How to Spot a Drone at Night: Tips to Help You Protect Your Privacy

How to Spot a Drone at Night
Written by Jack Brown

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Drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) use is on the rise both commercially and privately. Like any technology, it comes with both benefits and disadvantages. 

One major benefit of drones is it enables security in public spaces to assess risk within their system by identifying gaps and vulnerabilities which they wouldn’t notice otherwise. It also enhances security operations, in general, serving as a constant patrol from above. 

However, the surveillance access drones provide is also a disadvantage because it can be used as an invasion of privacy. The availability of drones allows private users to use them for surveillance without the consent of the individuals they watch. 

To address this, we have the full rundown of how to spot a drone at night and other times of the day. Our guide will help you avoid any kind of invasion of privacy by being aware of signs that a drone might be watching you. 

The Benefits and Challenges of UAS

How to Spot a Drone at Night

Governments and private companies can benefit greatly from drones. It is used for numerous functions such as:

  • Military training: Provides attacking capability without the need of deploying soldiers. They also provide aerial surveillance and images useful for combat planning. 
  • Logistics: Used for delivering cargo.
  • Research and development: Used to continuously enhance UAS technology. 
  • Civil and commercial use: Aerial image and video is used for surveillance and data collection. 

UAS also assists with disaster relief in case of wildfires and hurricane hunting. It allows for governments to track the progress of these disasters and pinpoint their source without the need of deploying people. 

As beneficial as drones may be, they still pose threats, especially when it comes to privacy. The major safety concerns with drones are:

  • Operators of UAS don’t have the same view as manned aircraft. This makes them vulnerable to collisions with aircraft and objects. 
  • Governments are still scrambling to make laws and regulations for UAS. The technology is fairly new and continues to evolve.
  • Many individuals feel that UAS invade their privacy. They fear that both private and commercial drones could lead to harm due to the level of surveillance it grants the operator. 

Now, UAS technology is so advanced that operators don’t need to hover above to watch you through a window, they can do it from a distance far enough that it’s nearly impossible for you to detect. According to Pew Research, 49% of Americans surveyed feel nervous, angry, or scared if they spot a drone. 

What to Look For When Trying to Spot a Drone

Drones readily available to the public have a few telling signs. If you know these, you can easily detect them. Here is what you need to look out for:


Manufacturers such as DJI and Syma fit their drones with a lighting system. There are two types of lights:

  • Navigation: The light is usually green, red, or white and is used to help operators identify where the drone is as they operate. Some drones change between the colors, so they stand out a little more. It is easier to spot the light at night time due to sunlight overpowering the lights in the daytime. 
  • Anti-collision: This light is easier to spot than navigation because it is usually turned on or rapidly blinks. The color is either red or white and tends to be stronger than the navigation light. So, you can typically spot this even in the day. 

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has made these lights a requirement for all drones, no matter the purpose of use. The lights prevent collision and other mishaps if the drone is flown at night and in dim-lit areas.


Luckily, drones are not completely silent machines. The fan and motor inside the drone make a distinct and loud buzzing sound that is easy to identify.

The newer models of drones are quieter than the previous, but still produce some level of sound. If you notice a small buzzing and are not sure where it is coming from, be sure to look up and around you to see if there is a drone at a distance. The lights on it will help you identify it. 

How to Spot a Drone at Night Through Other Means

It may not be easy to spot a drone by just relying on your hearing and vision, especially if the drones are higher tech and flying further away from your property. Luckily, there is technology you can use to detect drones. 

Drone Detection App

There really is an app for everything today. DeTect Inc. has developed an app that will help you detect drones nearby. The aviation security company has extensive experience in the field, so you can trust the app.

The science behind the app is quite interesting. It detects the Wi-Fi signals sent by the drone and notifies you. As soon as a drone is within half a mile from you and your phone, the app will notify you of its presence, making you aware of the potential intrusion. 

As cool as the app sounds, it does have some drawbacks. It can only detect drones that use Wi-Fi signals, and it isn’t hard for operators to find a drone that doesn’t have Wi-Fi. It also can’t detect drones that use encrypted communication from the drone back to the operator, most DJI drones encrypt communication. 

Regardless, the app is free so it doesn’t hurt to try it out. 

Cameras With Night Vision and Motion Detection

Most homeowners have installed surveillance cameras that come with night vision. If you don’t already have one, you may want to get one if you suspect that you are watched through drones. 

The cameras do more than notify you of intruders. The night vision functionality gives you a chance to see objects at night. This makes it easy for you to spot drones, no matter what time or how low lit an area may be. The light of the drone will be noticeable and so will the body. 

