What Are and Who Enforces Drone Laws?

By Hal Simmons •  Updated: 05/01/20 •  8 min read

You have yet to register your drone. You know it’s something you have to do, or at least, you’re pretty sure you have to, but you just haven’t gotten around to it yet. If your drone went under the radar and remained unregistered, what would happen? Who enforces drone laws, anyway?

Drone laws are presented and enforced by the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA. Failing to register your drone could result in serious punishment, including expensive fines and even jail time.

Wait, you can get jailed for not registering your drone? It has happened in some instances, yes. If you’re curious how to register your drone and how often you need to do it, this is the article for you. We’ll talk about all things drone registration here, so keep reading, as you won’t want to miss it!

Which Drones Need to Be Registered?

On this blog, we’ve discussed licensing your drone in-depth. As you may recall from some more recent posts, you need to get your drone license only if you plan on using your UAV for commercial or money-making purposes. If you operate it recreationally, then you’re okay as of now, but this could change. For more details on possible changes go here.

When it comes to drone registration, it’s not so much about commercial vs. casual use. Instead, it comes down to weight.

Any drone that surpasses 0.55 pounds but isn’t quite 55 pounds must be registered with the FAA. Considering that many UAVs touted as being lightweight tend to weigh on average about 11 pounds, it’s almost impossible that you have a drone that’s under 0.55 pounds. If by some rare chance you do, then by all means, skip the drone registration. That just won’t apply to most UAV owners.

How Do I Register My Drone?

Okay, so you know you have to register your drone. The question becomes, how and how much? The FAA allows you to take care of your registration quickly and easily by doing it online, at least in most cases.

To get started, visit the FAADroneZone website. There, you will see two registration links. The first applies to those who meet Part 107 rules and the second is for those under the Exception for Recreational Flyers. Let’s talk more about both these registration types first, then we’ll discuss the exceptions to registering online.

Part 107 Registration

If you’re applying for your registration under Part 107, then your drone must weigh more than 0.55 pounds but no more than 55 pounds. You also need to be 13 years or older to register using FAADroneZone’s website. Under this registration, you’re using your drone recreationally only, so again, you’re not bringing in an income from drone piloting.

You must follow all rules established by the FAA when operating your drone, including letting an airport know if you’re going to be within five miles of them. If you happen to live near an airport (such as five miles away), then you have to formulate a workable deal in the interest of both parties.

You would register your UAV as a modeler under a Part 107 registration.

The Exception for Recreational Flyers Registration 

The other group who can register their drones online falls under The Exception for Recreational Flyers. This is a law that came into being in 2018 under the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018. The Special Rule for Model Aircraft law was repealed to make way for this new one.

Once again, you need to be at least 13 years old to register your drone with the Exception for Recreational Flyers.

As we said before, there are some instances in which you cannot register your drone online. In this case, you’d rely on paper registration for an N-number. Here are the cases in which you’d have to go this route:

Where and When Do Drones Need to Be Registered?

Do you still have more questions about registering your drone? That’s okay. For instance, you may wonder where to register your drone. In almost all cases, you would do this in the country and state you’re living in. There are exceptions, and if there are, then you’d likely need to use an N-number or paper registration per the requirements we covered in the section above.

As for when you should register your drone, the answer to that is the sooner, the better! We’ll talk a little later about what could happen if you fail to register your drone, but it’s nothing good. You don’t want to get yourself in legal trouble unnecessarily.

Before you ever hit the skies then, register your drone. Yes, that’s true even if you’re only trying drone piloting as a hobby and you’re not even sure if you’ll stick with it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

It’s not free to register your drone, but you’re not paying a huge fee. Per the most recent data, you’re charged $5 for registration. It’s not nearly as expensive to register your drone as it is to get your UAV licensed, so there’s no reason to skip doing so.

It’s also quite simple to register. The FAADroneZone website outlines everything you need to do. You only need to use your email address to sign up. Once you’re done, you receive your registration number from the FAA. This is your registration number, not that of your drone. Should you own a collection of drones then, you shouldn’t have to register each one.

Labeling Your Drone

Your drone registration number will always begin with the letters FA followed by a string of eight numbers. While you don’t need a new registration number per drone, you do need to label each of your UAVs before hitting the skies. According to the FAA’s website, you can do this one of three ways.

The first of these is using permanent marker. Any Sharpie or equivalent should work for this. Write clearly and legibly and make sure the tip of the marker isn’t so thick that you can’t read the digits of your registration number.

You can also use a permanent label. We recommend laminating this so the label doesn’t come off if your drone takes a tumble. Use a strong adhesive to keep the label attached.

Your third option is to get the registration number engraved in your drone. We don’t suggest doing this yourself unless you’re very experienced, as the numbers must be clear.

How Often Do Drones Need to Be Registered?

Like your drone license doesn’t last forever, the same applies to your registration. Every three years, you’d have to re-register. During your registration, the FAA requires you to share information on the drone(s) you’re flying (make and model), your mailing and physical address, your credit card, and your email address. Yes, you also have to pay the $5 again.

Once you get your new registration number, remove your old registration label on each drone and replace it with the more current number. For that reason, it’s maybe not the best idea to engrave your UAV unless you’re retiring it within three years.

What Happens If I Don’t Register My Drone? 

Perhaps you think you can skip registering your drone. It’s not that big of a deal, right? It’s just a little eight-digit number. Maybe you meant to register your drone, but life got in the way and you forgot.

In either situation, should you get caught, what would happen? You’d get penalized, either on a regulatory or a criminal level. How bad the punishment would be will likely depend on your criminal background, should one exist. If you earned a civil penalty only, that would mean facing charges as high as $27,500.

If you’re charged on a criminal level, the fines would increase, sometimes as high as $250,000. You’re also at risk of going to jail for your crimes, perhaps even for three years. All that for not taking five minutes and $5 to register your drone.

Are you super likely to be caught if you don’t go out in public with your drone? No. That said, you never know what can happen. If your drone gets in an accident and the other party discovers you’re not registered, that can be all it takes to land you in hot water fast.

We said it before, but it’s worth reiterating: always register your drone. Also, make sure your UAV is labeled, as that’s the only way other drone pilots can know you’re registered.

Who enforces drone laws conclusion

The FAA enforces drone laws, including registering your UAV. It costs $5 for registration, which lasts three years. You can label your drone with a permanent marker, a printed label, or even engraving. Most drone pilots use the FAADroneZone website for registration, but with a heavier drone, you may have to register through a paper form.

Remember, the fines are steep if you’re caught operating an unregistered drone. You could even be imprisoned in some of the worst cases. Registration is for your safety and everyone else’s, so please don’t forego it.

Hal Simmons

When I first started flying drones I was always afraid of damaging my drone. I would always be thinking what if. I questioned myself often and as a result it made me question various aspects of flying drones. In the process I learned a lot. This is why I feel I have a lot of information that will be helpful to beginners and intermediate drone enthusiasts. Of course I still have a lot to learn so join me on this journey and I am sure you will enjoy the adventure ahead of us.