Using Drones for Marine Photography

Finding the place for drones in shooting boats for photos and videos.
Boat Drones
SeaHEX is a waterproof, floating drone. Courtesy SeaHEX

We’re boasting two innovations in presenting this month’s content to you, both centered on our cover.

We normally photograph cover boats from a helicopter, but the Malibu M235 gracing this issue’s cover was shot utilizing a drone. These days, using a drone for photography might appear to be a no-brainer, but the fact is the situation needs to be just right for a drone to make sense. The boat needs to be going slow enough so the drone can match speed with the boat so a blur-free still image can be shot. Still images are much more demanding in this regard than video.

Moreover, most new boats don’t look right until they are up and running at 30 or more miles per hour. Such speed delivers a bow-up attitude, ensures the stern isn’t dragging, and shows some of the boat’s bottom. It also adds energy and excitement to the image that one can feel, especially if the viewer is a boater to begin with. But higher speeds can outrun many drones and, at the least, cut down on the amount of time they can remain airborne.


Then there’s the drone pilot. How do we get the shot without including the pilot in the shot? Answer: We need another boat to chase the cover boat, which is not that big of a deal — the expense is similar to that of hiring a helicopter. But we often shoot on the ocean, and even on a calm day, the motion at the speed required makes it difficult to control the drone with precision. If any group can understand the challenge of manipulating a mini-joystick while watching a cellphone screen at planing speed in ocean swells, it’s you, Boating readers.

But for this issue we bring you the stunning Malibu M235. A watersports boat, it shows best doing what it was designed to do: make great wakes and waves for its crew to ride. Wakesurfing happens at a very drone-friendly 11-or-so mph. The photo shoot took place on a lake, the boat’s natural element. And because of the specifics of wakesurfing, we were able to incorporate innovation number two on this cover: showing watersports in action. Unlike tubing, water skiing or wakeboarding, wakesurfing occurs close to the boat’s transom. That allowed us to frame a shot to include both boat and rider at a size where the boat can still be seen in some detail (that’s why we use aerial photography for you in the first place).

See the boat we photographed and filmed by drone!


I’d like to thank Garrett Cortese for spearheading this exciting cover as well as other content in this Watersports Issue. Though Cortese is the editorial director of our parent company’s Watersports Group, he is also now a newly minted member of Boating’s editorial team. He joins Pete McDonald, Jim Hendricks, Randy Vance and a host of other experienced professionals who are privileged to bring you the best boating content on the planet.

Takeaway: Drones are known as UAV:Unmanned Aerial Vehicle and require a license to fly for commercial purposes, such as a BOATING cover shoot. We wonder when boat drones will come on the scene? Will we call them UMV (Unmanned Marine Vehicle)?