The islands of Hawaii are synonymous with paradise. With lush green mountains, pristine beaches, and vibrant marine life, it’s no wonder over 10 million tourists flock here every year.
As drones become more affordable and accessible, aspiring aerial photographers are itching to capture Hawaii’s stunning scenery from above. But before you pack your drone in your suitcase, it’s important to understand Hawaii’s drone laws.
Flying a drone irresponsibly could ruin your vacation with fines or even jail time. However, by educating yourself and flying safely and legally, your drone can take your Hawaiian adventure to new heights!
Federal Drone Laws in Hawaii
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulates airspace across all 50 states. This means drone pilots in Hawaii must follow all applicable FAA rules.
FAA Regulations for Recreational Drone Pilots
The FAA categorizes drone pilots into two groups: recreational and commercial.
Recreational pilots are flying purely for personal enjoyment. They do not need any certification to fly a drone. However, recreational pilots must follow these key FAA guidelines:
- Register drones weighing between 0.55 and 55 lbs with the FAA
- Fly below 400 feet altitude
- Keep drones within line of sight
- Never fly near other aircraft or over groups of people
- Respect airspace restrictions around airports, stadiums, etc.
Additionally, the FAA requires recreational pilots to pass the Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) and carry proof of test passage while flying. TRUST covers fundamental safety practices like avoiding other aircraft and maintaining line of sight.
Passing TRUST is mandatory for recreational pilots and easy to accomplish online at www.faa.gov.
FAA Regulations for Commercial Drone Pilots
Using drones for business purposes is regulated much more strictly than recreational flights. According to the FAA, any drone activity where you accept payment counts as commercial use.
To fly drones commercially in Hawaii, you must:
- Hold a current FAA Remote Pilot Certificate
- Register each drone with the FAA
- Follow all recreational drone rules (fly below 400ft, within line of sight, etc)
Earning a Remote Pilot Certificate involves passing the initial aeronautical knowledge exam. You must then pass a security background check by the TSA and complete recurrent testing every 2 years.
The FAA offers testing centers across Hawaii including Honolulu, Kailua-Kona, Lihue, and Wailuku. You can register for the knowledge exam here.
The Remote Pilot Certificate sets commercial drone pilots apart by ensuring they have the aeronautical knowledge needed to fly safely in the national airspace system. Having this credential is mandatory for all professional drone use like real estate photography, infrastructure inspection, agricultural survey, cinematography, etc.
State Drone Laws in Hawaii
In addition to federal regulations, each state can enact UAS laws to meet local needs. Hawaii has comprehensive statewide drone legislation along with individual laws in some counties and municipalities.
Hawaii’s Statewide Drone Laws
These laws establish several limitations on flying drones in Hawaii:
- No drones over state lands without a permit: Operating a drone over any state lands, beaches, roads, etc requires a permit from the Department of Land and Natural Resources.
- No drones over state waters without a permit: You need a permit from the DLNR before flying over the ocean, bays, harbors belonging to the state.
- No drone harassment: It is illegal to use drones to harass, hunt, or injure another person or animal. Fines up to $500.
- Increased penalties for illegal use: Harsher civil and criminal penalties apply for illegal drone activities like interfering with first responders, drug trafficking, or violating privacy.
- Night flying restrictions: Drones cannot fly between sunset and sunrise without an exemption.
Make sure you understand Hawaii’s tough statewide drone laws before putting your aircraft in the air!
Local Drone Ordinances in Hawaii
Some counties and municipalities in Hawaii have enacted local restrictions on top of the statewide laws:
- Honolulu County: No takeoffs/landings from public parks without a permit. No drone use on public beaches in Waikiki.
- Hawaii County: No drone flights over natural preservation areas. Special rules for drones at beaches like Hapuna Beach State Park.
- Kauai County: Permit required for drone use at county beach parks.
- Maui County: Drone ban over county property like pools, stadiums, and parks. Permit needed for drone use at beaches.
Check the local laws before flying your drone on any island. Some areas even post signs indicating drone restrictions. When in doubt, contact local authorities for clarification.
Where to Fly Drones in Hawaii
Hawaii’s complex web of drone laws begs the question – where can you fly drones? Thankfully, there are plenty of beautiful and legal places to launch your aircraft!
Popular Drone Spots in Hawaii
Taking the proper precautions will allow you to capture stunning drone footage at iconic Hawaiian locales like:
- Kualoa Ranch – Site of Jurassic Park and other blockbusters. Permit required.
- Lanikai Pillbox Trail – Hike to a WWII bunker overlooking the Mokulua Islands.
- Makapu’u Point Lighthouse Trail – Sweeping coastal cliffs and ocean vistas.
- Haleakala Crater – Launch above the clouds to see a lunar-like landscape. Permit required.
- Road to Hana – Waterfalls, beaches, and lush rainforest. Get permits for state park areas.
- Iao Valley State Park – Verdant valley and the iconic Iao Needle rock formation. Permit required.
- Waimea Canyon – Dramatic clifftop views of the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” Permit from DLNR needed.
- Hanalei Bay – Iconic curved bay framed by mountains. No flights over people/property without waivers.
- Manawaiopuna Falls – Stunning 400ft waterfall only accessible by air.
- Mauna Kea – Fly above the clouds and watch the sunset behind Mauna Loa volcano. Permits required.
- Akaka Falls State Park – Capture striking 442ft falls surrounded by rainforest. Permit needed.
- Kilauea Volcano – Survey lava flows meets ocean (safely!) Permits from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park required.
And many more incredible spots! Do your homework to identify legal launch sites near the places you want to photograph.
