pack, though the PowerDolphin Explorer adds a better remote and 800m range (though it helps to stand a few feet above the surface, say on a boat).
The PowerDolphin Wizard edition is definitely the best value though, including as it does the ‘PowerSeeker’ sonar device, which can be used to map the water bed or look for fish in efficient grid patterns, and a bait dropping box to further push the odds in your favor.(opens in new tab)
This is a real traditionalist's underwater explorer robot, which is not only very capable, but looks the part too (though is not actually quite as big as it might seem on first glance; viewed from above it’s about the size of a letter).
Control is via a generous 300m cable, supplied on a reel, and an iOS or Android app (unless you opt for the Ground Station). There is none of the design elegance of the PowerVision products; this is a device designed not in reference to aerodynamic drones and consumer products, but professional ones.
In order to give it the strength to do a job, the body houses four thrusters, meaning you can get enough force and direction behind the robot arm to lift up to 10Kg objects from beneath the waves. You might choose, for example, to assist environmental projects by lifting debris or litter, or you might fancy beating coastal (metal) detectorists by grabbing valuables before they wash up on the shore.
You can see what you’re doing from the camera, though oddly the focal length is such that the hands itself are too near to be in perfect focus – not to the extent it’ll slow you down, though.
You can also record in 4K UHD onto the camera which provides 1080p live feedback as you explore the depths, illuminated by two 1000 lumen LEDs. ThorRobotics can also provide specially tailored versions with a 'Ground Station,’ or even longer cables.
The Fifish is available as a standard V6 and the V6S which includes the robot arm accessory. On its own, this is a good quality ROV with a 100m maximum depth and tether to match. The controller is very reminiscent of a drone controller, with a space for your phone as a monitor. This is no bad thing in terms of manoeuvrability, and the posture lock (‘hover’) maintains position accurately, but we did wonder why the pad was plain white – a touch too generic? It does have a lock-depth button (like hover), however, which is useful to have easy access to.
In fact many of the features – 4K camera and dual 2000-lumen lights – are more costly elsewhere and this may be the most wallet friendly way to add a robot claw with over 5KG (11lbs) gripping force to your underwater expeditions. This will be ideal for positioning other equipment remotely, or attempting to grip and lift sea-floor discoveries. There is also now a sleek black ‘Expert’ edition of this drone with 6000 lumen lighting and the option of on-shore power for longer missions, and other accessories on offer include sonar sensors. We must admit we liked the option of VR head tracking (the drone ‘looks’ with you) and appreciated that a cable reel was in the bundle.(opens in new tab)
The BW Space Pro might not be the fastest of the drones here, but it is a quality product built with photographers in mind, which is why it is offered with a range of different cameras, including a 6x zoom lens (the benefits of which, in water, are open to debate).
The aperture is, relatively speaking, at the wider end (f/1.5) for underwater drones, which is a noticeable, plus, though some of the manufacturers stability claims are perhaps slightly overstated – the four thrusters make tilting 45-degrees each way possible, but the Gladius Mini does the same with an extra thruster for stability. It’s also worth mentioning that predecessors with similar branding cannot even do the tilt, so be warned if you're searching around for cheaper versions online!
Another plus of the Pro version is AI object-tracking. Still the robot has a sturdy frame which can be thrown into the water from the bank without worry, and subsequent control is via the Dive App (iOS/Android) with depth hold and auto-adjusting lighting (maxing at 1,380 lumens each from both headlights).
Included in the box is a joypad-like remote with a (slightly flimsy) phone clip – optionally a larger mini-tablet grip controller is available too.(opens in new tab)
With an arrangement of four thrusters, which will be very familiar to aerial drone operators, plus two for forward movement, this is an impressive drone. It had some early issues, especially for iOS users, but a software update has solved that. Now it is a great choice for all who want to explore the depths, and the updated model even extended the depth rating to 175m (from 150), with a tether of 200 (656’).
The 4K video looks good, though at 1/2.5-inches the camera doesn’t have the biggest of sensors, but the 160-degree field of view bolstered by 120 degree up/down tilt makes exploration easy and fast.
If it can be described as a downside, this is a smaller drone than some, so while there is an optional grabber arm, there is only a finite amount of power available. That said, the optional accessories offer some exciting possibilities, including a 360˚ sonar and dual-beam laser measuring tool.
Other accessories include a hydrophone and the camera is capable of accepting filters, which is great news for photographers. It’s not cheap, but is well packaged and seems the perfect hybrid between professional functionality and consumer-friendly design.(opens in new tab)
Chasing is a big brand in the ROV world, and the M2 makes it obvious why, with eight corner-mounted thrusters operated from a joypad-style control so piloting though the water is accessible to all.
The built-in camera is an ƒ/1.8 12 megapixel affair with a 1 / 2.3 CMOS and electronic stabilization so the motors shouldn’t disturb your footage. The 152˚ field of view is pretty wide. Video can be caught at 4K 30fps (up to 120fps is available at 1080p) but if you’re keen to capture with a GoPro there is a mount.
There are some exciting accessories for the M2 not least a robotic arm and a powered tether reel, or E-Reel, which will keep the tether out of the way automatically, but also a swappable battery.