Whether the cameras come with motion detection or you get a separate program to pair with it, the functionality will notify you as soon as motion is detected. So, you will know when the drone is near your home. 

Radio Frequency Analyzers

Radio frequency analyzers use antennas and RF spectrum to receive radio waves and process them. It can be used for UAS detection by picking up radio signals sent by the device to its operator. 

The analyzer also works for drones that use Wi-Fi signals to transmit to operators. For which, it even provides you with a MAC address of the controller and drone. This information can be valuable if you want to locate and potentially prosecute the operator. 

The technology may sound expensive but you can find low-cost options and a smart solution to the problem of spotting drones at night. You can install it at home, ideally in an open space outside. It will work its magic and detect drones when turned on.


Radar detects nearby objects with the help of radio energy. It sends out radio signals and determines the direction and distance of objects based on the reflection of the signal sent out. 

Typically, radars are designed to pick up large objects such as passenger aircraft. However, manufacturers have designed radars specifically to track smaller objects such as UAS. The good thing about radar is that it is accurate and long-range. 

The detection tool can be expensive, depending on which one you opt for, but setup and operation are fairly simple. Just make sure that you aren’t breaking any local laws by installing a radar at home. Check with local administrations to see if it is permitted to install a private radar for drone tracking purposes. 

What to do Once You Know You’re Being Watched 

How to Spot a Drone at Night

Once you know for certain that you are being watched by a drone, you should do the following:

Speak to the Operator

UAS in residential areas are typically used to take aerial photographs of specific locations. If you spot a drone, chances are they aren’t being used maliciously, but are taking a picture of a property or landscape nearby. 

Most UAS operators will be nearby, so try to spot them and speak to them. Don’t just go up to them immediately once you spot them. Wait until they land the drone so they don’t get distracted and risk crashing into an object. You can ask them exactly what they were photographing or making a video of just to verify that it wasn’t you or your property. 

If you can’t spot the operator nearby, then you may have a cause of concern. In such a case, you should report the issue to your local authorities. 

Check Local Laws to Register a Legitimate Complaint

Your city may not have specific laws against drones but they will certainly have laws in place for intrusion of privacy and harassment. Surveillance in this manner would fall under that and therefore, your complaint should, too. 

You can complain about numerous things from the UAS possibly taking unsolicited pictures to the noise disturbance it causes. Do your research and see which laws the operator is breaking to build a strong case. This will make your complaint strong and persuade law enforcement to take action. 

Document Everything

By the time the authorities come chances are the UAS will already be gone. Therefore, you need to note every time it appears, date, time, and possibly record video or take photos of the incidents. 

Most cities require that operators register their drones for both commercial and recreational use. Picture or video evidence could potentially lead to the authorities finding the operator. 

Technology You Can Use to Counter Drones

If a UAS constantly harasses you and the authorities have trouble locating the operator, then you have no option but to take the matter into your own hands. There is technology you can purchase that will help you neutralize the drone. 


Jammers are usually used to block signals such as mobile cellular services in top-secret locations. They emit radiofrequency energy that blocks the signals. You can use one to do the same and block out signals sent from the operator to the UAS. 

By using a jammer, you will prompt the drone to do one of the following:

  • Stop its operations and prompt it to land.
  • It returns to the location marked home in its settings.
  • It falls to the ground.
  • It goes out of control and flies uncontrollably. 

All you need to do is buy an RF jammer and use it when you spot the drone. Keep in mind that jammers aren’t cheap. 

GPS Spoofers

This device is used to confuse the UAS. It alters the GPS coordinates of the aircraft and gives you control of it. Once you have control, you can direct it as you please. Ideally, you would land it so you can turn it into authorities. 

Spoofers like jammers are expensive and should only be used if you are certain that the operator is harassing you. 

Besides these, you also have the option of using a net gun or high-energy lasers to target the drone, but those would damage the drones and aren’t as practical of an option. 

Final Thoughts

With that, we end our guide on how to spot a drone at night. It is actually easier than you think and it doesn’t just stop with you spotting it. You have the right to take measures if you feel that the drone is harassing you or invading your privacy in any way. 

While there may not be a local law against drones and drone activities, surveillance in this manner falls under harassment and privacy invasion laws. So, rest assured because local authorities will help you track the operator down. Let them know before you take the matter into your own hands. 

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About the author

Jack Brown

Jack is the Chief Pilot at bringing experience, expertise and knowledge in this quite new industry. He is a graduate of the Drone/UAV Pilot Training Certificate program and member of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Besides having all the necessary technical knowledge when it comes to drones, Jack and his team love to spend the time outside by the ocean, working on new features and teaching others how to pilot these amazing and exciting new robots.