golden gate bridge drone

No, you cannot fly your drone at the Golden Gate Bridge

During my annual Memorial Day San Francisco Bay cycle with my family, I noticed something a little different as I was getting onto the Golden Gate Bridge from Sausalito.

A sign mounted on a pole in the Marin County parking lot for the Golden Gate Bridge says “Unmanned Aircraft/ Drones: Launching, landing or operating unmanned or remote controlled aircraft/drones is prohibited near the Golden Gate Bridge. Please report all activity to Golden Gate Bridge Dispatch (415) 923-2230.”

What struck me as odd here was just how vague this was. What is “near” the Golden Gate Bridge? Can I fly over it or under it, just not through it? Do I need to stay 5 miles away? Can I fly past it and get a panning shot of the bridge, but not fly over it? Where is the citation number enforcing this? This all seems incredibly vague, especially for someone who might not know that they can check for no fly zones through apps like Kittyhawk or Hover. What’s legal here?

So, I contacted my buddy Jonathan Rupprecht, a lawyer focusing on drones and author of the book “Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them“, to get some answers.

First off, here’s a map of the area,  which is governed by Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is managed by the National Park Service.

golden gate bridge drone national park mapThe National Park Service in August 2014 issued a policy memorandum that prevents launching, landing, or operating unmanned aircraft under 36 CFR 1.5, which essentially gives the National Park Service the authority to impose public use limits such as hours of operations or not walking off the path.

Of course, there is room for exceptions. Purposes such as scientific study, search and rescue operations, fire operations, and law enforcement can operate under written permission from National Park Service administration.

Take a look at the National Park Service’s 2016 Compendium that outlines the reasoning behind the use of discretionary authority as required by Section 1.5.

However, Page 7 outlines  two places in the Golden Gate Recreation area where drones can fly — north of Muir Beach Overlook and in Fort Funston, both of which are in the National Park territory but nowhere near the Golden Gate Bridge.golden gate bridge drone unmanned aircraft rules

And yep, though it is not noted on the sign, there are penalties. Anyone who knowingly and will- fully violates Section 1.5 shall be punished by a fine as provided by law, or by imprisonment for not more than 3 months, or by both. Yikes.

As Rupprecht said, “this all goes to show that it is extremely important to have a drone attorney on your speed dial.” Luckily I did! And you can add him to your speed dial here.

So the sign is not the most clear, but if you do a little more digging, the rules are. Happy flying!



  • Ben says:

    You never answered the question. They can ban take off and landings on public property. However, how can they ban flights when they have no jurisdiction over the airspace?

    • Nathan says:

      Exactly, you can simply launch from a remote location and fly over to the bridge. National parks can only ban the launching, landing, and operating from the park area. Flying through the park area is legal provided you maintain line of sight, don’t fly over people, and follow FAA air space guidelines.

  • Jeremy Mester says:

    Of course now drones are classified as “model air craft” therefore the rules no longer apply!

  • Michael says:

    FFA Model air Craft rules still apply here so can you see your air craft at all times and if not you are not following the rules as a Hobbyist.

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