If we had a complaint, the lights would be further from the lens and brighter (they're 2 x 2000 lumens), but on the plus side there are accessory rails.(opens in new tab)
While it’s definitely not an underwater drone, the PowerEgg X is worthy of a quick mention in this list since it’s not only one of the best drones (opens in new tab), but is also capable of landing on the water’s surface and flying through a bit of rain and spray.
Not only that, but it hoists a 4K 60fps camera with it, so if your budget will run to it and there is room in your ship’s cabin, you can get yourself a great view of the depths and another from the skies above. Unlike an underwater drone, you’ll likely need to register with your aviation authority to operate this, but it’s a price worth paying.
• Read more: Powervision PowerEgg X drone review (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
If you want a drone to fly from a boat then, for a lot of reasons, this is it. It is completely waterproofed, including the controller, which also has a built in monitor (so no need to get your phone out while on deck). In fact yacht owners have been considered at every step in the Spry’s design; even the return-to-home feature will always target the controller rather than the take off point.
Despite the challenges of the surf, this drone also packs the features which make it a sports drone or, at least, a hybrid; if you’ve got FPV goggles (like FatSharks) you can use them. That does mean analog video for the live preview. That means no digital lag, so ATTI flying is easier to pull off for speed fans, but the live video quality is standard def. GPS and other features are not left out either.
Clearly to be waterproof there is a certain amount of compromise. The camera is (very successfully) electronically stabilized behind a fixed plastic shield, but it does catch some flare and after a surface landing water drops may stick on it. Still it is built around a Sony sensor capable of 12MP stills or video at 4K@30fps down to 720P@240fps (recorded to the on-board memory card).
The drone is a wi-fi hub for the camera, while the remote is a separate one for features like waypoints; that means there are separate apps for changing the camera settings and the controller settings. Somewhat fiddly, but a small price to pay for a very different, very capable drone.(opens in new tab)
If you feel you’d like to get down there with the glories of the deep rather than just pilot a camera then the Trident underwater scooter is the device for you. Built with a sizeable lithium battery to pull you along through the water, and simple controls the S2 builds on the success of their IndieGoGo-launched first generation.
Photographers are not forgotten though; there is a GoPro (opens in new tab) mount on the front so you can record your trip just by screwing on your underwater camera (opens in new tab) in its housing; not only is it nice to be saving on a camera you might well already have, but it’s also nice to know you need only upgrade as you choose.
The Trident is driven simply by squeezing the triggers on each arm – it’s almost too easy, which is why there is both a kids mode and an app which allows you to enable a ‘parent mode’ and remotely monitor your kids while preventing submersion. In normal use it can dive, but if you let go it floats, even with a GoPro attached, which alleviates a few concerns.(opens in new tab)
If you’re looking for a fun gift for play in the bath or fish tank, then this might be just what you need. Weighing not much more than half the average phone, and about the same length, it isn’t on this list to compete with the underwater drones. It is here because kids get jealous, and because sometimes we all just need a bit of fun.
We do appreciate that, like toy indoor drones, it is rechargeable via USB (the sub, anyway; the RC unit, which is splashproof, takes 4 AA cells). The 100mAh battery provides only 20 minutes of play (not whirring continuously), but it does at least receive controls though the shallow depths it is operated at – the transmitter switches between 6 channels and the range is up to 5 meters.
Moocor’s fishing cameras offer an alternative to an underwater drone, sacrificing the control offered by thrusters and joysticks for the significantly lower investment required to dangle a camera below the surface – this should be enough for many, offering a perspective on fishing which you might have only imagined before. Set it up correctly and you’ll see the hook just before the lens.
If your primary purpose is a peek below the surface for fishing, or just interest, then a big advantage to this is a relatively small and light battery – here 4,500mAh – can offer around six hours of power. On the downside, 1280 x 720 resolution, while offering a good view, certainly isn’t up there with 4K or 1080P, so you won’t be able to use the video for professional purposes. We would have also preferred to see a more modern codec for the video file.
See also: Best underwater fishing cameras (opens in new tab)
Choosing an underwater drone
Choosing a drone to explore beneath the surface isn’t the same as picking your ideal aerial drone. While, on the plus side, you’re unlikely to be forced into a weight category by aviation authority regulations, flying drones do have the advantage of travelling through the air, where radio-waves travel relatively freely. Water isn’t a friendly environment for remote control, and certainly not video signals, so you’ll need to work round a tether cable. Ensuring this doesn’t encroach on your video is a skill you’ll need to practice, though of course boat inspections and the like don’t require quite the same caution.
- Fishing: If you’re into fishing, then a drone can help identify a good spot before you cast your line. Some drones also have the option of accessories like sonar detectors which can really boost your catch.
- Tether management: Though a tether is essential if you want to view live video previews from the depths, not every manufacturer supplies a reel – an essential management tool
- Battery life: In general this is notably longer than flying equivalents, but it should be remembered that with a speed of a few knots it’ll take longer to return home (if you have to pull on the tether, there are obviously risks, but it is a fall-back).
- Content storage: How will your drone record video and images? If it uses your phone as a monitor, will the app work and will there be a handy file transfer feature?
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