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.
Just finished my annual Memorial Day SF Bay bike ride with my dad. This year we noticed something a bit different… pic.twitter.com/lvYCAUQfZ3
— Sally French (@TheDroneGirl) May 30, 2016
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.
The 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.
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!