Tethered hot-air ballooning and the BSA

Ready to take your pack, troop, team, or crew to new heights?

Schedule a ride in a tethered hot-air balloon. The activity, which previously wasn’t approved, was officially OK’d this week by the BSA’s Health and Safety team.

Notice I said tethered hot-air ballooning — not the kind where you ride for miles like the Wizard of Oz. Unlike traditional hot-air ballooning, the tethered variety uses at least three lines connected to the ground to keep the balloon from moving horizontally. The BSA has set the maximum permitted height at 70 feet.

Now, don’t go buying a balloon and trying this yourself. The balloon must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration, and the pilot must be certified and insured.

Before planning a ride, familiarize yourself with some key requirements:

Tethered hot-air ballooning key requirements

  • Tethered balloon events must comply with all FAA regulations and BSA requirements.
  • A minimum open area of 200 feet by 200 feet clear of all obstructions and overhead power lines, light poles, and fences is necessary for safe inflation.
  • The owner of the property selected as a suitable tether or launch site must grant permission in writing.
  • The balloon must be secured to the ground with tether lines from at least three separate locations on the perimeter of the tether site using poles, trees, or vehicles as attachment points. These attachment points must be capable of supporting several thousand pounds of force.
  • Tether lines must be at least 5/8-inch nylon rope (load strength of 8,800 pounds) and in good condition.
  • Tethered rides may rise to a maximum height of 70 feet.
  • The tether event must occur between the hours of sunrise and sunset (tethers are best completed in the early morning hours, before 10 a.m.).
  • The balloon must be registered with the FAA.
  • The pilot must hold a commercial certification, be properly rated on the aircraft, and must be onboard when passengers are carried. The pilot and balloon must carry insurance in the amount of $1 million, and the BSA must be named as an additional insured on the policy. (This may require additional pre-planning for the event).
  • Waivers must be provided for the passengers and crew in advance of the event.
  • Any age limit will be set at the pilot’s discretion.

For the BSA’s complete guide to tethered hot-air ballooning, click here.


  1. I’ll ask, because I’m sure someone will. What about rappelling out for the free descent for the Climbing merit badge?

    • No commercial balloon pilot will EVER allow anyone to leave the basket while in “flight”, tethered or not. The FAA strictly prohibits this and the sanctions are serious.

      • Actually, that is incorrect. As a licensed pilot, I can tell that it is allowed. I have released skydivers from a balloon before. There are certain procedures to follow, just like you would have to follow in a fixed wing aircraft, that is all.

  2. Interesting that the BSA is requiring only $1 million insurance when they require a $2 million rider for all outside use of BSA facilities!

  3. Sounds like a lot of safe fun!
    Can a lawyer explain how the landowner signature and the insurance rider makes the event safer? Was night time viewing of nature at 70 feet too dangerous to consider?
    The paperwork just might keep our scouts from this exciting, adventurous experience.

    • The FAA regulates that balloons be on the ground between dusk and dawn since they dont have the special lighting that is required on aircraft, so you won’t find many balloons that would tether after dusk

  4. I am a commercial balloon pilot, commercial airline pilot, former District Scout Executive, and former Eagle Scout so have some background in all of this. If anyone has specific questions about ballooning or aviation in general I would be most happy to serve as a resource for you. It is very exciting to have this opportunity open to scouts as it is a safe, fun sport and needs the revitalization that young people can give it. Many of us who got into the sport of ballooning back in the 1970s and 1980s are retiring and not being replaced by younger entrants. There is much to be learned and much to share and I hope people take advantage of the opportunity this presents. As I said, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly if you have questions that I can answer. Capt. Steve Derebey, Roscoe, IL derebey@mac.com

  5. In 2010 I was crew for one of the BSA balloons @ Milan, MI during there annual event. It was the same weekend of THE Big Game of MSU vs UofM football game.

    From what I observed Boy Scouts sure has changed since my son was a Tiger cub back in the mid 80’s. One dad brought a HUGE large screen TV so the boys could watch the game. And there was a huge musical concert after that. Needless to say those 2 things drew more of the boys than the balloons did.

  6. Is this actually new? I’ve been scanning our troop’s photo archive, and there are hot air balloons in photos from a jamboree in the 80s.

    • I think what’s new is the ability of scouts to “ride” in the tethered balloon. I don’t think that has ever been permitted before.


  7. The article failed to mention what the cost of an activity like this might run. I contacted a somewhat local provider and they quoted me a price of about 5100.00 for a three hour set up for use at the District Camporee. Don’t let anyone tell you Scouting is cheap! Not dissing Scouting, but it isn’t cheap.

  8. Dear National,

    Thanks for the baloon rides. I am glat to see you work on a select, small group activity, to fix their needs. Here is my list of needs you need to fix in 2015.

    1. Cub Scout Packs with NRA Rifle Instructors and Range Safety Officers should be able to teach BB shooting.

    2. Cub Scout Packs with US Field Archery Instructors should be able to teach Archery.

    3. Boy Scout Troops with NRA Pistol Instructors should be able to teach Pistol to Scouts in a Troop that are the same age as Venturing.

    4. Attending the National Jamboree at the Summit should also count for Triple/Quad-Crown Award since it is all the same stuff at the same place with the same opportunities to participate. Don’t go advertising Go Big, Get Wild and tell everyone about the place as a High Adventure destination and after they go… say nope, not high adventure enough but you can come back, do it all again in off years and it counts. I also want to note that the guy working in the Air Conditioned Trading post gets credit for the High Adventure Trek at any base? Funny, I knew retail was tough, but never considered it High Adventure. Now it explains the prices at the Jambo. Also… why is going to the Summit for Jambo not High Adventure and you camp outside, cook outside, hike everywhere, etc., but at Sea Base you can sleep in Air Conditioned Dorms, eat in the dining hall, and you get to ride a boat to go fishing? Seems a bit odd.

    Hey… I threw in #4 for my good friends who went and are not being told that Summit for Jambo isn’t high adventure…but if you come back for $800 more… you can get credit for it.

    5. Oh, can we fix the tour planning thing online? Day Tours don’t require Overnight Accomodations and having to constantly fill in N/A is stupid. If you click the Day tour it shouldn’t ask for overnight accomodations.

    I only included that because I just filled out a bunch and it is annoying.

    I am sure a bunch of folks can list other things too. But hey… now we can waste time and money and fill out lots and lots of paperwork in order to have the opportunity in hiring Hot Air Balloons to take Scouts 70 feet in the air. I’m pretty sure the amuzement park in our State has roller coasters more exciting.


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  1. Tethered Hot-Air Ballooning – Fox River District
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