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Everything you need to know about registering your drone

A recreational drone is flown above Old Bethpage, N.Y., in August. SkyPan uses drones for aerial photography.
A recreational drone is flown above Old Bethpage, N.Y., in August. SkyPan uses drones for aerial photography.
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Starting Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration started requiring registration of all small unmanned aircraft systems — aka drones — weighing between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds.

"Registration provides us with a key opportunity to teach people about the rules and regulations they have to follow," Ian Gregor, FAA spokesman, said. "We believe it will help them become part of the safety culture that has been deeply embedded in traditional aviation for more than a century.”  

Fail to register your drone and you'll face regulatory and criminal sanctions, with fines up to $250,000, or you could receive up to three years in prison. 

Earlier this year, Air Transport World reported that Richard Swayze of the FAA said that as many as 1 million drones would be sold as Christmas gifts. If you have a drone under your tree already, or open one on Christmas morning, here's your step-by-step guide to registering it before you fly: 

1. Visit the FAA registration website to get started

The registration process requires that the user be at least 13 years old and a U.S. citizen. Registration starts with a first and last name, home address and email address. 

​2. Pay a $5 fee

Registering a drone costs $5, but to get drones registered as quickly as possible, the FAA has made the first 30 days free. After that, you have to pay your $5, and it covers a user for all of the devices he or she owns. Pro tip: Register before midnight Eastern, 9 p.m. Pacific on Jan. 20, 2016 and your $5 fee will be refunded.

3. Get your personal registration number and mark your drone

After completing the online registration process, you will be assigned a personal registration number. Each device that you own must be legibly marked with this number. Permanent marker, engraving or permanent labels are all FAA-approved ways to put your registration number on your devices.

4. Carry your certificate while flying your drone

A certificate that must be printed or electronically saved is also emailed after registration. Gregor said this should be carried while flying drones outside.

There are also some circumstances that may require you to fill out paper registration:

There are also a few reasons why you might have to register by paper in lieu of the online format. If your drone is used for commercial purposes, greater than 55 pounds, intended for use outside of the U.S. or used for anything other than hobby or recreational purposes, it must be registered by paper. 

5. Fly safely

Once registered with your devices marked, you are ready to get your drone in the sky. For safety information, the FAA recommends that you visit Know Before You Fly. The FAA also has an app called B4UFLY to double check if the area you are in is a safe-fly zone.

Own a drone before Dec. 21?

The FAA requires that any drones owned before Dec. 21 must be registered by Feb. 19, 2016.

For more information, visit the FAA's UAS frequently asked questions page.