What to know before flying your drone in South Africa (private use)

18 Dec 2017

These days a wedding video isn’t complete without an aerial shot of the venue, but drone flying isn’t reserved for commercial purposes. The average joe can roam the skies with drones like the DJI Spark, but what are the rules?

Regulations apply to private use

If you’re only interested in flying your drone for private use (no commercial interest, outcome or gain), you won’t need to register the drone or obtain any licences, but the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) Part 101 Regulations still apply.

What?

You’re allowed to fly a drone that weighs up to 7 kg, which shouldn’t be a problem as hobby drones only weigh up to about 1.5 kg. Unsurprisingly, the drone may not carry any passengers or transport cargo.

When?

Apart from not being allowed to fly at night, be sure to keep an eye out for bad weather such as strong winds, rain or fog – let your common sense guide you. And in case you were wondering, you’re not allowed to drink and drive/fly.

How high and how far?

You may fly in Restricted Visual Line of Sight (R-VLOS) only, which means that you must always maintain a direct line of sight with the drone.

Max distance: The drone may fly up to 500 m away from the pilot whilst maintaining a direct line of sight.

Max height: The drone may not fly higher than 120 m (400 ft) from the ground and it must stay below the height of the highest obstacle within 300 m of the pilot.

Where?

This is where it gets tricky. In a nutshell, you must keep more than 50 m from people, roads and buildings, and you need explicit permission to fly over other people’s properties.

You must steer clear from (and within 10 km from) airports/aerodromes and respect other people’s privacy by not flying into or over their properties without permission – note that it may constitute trespassing.

There are many more No Fly Zones (NFZ) in South Africa that you need to take note of. Do yourself a favour and look these up – it’s better being safe than sorry. The NFZs include prisons, police stations, crime scenes, courts of law, nuclear power plants, and National Key Points or Strategic installations like the Union Buildings Presidency in Pretoria.

Other prohibited air spaces include restricted (FAR), danger (FAD) and environmental (FAP) areas such as SAN Parks which, in terms of the NEMA Protected Areas Act, state that “it is illegal to fly below 2500 ft above the highest point of any national park, with any aircraft/drone without the express permission of the Management Authority of the particular National Park”. This is because some sightseers use their drones to disturb or chase wild animals. Only drones used for wildlife conservation and research purposes are allowed, subject to special permission.

And no matter how good it looks, remember that you cannot fly your drone in a swarm like Lady Gaga’s Super Bowl drone show. Any hobby drone pilot who fails to adhere to these regulations may receive a 10-year prison sentence or a fine of up to R50 000, or both.

  • The information provided in this article is based on our understanding of the SACAA RPAS regulations and its purpose is to provide helpful information on the subject discussed.
  • This article is not meant to be used without first familiarising yourself with the SACAA Regulations for non-commercial RPA use.
  • Always fact check this interpretation with the SACAA RPA drone regulations to avoid ambiguity, bearing in mind that these regulations are still quite fluid. 
  • The publisher and the author are not responsible for any loss, damage or any legal action taken against the drone operator as a result of the misinterpretation of the regulations by either the drone operator or Outdoorphoto.
  • References are provided for information purposes only.
Anything amiss? Let us know so that we can keep our information accurate and current.

About the Author:

The Outdoorphoto Team

17 Comments

  1. Michelle 23 Feb 2018 at 10:29 am - Reply

    What can we do if our neighbors are flying over our property and taking photos?

    • Ollie Larsen 28 Mar 2018 at 3:56 pm - Reply

      Michelle > Look, you can report them, but I wouldn’t worry about it to be honest. Most drone cameras are absolutely useless compared to a silent DSLR at ground level.
      In order to effectively “spy” on you, they would need to be literally RIGHT outside your bedroom window or JUST above your head.

      Better to check that they’ve not got a normal camera aimed at you from next door. Much more powerful and likely to be intruding on your privacy that way.

    • Daniel 30 May 2018 at 12:36 pm - Reply

      Confront them and if they do it again, the drone is over your property, so do what you want to.

