Quite a few drones can be used underwater.
Not only that, they can be used to take beautiful underwater photography and videography as well.
After the news about the boys trapped in a cave in Thailand, I decided to look into drones that could be used underwater to go to places that would be too dangerous or difficult for a diver.
Waterproof consumer UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) are made to be more resistant to water damage. However, these drones are not made for water emersion and propulsion.
Since underwater drones are new to my drone collection, I wanted to use a modest budget to buy one.
But I also did not want a bathtub toy.
This article offers an in-depth buying guide and it reviews the best underwater drones for sale in 2019 to help you make the right choice for your needs and budget.
Let's get started:
Table of the Best Underwater Drones
PowerVision PowerRay Wizard
12MP / 4K
16MP / 4K
ThorRobotics Underwater Drone
8MP / 4K
How does an underwater drone work?
Similar to aerial drones, which have propellers to provide lift so that they can fly, underwater drones have thrusters that rotate to move them in any direction.
Thrusters also are able to hold an underwater drone in position against the movement of the underwater currents as long as the current is not too strong.
There are autonomous drones that can be programmed for an underwater mission and drones that are controlled by an operator. For most of these drones, the controls are meant to be used from a boat or on land.
However, one of the drones that I reviewed is programmable for autonomous trips and it can be controlled by a smartphone app when it is on the water surface.
It also comes with a waterproof remote that allows the operator to get in the water to control it and swim with it while it dives.
Some underwater drones are tethered to the controller. This allows them to go to the end of a tether’s length as their distance range.
There is a different limit to how deep they can dive. The tether helps keep the drone from being lost.
There are wireless drones that can operate without being tied to the controller. Wireless transmission through water is more difficult than through the air, so these wireless underwater drones have a fairly limited range of operations.
They are fun to use in swimming pools. For example, you can set up rings underwater to make a circuit for racing one drone against another and have lots of fun with the kids doing this.
What specifications and features can you expect?
One thing to investigate for drones in this category is the quality of the camera. Find out the resolution of the photos and video footage it can take.
Lighting is also important. Unless you are in parts of the Caribbean or the Greek Islands where the water is crystal clear you will find that it is very dark underwater.
To capture good images, you will want to have bright LED lights on your underwater drone.
Drone range is measured by both distance and depth.
The distance is how far it can go away from the controller. The depth is the limit it can dive.
Water pressure puts limits on the diving depth of some drones because they cannot remain waterproof past certain depths where pressure becomes too high.
How to choose an underwater drone
When deciding on which underwater drone is best for your purposes you will want to consider how deep it can dive and how long it can stay underwater.
You will want to make the decision about whether you want wireless communication for controls.
A tethered drone that uses its cable for communication cannot operate without a cable connection to the controller.
Wireless drones can operate without a control cable; however, you may still want to connect a tether to them for safety and to help retrieve them in case they go out of the communication range or get stuck on something.
What type of operator can benefit from an underwater drone?
Professional uses for underwater drones include exploration, mapping, and surveying.
Underwater drones can go deeper and stay down longer than most divers are able to do. This is one reason why underwater photographers like them.
In my case, I wanted to get shots of things in underwater crevices that a diver cannot normally enter because the spaces are too small.
Top Underwater Drones - Reviews
1. PowerVision PowerRay Wizard - Best Overall
The PowerVision PowerRay Wizard was designed to dive to the depth of up to 98 feet.
I like the range this drone has for underwater photography because its tether is 210-feet long.
Where it is legal to use a drone for fishing, this drone can help find a school of fish that you are looking for with ease. It has a Powerseeker FishFinder feature and a bait drop line to use for attracting fish.
It can be used for underwater treasure hunting. It records 4k ultra-high-definition (UHD) video.
It streams the video image in real-time at 1080p, which you can view using a virtual reality (VR) headset that comes with the drone. This allows going on a first-person view (FPV) voyage that makes it feel like you are a dolphin swimming in the water.
It takes photos with a 12-megapixel resolution. To catch a good shot of a fish swimming by, you can use the five-frames-per-second, burst-photography mode.
- Very nice design that is well made.
- FPV headset included for 3-D VR views.
- Comes with a high-quality fitted case with wheels for easy transport.
- There were a few delays when this company was first starting up, but they have since been sorted out.
2. ROBOSEA BIKI
The ROBOSEA BIKI is at the low-end of the price range (around $500) for this category.
It swims like a fish with its tail moving in the water. It moves at a speed of just over one mile per hour. It operates over a WIFI wireless connection by using an app on a smartphone (IoS or Android).
It can be controlled from up to 164 feet away. The app control only works when the drone is on the water surface, not underwater.
This drone can be pre-programmed to follow a swimming path to a depth of up to 196 feet (60 meters) and then return. It takes 4k ultra-high-definition (UHD) video and 16-megapixel photographs.
