A drone flies over a ravine as the Alameda County Sheriff's Office demonstrates a search and rescue operation, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in Dublin, Calif.

A drone flies over a ravine as the Alameda County Sheriff's Office demonstrates a search and rescue operation, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015, in Dublin, Calif. Noah Berger/AP

FAA Gets Serious About Drones

If your new Christmas toy outweighs two butter sticks, you need to register it with the feds. Do it now for free.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced today (Dec. 14) that starting next week, all drone owners will have to register their drones to fly them in the US. To encourage owners to register, the process will be free online for the next month, but after Jan. 20, 2016, anyone wanting to fly a drone will have to pay the US government $5 for the privilege.

The FAA announced its recommendations for registering drones last month, having deliberated with a group of lawyers, companies, and organizations with an interest in the drone industry. Just in time for the Christmas rush—which could see up to one million drones sold as presents—the Department of Transportation reviewed the group’s recommendations, and the agency adopted many of the recommendations in its official policy.

Quartz has broken down the FAA’s new regulations so you know what you’ll have to do with your drone:

Who needs to register?

Anyone flying a drone that weighs over 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds—which is pretty much every consumer drone that isn’t a microdrone. Larger drones need to be registered through the mail. The FAA is quick to point out, for any jokers out there, that you don’t need to register your paper airplane, or toy balloon, or frisbee. If you’re unsure how much your drone weighs, the FAA suggests using a kitchen scale to find out. If you don’t have a scale, the FAA has kindly informed us that two sticks of butter weighs slightly less than the lightest drones that have to be registered.

Any drone, whether it’s tethered or not, even if it’s only flown on private property, will need to be registered. And drone owners will need to have their certificate of registration on them when they’re flying, unless they’re flying inside.

Anyone over the age 13 with a drone will have to register, and according to the FAA’s FAQ page, only US citizens will be able to register drones. Those under the age of 13 can still fly drones, however, as long as they’re accompanied by someone over 13.

The FAA said that anyone who currently owns a drone has until Feb. 19, 2016, to register their drone. The penalties for failing to register are quite steep:

Failure to register an aircraft may result in regulatory and criminal sanctions. The FAA may assess civil penalties up to $27,500. Criminal penalties include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.

How do I register?

The FAA has set up an online portal that goes live on Dec. 21. (You can’t submit any registration online before that date.) You’ll have to provide your full name, address and email. You won’t have to include the model of your drone, and each owner that’s registered can fly as many drones as they wish.

According to the FAA, it’s federal law that the agency has to charge something for registration, which is why it’ll cost $5 starting in January. The agency also says that the cash will be spent on the cost of building the registration site. Every three years you’ll have to renew your registration for another $5 each time.

Although registration will be free for the first month, the FAA is still going to require people to put in a credit card number and charge them $5—the agency will then credit them back. It’s not clear why this has to be done.

Once you’ve got your registration number, you’ll have to mark it on any drone you own before flying it. If you sell your drone, you’ll have to make sure you remove your registration number before giving it to the new owner.