I found out what happens when you fly a drone over water

All right, I admit it, I’m not the world’s best drone pilot. I always got confused by twin-stick PlayStation controllers, so a twin-stick drone controller was always going to be a worry.

But even though I can now remember which stick moves my DJI Mavic Mini in which direction (with about five seconds of massive mental effort), it didn’t help me much here.

What a beautiful, slow-moving, mirror-like stream (I thought) and what a perfect subject for a little low-level drone flight (I also thought). The birdsong and water-sounds soon gave way to the mad buzzing of the Mini’s little rotors and it all started out so well.

Until I was half way across.

That’s when the Mavic started sinking towards the water. I may have said some words which I can’t repeat here. I manually increased the altitude and carried on, but by the time I reached the other side, only about 20 feet away, the rest of the controls were getting vague, so that I couldn’t move forward and back properly and could only turn. I ended up under some low-hanging branches about three feet above the water on the opposite bank, with a great shot of a very worried man on the other side of the stream saying some very bad things to a controller.

Video: watch my drone horror movie!

So what happened?

On the upside, I did learn that if even a little Mavic Mini gets into an argument with some riverside foliage, it will probably win. So with a bit more altitude and a bit of unintended vegetation trimming, I did get my Mavic Mini back to my side of the stream.

It turns out that I should have switched off the VPS (Vision Positioning System), which would have been confused by the still water and its reflections. I also should have maintained a minimum altitude of 2m (about 6 feet). 

So basically I need (a) more flying time and (b) more research. Because the difference between a PlayStation controller and a drone controller is that if you make a mistake on a PlayStation you just get to restart, but if you make a mistake with a drone, then it’s game over – for good.

DJI Mini 2 vs Mini 3 Pro
DJI Mini 3 Pro vs Autel EVO Nano+

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Rod Lawton

Rod is an independent photography journalist and editor, and a long-standing Digital Camera World contributor, having previously worked as DCW's Group Reviews editor. Before that he has been technique editor on N-Photo, Head of Testing for the photography division and Camera Channel editor on TechRadar, as well as contributing to many other publications. He has been writing about photography technique, photo editing and digital cameras since they first appeared, and before that began his career writing about film photography. He has used and reviewed practically every interchangeable lens camera launched in the past 20 years, from entry-level DSLRs to medium format cameras, together with lenses, tripods, gimbals, light meters, camera bags and more. Rod has his own camera gear blog at fotovolo.com but also writes about photo-editing applications and techniques at lifeafterphotoshop.com