These images are recorded but cannot be viewed in real-time because there is no live-video-streaming capability.
The app can be used, when the drone is on the surface, to download the video or photos if the drone is within a distance of fewer than 82 feet.
The download speed over a WIFI wireless connection is 1.2 MB per second. Drone memory storage is 32 GB.
You can also get in the water with this drone and control it from up to 32 feet away by using a waterproof remote control that comes with it. This remote control allows adjustments to the swimming direction, diving, rising, and speed.
The remote can turn the light on and off, send a signal to the drone to take a photo, and can start or stop the video-recording feature.
- Cheaper than most underwater drones.
- Can be operated while in the water.
- Swims very quietly.
- This drone has automatic obstacle avoidance.
- The built-in GPS positioning helps avoid losing the drone.
- App range could be longer.
This underwater drone from ThorRobotics is professional grade.
It is a work horse that is priced toward the lower end of the price range (around $1,000) for this category. It is designed for an underwater scientific researcher.
It reminds me of the kind of underwater robot that you might see on the Discovery Channel shows. It can be used for fishing, marine observations, treasure hunting, and seafloor mapping.
It is controlled from a boat by using the included tether of 98 feet (30 meters). Longer tether lengths are available as accessories. The maximum range is around 328 feet (100 meters). It is limited to a depth of 98 feet (30 meters).
This drone is really a good choice for those that need to map a large undersea area. Treasure hunters frequently use this drone for this purpose.
The drone is dragged under a boat that follows a path in the shape of a grid. The grid is based on the GPS coordinates for each quadrant to provide video images that can be digitally stitched together to create a large image to use as a seafloor map.
The ThorRobotics Underwater Drone records 4k UHD video and broadcasts a live video stream at 1080p resolution back over the tether-cable connection to a built-in monitor on the controller.
The live video stream can be recorded on the boat for as long as desired until the battery charge runs out. The onboard memory storage for the UHD video is 16 GB. It comes with fish-finder capability and a bait drop line to use to release chum in the water to attract fish.
The drone's thrusters can be adjusted in the four directions of right, left, up, and down. Maneuverability is quite good because the thrusters can be adjusted either manually or automatically.
It has a 3-D gyroscope to help the drone hold a stable position. This is really useful in moving water and helps take clear shots from good angles.
There are two LED, 300-lumen, spotlights that provide bright light for video recording even in dark water. It weighs under 10 lbs. (4.2 kg.), which makes it pretty easy to carry around.
In the water, this drone can travel at a speed of about one and a half miles per hour (2.8 kilometers per hour). It has a squirm control to rapidly accelerate to maximum speed when desired. Using this feature helps capture shots of things that swim by.
The rig comes with a hand-cranked, cable-storage wheel to use for easily bringing the drone back on board the boat after a particular voyage is over.
- Everything is pre-assembled so it is ready to run out of the box.
- Excellent controllability.
- Takes steady shots even at close range.
- In rough shallow water, it can be challenging keep it from getting caught on the bottom.
The Titan Professional is designed for diving to great depths. It can handle a dive of up to 492 feet (150 meters).
This is the deepest diving drone in this category.
The company that makes this drone, Geneinno, raised over $250,000 from pre-orders for this model on the crowdfunding site Indigogo.
That amount was over four times what the company requested to make the first production run of these drones. It is now in full production and shipping.
If you want to film at these extraordinary depths this is the only drone of the ones that I reviewed that can withstand the intense water pressure.
The Titan Professional can handle the pressure at a depth that is equivalent to about five stories down. Most recreational scuba divers go down to no more than 130 feet underwater.
To dive deeper than 130 feet requires very expensive diving equipment and using a special gas mixture in your diving tanks. Deep divers need to use decompression chambers after they come back to the surface.
Using this drone allows a recreational diver to capture 8-megapixel photos and take 4k UHD videos of things that they would probably never see when doing a regular dive.
Titan sends a real-time live-video stream in 1080p resolution to the controller via its tether cable. It has color-correction filters to adjust for lighting changes at different water depths and 3,000-lumen super bright LED lights to help take excellent shots.
To move quickly through the water it uses six thrusters. It can stay underwater for up to four hours on one battery charge.
The Titan Professional comes with a water-resistant hard-shell carrying case on rollers, which makes it easy to take it with you wherever you want to go.
- The drone has greatest dive depth in this category.
- Produces high-quality images using special color filters.
- Can record ocean sounds with its built-in hydrophone.
- Higher price than the other models in this list.
My top choice for an underwater drone is the PowerVision PowerRay Wizard.
It has all the functions that I wanted, especially the ability to see the live-video stream while wearing a VR headset. And it is right in the middle of the price range for this category.
The style of this drone, with its smooth curves, reminds me of the submarine from the vintage television show Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Wearing the VR headset while operating this drone is like being the captain of a submarine. It's quite an incredible experience.