All About Search and Rescue Drones

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Drones fit into the modern world in surprising ways. Initially, drones were the answer to the RC world by offering inexpensive flying alternatives to plane models. Enjoyed by enthusiasts, they quickly grew into multiple industries from photography, video recording, and even racing. But the fast growth of drones has created some fascinating niche areas of use. From security, agriculture, and even industry inspection, they’re fast integrating into the modern world.

One such use for drones is search and rescue. In this field, drones are an incredibly powerful tool which can provide surprising benefits when aiding people in need or assisting in emergency situations. While they’re far from mass adoption and still have a ways to go before they’re practically implemented, search and rescue drones can provide a powerful advantage to users.

How are search and rescue drones helpful?

Drones are typically equipped with video and camera devices for recording, and depending on the model, provide live visual feedback via remote. When performing search and rescue operations, you can imagine trying to locate lost parties from a vertical height is extremely helpful.

Depending on the drone, some are also equipped with different sensors, like thermal imaging. It’s possible to adjust them for night-vision too. Depending on where a lost person might be (such as a forest terrain), the drone can identify them for fast rescue. In other instances, drones are equipped with flotation devices which can be dropped to individuals trapped in deep water.

The major advantage in these scenarios is a drone’s ability to cover wide areas thanks to its flight. This can be much faster (and more accurate) than a traditional search on-foot. Many professional grade drones are equipped for extended flight time, capable of over half-an-hour in the air. While they’ll continue to advance, modern drones can still provide invaluable assistance during critical search and rescue operations.

Who should use search and rescue drones?

Given the seriousness of rescue operations, these drones are best used by experienced pilots and/or rescue operation professionals. Emergency responders have various procedures they employ, and whether or not a drone fits into the model varies.

Additionally, rescues drones are made with industrial standards outside typical enthusiast parameters, meaning they’re often more costly and require expertise to pilot effectively. Entry level drones often come with systems to help automate the flight process, but for search and rescue, they’re less present. This allows the drone to perform more meticulous actions at the cost of increased complexity.

Do I need special tools or equipment?

Typically, no. Search and rescue drones come with everything a pilot needs to operate them. In some rare cases a level of assembly is required, and in rarer cases a drone needs additional equipment like a battery. However, most of our recommendations will include drones with a package of everything (unless otherwise changed by the vendor or manufacturer).

Do search and rescue drones really work?

Yes. There are multiple instances of search drones having successfully discovered missing people in various scenarios. For example, an elderly woman lost herself in a cornfield. Local police expedited to the rescue by utilizing a drone versus heavy foot traffic, locating her within 30 minutes.

DJI also has a great write-up over the numerous instances where drones were able to find lost parties in the wilderness, leading to a fast rescue. With their equipped thermal imagery and great height, finding people is much faster and easier.

What do search and rescue drones cost?

Because of their design, what they’re used for, and professional applications, it’s worth noting rescue drones are at the higher end of price tiers, averaging around the $1K USD mark or higher. This is because they’re typically equipped with high end devices like thermal sensors, HD cameras, and hardware for extended flights. Additionally, search and rescue drones are expected to be utilized by professional teams like firefighters, rescue teams, and law enforcement.

Do I need special certifications?

You will likely already require certifications based on your type of work. As for drones, requirements vary state to state. However, training is recommended, given both the extreme nature of what the drone will be used for and the sensitivity of the device.

Best Search and Rescue Drones

With some basic info out of the way, we’ll list several search and rescue drones fitting different criteria. Note these will vary based on price and type depending on their implementation.

RMUS Fire Drone

A feature powerful drone capable of assisting in containing and fighting fires. This is a professional grade drone designed for experts and should be treated as such.

The RMUS has several features ranging from automated object avoidance, extended flight times, weather resistance, and dual mounts for cameras. Cameras are capable of seeing through smoke with thermal sensors for monitoring wildlife fires and locating missing persons. Can also perform at night.

Comes with an X5S zoom camera and Zenmuse XT2 640×512 30Hz 13mm sensor.

DJI Mavic with Thermal Solution

DJI is no stranger to designing custom drones, and their Mavic series is no exception. This model is designed on the Mavic Pro quadcopter framework, meaning its lightweight and easy to transport.

Its advantage for rescue operations, however, comes with the included thermal sight camera. The Flir 320 video capture system has 10 thermal imaging capabilities and great for identifying lost individuals in daytime/nighttime scenarios.

A side bonus is the DJI Mavic is designed for use out of the box, meaning it requires minimum set up time.

Splash Drone 3 Plus

We’ve actually listed this drone before discussing how drones help with the Coronavirus pandemic. Still, its capabilities are tested and applies to rescue operations as well. This is a waterproof, weather resistant drone most effective at rescue operations conducted near rivers, oceans, or water-based environments. It has several features to help such as deployable floating device, bright orange color scheme for visibility, and LED screen/camera for visibility.

DJI Matrice 210 with the DSLR Pro Dropmaster

In some rescue operations, dropping supplies to endangered parties is important. The Dropmaster Payload Drop System is designed specifically for this, with a payload delivery system that mounts to a DJI Matrice 210 drone and can carry heavier inventory, then drop it where it is needed.

Like the Splash 3, these payloads can range from medical supplies to floating devices. The payloads can weigh up to 40 oz. Best of all, the payload drop system is controlled separately from the drone itself, so that a second person can coordinate dropping the payload without having to also concentrate on maintaining the drone’s flight.


We’ve gone over the many amazing applications drones have in the modern world outside of enthusiast and commercial use. They impact the way we deliver supplies, manage agriculture, and now, even help find people in danger.

Search and rescue drones are slowly finding utilization in emergency and security operations. If you’d like to learn about what else drones can do for you or your business, see our other articles for more information.

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Jeremiah Burnett

What started as a gift for my two sons turned into a major hobby for me! After playing with my sons' quadcopter one winter afternoon, I quickly became obsessed with all things drone. I enjoy precision flying, creating stunning and smooth aerial videos, and taking beautiful photos of my hometown.

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