  2. Martin Nel 24 Jun 2018 at 6:14 pm - Reply

    If I want to use my drone on the farm to fly out to farm areas, do I also have to adhere to the regulations of direct line of sight?
    The farm is in the Kalahari of Namibia.
    If the drone has a capability of 7km away from controller, is the drone governed internally to comply with regulations?
    Thanks

    • The Outdoorphoto Team 26 Jun 2018 at 8:50 am - Reply

      Hi Martin

      The best course of action would be to contact the Namibian Civil Aviation Authority at [email protected] and clarify this with them as their RPAS regulations possibly differ from ours. For more information on safe flying zones and Namibia’s drone regulations, please also visit http://www.dca.com.na

      All the best
      The Outdoorphoto Team

  3. Michael Minnie 26 Jun 2018 at 8:36 am - Reply

    Hi there, as a hobbyist can I donate my aerial shots to a person to use on their website? They are not getting any financial gain from the images themselves.

    • The Outdoorphoto Team 26 Jun 2018 at 10:54 am - Reply

      Hi Michael

      You may donate aerial shots for use online providing that those images adhere to the SACAA drone regulations and that you, as the photographer take responsibility for any queries that may arise. Baring this in mind, we recommend crediting you as the photographer.

      Regards
      The Outdoorphoto Team

      • Michael Minnie 26 Jun 2018 at 11:10 am - Reply

        Thank you for the reply, I’ve mailed the SACAA for their input regarding clear regulations on this matter and awaiting their reply.

        I fully agree with you, but a registered CAA drone flight instructor told me that the website is used to promote the company, and therefore they would need a licensed person. I told him I disagree, and he informed me he will explain the law to me.

        I feel that I need not go on his word, but rather legislation, black on white.

        Thanks yet again.

        Warm regards,
        Michael Minnie

        • The Outdoorphoto Team 26 Jun 2018 at 11:52 am - Reply

          Hi Michael

          We’re happy to hear that you’re in conversation with the SACAA. For sound legal advice, we encourage drone pilots to clarify regulations directly with the SACAA and qualified, professional lawyers.

          Please do let us know the outcome on the matter? We’re sure other drone pilots will benefit from this information.

          Regards
          The Outdoorphoto Team

  4. Cedric Piralla 23 Aug 2018 at 3:49 pm - Reply

    After reading the recommendations, I checked the SACAA regulations and noticed that it mentions a maximum height of 150 feet (50m) from the ground. Can you comment?

  5. Brett 30 Aug 2018 at 1:13 pm - Reply

    Hello

    The max-height allowed is not more than 400 feet being 120 meters and not 45 meters or rather 150 feet.

    Download the Hover App to always stay within fly zones. It is awesome to show you where you may and may not fly!

  6. Mark van Wyk 30 Oct 2018 at 2:07 pm - Reply

    This article states the definition of R-VLOS incorrectly.

    Restricted visual line-of-sight* – means an operation within 500 m of the remote pilot and below the height of the highest obstacle within 300 m of the RPA, which the remote pilot maintains direct unaided visual contact with the RPA to manage its flight and meet separation and collision avoidance responsibilities;

    http://www.caa.co.za/Pages/RPAS/Private%20Operations.aspx

  7. matlhatsi ratswana 31 Oct 2018 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    Can i use a drone to capture a wedding without a license or registering the drone?

    • The Outdoorphoto Team
      The Outdoorphoto Team 1 Nov 2018 at 9:52 am - Reply

      Hi Matlhatsi

      If it’s for personal use, you’ll need to register the drone, obtain permission from the property owner and abide by all other RPA Regulations.

      But, once it’s for commercial use, you’ll need to obtain aviation training at an approved training organisation (ATO), and various licences in addition to the above.

      Kind regards
      The Outdoorphoto Team

  8. Dyllin Kyriacou 5 Nov 2018 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the info and links provided. So, I guess my 1-day new 380g quadcopter/drone will have to stay in its box forever as it seems to be a weapon of mass destruction! The salesman at Makro where I bought it from assured me that I would not have any problems and or trespassing any laws/bylaws when flying around in my neighbourhood – I will be going back there tomorrow and demand that in writing. I do live 2km (line of sight) from the Wonderboom Airport. Gone is my exitement.

  9. EJ 11 Dec 2018 at 3:59 am - Reply

    Do these rules apply to travellers of other nationalities?

    • The Outdoorphoto Team 11 Dec 2018 at 10:55 am - Reply

      Hi EJ

      Yes, since the SACAA regulates South African airspace these rules would apply to anyone within the geographic region regardless of nationality.

      Kind regards
      The Outdoorphoto Team

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