Where Not to Fly in Hawaii
While drones unlock amazing aerial perspectives, some areas are completely off limits. DO NOT fly drones:
- Near airports or in other protected airspace without FAA authorization
- Over crowds of people or heavy traffic
- Within National Parks like Hawaii Volcanoes without proper permits
- Over military bases, power plants, or other critical infrastructure
- Near wilderness areas or bird sanctuaries that ban aerial vehicles
- Over private property or to peer into windows without owner consent
Flying drones in unauthorized airspace or restricted areas can lead to stiff fines, jail time, and seizure of your aircraft. Respect all off-limit sites and fly responsibly!
Flying Drones Over Hawaii’s People and Property
What rules must drone pilots follow when taking off and landing near people or buildings?
FAA Drone Regulations Over People and Property
The FAA has complex regulations on flying drones over people and private property:
People: Drones pose a hazard if they crash where people are present. So recreational pilots should always avoid flying directly over crowds or dense buildings.
However, as of 2021 commercial pilots can receive FAA approval to fly over people and moving vehicles after proving their drones will not cause injuries if they crash. Drones must have appropriate propeller shrouds, be manufactured to injury standards, pass drop tests, etc.
Most pilots flying in Hawaii airspace have not received FAA approval for “Operations Over People”. So do not take the risk of flying over large crowds unless explicitly cleared by the FAA.
Private property: Landowners own the immediate airspace over their property. You must have permission before flying drones low over private land. Otherwise, stay high enough to lawfully operate in public airspace.
Carefully follow FAA rules to avoid illegal drone use complaints that could ground your Hawaiian vacation!
Hawaii Laws on Flying Drones Over People/Property
Hawaii reinforces federal guidelines with additional state laws:
- Cannot take off/land on private property without permission
- No flights below emergency aircraft like medevac helicopters
- No surveillance or interfering with agricultural operations
- Night flights must avoid shining lights on people/property
- No flights under any covered structure (pavilion, gazebo, etc)
- No landing on beaches with people nearby
As you can see, Hawaiian lawmakers take privacy and public safety seriously. Do not push aerial boundaries without proper consent.
Flying Drones Responsibly Around Hawaii’s Marine Life
From breaching whales to honu (sea turtles), Hawaii’s iconic marine life deserves respect from above.
FAA Regulations on Flying Near Marine Animals
While the FAA does not set specific approach limits for marine wildlife, reckless drone use near animals violates federal harassment laws.
The FAA states: “Do not conduct drone operations that disturb, injure, or damage wildlife such as marine mammals (dolphins, whales), sea turtles, etc.”
So pilots must give adequate space when flying near ocean creatures and never purposely disrupt their natural behavior.
Protecting Whales and Turtles with Hawaii Drone Laws
Hawaii enacted laws shielding sensitive marine animals from drone harassment:
- No drone flights within 100 yards of humpback whales during calving season November-May. Whale watching boats must also keep distance.
- No drone approaches within 50 feet of sea turtles on land or in the water.
These laws aim to prevent drones from disrupting essential humpback breeding activities and endangered turtle nesting. Fines for violations start at $500.
Pilots must also steer clear of Hawaiian monk seals, coral reefs, seabird colonies, and other protected ecosystems per state harassment and wildlife laws.
When in doubt, give ample clearance to Hawaii’s precious marine species!
Final Tips on Safely Flying Drones in the Aloha State
- Always check federal, state, and local laws before flying anywhere new
- Avoid protected habitats like Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge
- Bring physical drone registration credentials in case questioned by officials
- Know that drone laws can change – stay current before each trip to Hawaii
- Take advantage of beautiful legal flight locations like Kualoa Ranch on Oahu
- Fly early to beat crowds – this improves safety and reduces disturbance
- Consider getting drone insurance to cover you if an accident happens
- Fly with respect for Hawaii’s people, culture, and fragile island ecosystem
The spirit of Aloha means living in harmony. By following drone laws, pilots can capture Hawaii’s wonders while protecting its singular beauty and welcoming community.
Fly smart, fly safe, and enjoy the unforgettable views! Just remember – drones and Hawaii are better together when laws come first.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What are the federal drone laws in Hawaii?
A: FAA regulations apply to all drone pilots in Hawaii, including hobbyist and commercial pilots.
Q: What is the Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST)?
A: The TRUST is required by the FAA for hobbyist drone pilots in Hawaii.
Q: Are there state drone laws in Hawaii?
A: Hawaii has one state-wide law concerning the use of drones in the state.
Q: Where can I fly drones in Hawaii?
A: There are popular and approved places to fly drones in Hawaii, but restrictions apply.
Q: What are the restrictions on flying drones in Hawaii?
A: Drones must not be flown over any person not involved in the operation of the drone, and must not be used to photograph or videotape any person or property without their prior written consent.
Q: Do I need a permit to fly a drone over state parks in Hawaii?
A: Yes, a permit is required to fly a drone over state parks in Hawaii.
Q: What are the regulations for flying drones over marine life in Hawaii?
A: The legal approach distance for unmanned aircraft, such as drones, is 100 yards or 300 feet for humpback whales in Hawaii.
Q: What is the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA)?
A: The MMPA is a federal law that protects marine mammals in the United States, including Hawaii.
Q: What is the Endangered Species Act?
A: The Endangered Species Act is a federal law that protects endangered and threatened species in the United States, including Hawaii.
Q: What are the FAA regulations for flying drones in Hawaii?
A: FAA regulations include flying within visual line of sight, staying below 400 feet in altitude, and avoiding restricted airspace.