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Pull the battery out of the drone and set it aside somewhere safe and fireproof because lithium batteries can become unstable when damaged and often burst into flames. Also, the more time that your drone has power applied to it, the more damage will be done.
Great! Now, let’s get on with our article.
So, your drone has crashed into a body of water; a lake, the ocean, a swimming pool perhaps. The type of water does matter. You probably weren’t given a choice, but landing in fresh water is way better than landing in salt water. Salt water is highly corrosive and electrically conductive, so the chances for every kind of harm are a lot higher if you land in the ocean than if you land in a lake.
Let’s talk about the major components and the potential risk:
Main Board and Circuitry
Water is electrically conductive (salt water extremely so). So dipping your drone into water is like creating a thousand little short circuits all over the circuit boards. Sometimes you get lucky and nothing bad happens. Sometimes you blow up some circuitry (the motor speed controllers are extremely vulnerable since they are high-power circuits).
Modern brushless motors, like those on DJI drones, have almost no moving parts. There’s just a single bearing which, if properly cleaned up, might be just fine.
The gimbal assembly has a couple of key rotating parts, including variable resistors which provide feedback on how far the motors have rotated the arms. The number one enemy here is corrosion. If you got it out of the water quickly enough (and got the salt off of it by rinsing in alcohol) you might be ok.
Depending on how deep your drone sinks, and how long it stays, water can force its way into the camera and cause condensation on the lens and the sensor. This could mean that you’ll need a new camera.
The safest thing to do with the battery if it gets more than a quick dunk is to send it to your local electronics disposal center. A battery failure often includes a fire and sometimes an explosion. Having this happen in flight is especially bad.
Next Steps - Same Day - Dont Wait to Dry
Once the battery is removed, the next step is to stop the corrosive action of the water and any salts in it. We recommend rinsing the drone in isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) that you buy at the drug store. Isopropyl alcohol is rather inert chemically and it absorbs water, so everywhere it gets in your drone you will be replacing something bad (water) with something less bad (alcohol).
Next, you need to get the alcohol and remaining water out. This involves disassembling the case and removing the flight controller from its enclosure (if that’s how your drone is built). Then everything goes in a warm dry place, with circulating air.
While you have it disassembled, you also need to check for mechanical damage. Hitting water hard can be almost as bad as hitting the ground. Also, many water landings are really secondary crashes, having hit a tree or something else first.
Spin the motors by hand to make sure that they rotate freely. Do the same with the gimbal components.
When everything is nice and dry, and no longer smells like alcohol, you can put it back together.
What Next - Send it to us for Inspection and Testing - Now