Sky lanterns: Why they’re on the BSA’s no-fly list

Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane …

It’s a floating ball of fire and fuel that could destroy acres of farmland or forest in a massive wildfire!

It’s a sky lantern — also known as a paper, floating, or Chinese lantern. Consider it a miniature, unmanned hot-air balloon.

Seeing several fill the night sky surely must be something to behold. (I’ve never seen them in person, but I did watch the Disney movie Tangled, so does that count?)

Beautiful as they may be, though, these tiny flame-mobiles have no place in Scouting, according to a new Health and Safety alert. Here’s why: 

Fires must be attended at all times

Letting go of a sky lantern is like leaving camp with a fire still burning in the fire pit. It’s a no-no.

Here’s what the BSA says:

Some units requesting to launch sky lanterns have been denied permission by local fire officials or other local authorities. Upon review, the release of a sky lantern also has been determined to conflict with fundamental Scouting safety principles that relate to fire management, in particular the Firem’n Chit certification and Unit Fireguard Chart, both of which require fires to be attended at all times.

Any damages could be your responsibility

Whether it’s a farm animal who eats the lantern remains and becomes sick or a fire that destroys part of someone’s property, any damage caused by a sky lantern could come out of your pocket.

The BSA notes:

Unfortunately, whoever launches the sky lantern and their chartered organization can be held financially responsible for damages caused. For this reason, the use of sky lanterns should not be a part of any Scouting activity. If you have any questions about how fires should be handled in your area, we suggest Scouts and leaders contact their local fire authority when planning an event.

What do you think?

What are some ways to create magical outdoor moments at night without sky lanterns? Share your ideas below.


    • Here in Nevada we had hundreds of them lit and released on a dry lake. Seems ok right? Wrong when they came down they didn’t burn up anything. After bus loads of people were done they just left them there. Miles of trash just left for some good people to come and clean up their mess. I think most are still there. This was two weeks ago.

      • Lynda, is there any way that local Scout troops could volunteer and clear those lanterns out? Some local press about the clean up might also serve as a reminder to those that are letting them off that they need to be disposed of afterwards.

  1. As a scouter i am really surprised this question came up? Seems to go against everything we believe as we follow the outdoor code and the principles of leave no trace.

  2. Who would think this a good idea. Common sense…which is not always so common…would dictate this is not such a good idea!

  3. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the idea….as long as you have a big field and it’s not too windy so you can track it. Looks like fun!

  4. As a firefighter I can tell you there is no such thing as common sense, we like to call it good sense. Those without it, we call job security.

  5. Totally agree with the policy. I saw these used to celebrate a wedding I attended in Germany and my immediate reaction was that they were realy portable forest fires and I said so (it was a very forested area of the country). Germany has since then acted to make them illegal.

  6. Here in Montana, the weather is just now taking the smoke from the air from all of our forest fires. I have never heard of something as foolish as these .. LVIMs (I love that description).

  7. Ever since I saw Tangled, I’ve been looking for these. They look like a lot of fun, but I can see how they could be dangerous. In the Pacific Northwest, any winter-time launch would have a VERY low risk of forest fire (everything is soaking wet), but it would still be littering. Helium balloons are no good for the same reason. Pity.

  8. I understand the concerns and I agree. However, I did get to see a couple of them when attending an outdoor theatre. So pretty!

  9. We had some released at a Conference youth church event, launched them right over Lake Erie…..I thought “these people are nuts” My first thought was the poor fish or birds are going to get ahold of them, or they are going to land on the on of the islands and start a fire.

  10. It’s all in how you use them. We use a fishing pole and tie the line to the lantern. Of course, it is in an open grassy area with a water bucket handy and no wind. As the lantern is fading, we reel it in.

    Can’t climb a tree–can’t throw a snowball (even at a target), if it’s fun but marginally dangerous–ban it! I can see the time when the only activity allowed in scouting is to go stand in a corner. Everything else the lawyers will jump all over.

    • I agree Frustrated.. at the rate we are going STEM will take over and Scouting will be a virtual game with a purpose executed on a computer.
      No camp fires, singing may cause a sore throat, camping in the rain may get some one a cold, and god for bid we use a knife and ax.
      this is a bridge too far. We launch these Candle lanterns on New years each year. the little tea candle light burns out and is cold within minutes and by the time it hits the ground it is out.
      I like the idea of the fishing pole or tether if we are concerned about where they end up.
      Green Bar Bill is tossing in his grave that we are turning into the YMCA.

    • Once again here comes National to the rescue in their never ending search to be FUN KILLERS. Forget that we as adults would be supervising obviously we don’t have the common sense to know not to do this in a dried out Yosemite. It is getting to the point that anything out of the purveyance of nationals lawyers will be verboten. These type of NO YOU CAN”T articles are ANNOYING and demeaning to most logical adults. For those of you in the PC crowd go ahead and put this in your I am a self righteous know it all file and please don’r invite me to any of your sanitized outings with 1000 count anti bacterial handy wipes.

  11. I was running a Webelos Woods once on behalf of the OA, and a den asked to light a few sky lanterns. I said no, my adviser backed me up… and then they went and lit one anyway. Boy, was my adviser ticked off…

    • An example should havebeen made of the den at the closing ceremony – make an impression on the other scouts about the OBEDIENT part of the Scout Law. They should have been the last group to depart, and been put on campsite cleanup,

      • Don’t punish the Den, talk to the leaders. Tell them that they have violated the outdoor code (“Be careful with fire”) and if they do it again, they will no longer be BSA leaders. Let the council know. The council pays for the insurance.

  12. I have to wonder how this is even a question. Yes, they ARE pretty but we’re supposed to be teaching boys to think through the consequences of their actions.

  13. This things are a very bad idea. At lthe least we are dumping trash in random locations, at the most starting fires. I can’t imagine there would be any question about BSA’s stance on this, frankly I’d be shocked to lean that this is legal.

  14. While I totally agree with the ban by BSA, the sky lantern won’t start to decend until the fire goes out. It may not be as dangerous as it is made out to be. As a firefighter it seems very risky to release an open fire an let it fly were the winds may take it. I object to the litter that will be left behind once it lands.

  15. a glow stick in a balloon on the end of a fishing line is just as pretty and can be reeled back in after the campfire is over. Think outside the box as Scouters it’s part of our job to model for the youth of today so they can lead tomorrow

  16. KIds across the street tried it out and set the willow oak on fire in their front yard. Bunch of fire trucks and police cars and I slept through it all. Why can’t I sleep at camp?

    • I just wonder what would cause the balloon to rise…the heat from the tea light is what causes sky lanterns to rise.

  17. I understand the concern with sky lanterns and agree with the policy. However, in cases like this it would be helpful if the article could offer some BSA approved alternatives? Maybe something with a small LED light instead of a candle??

  18. I made one of these while living in London for Grad School. I used a dry cleaner bag with a flammable ball of tissue. It finally went out over North London but it was also winter and everything was soaking wet on the ground. My bad..

  19. Sky Lanterns have the potential to be dangerous but that is if used incorrectly. Obviously you should not use them in a dense forest area but I see no reason why we cannot use them in a big open field. I seen them used for grad parties and have even done them a few times myself. Until I see huge news stories about how paper lanterns are causing huge fires, I will continue to like and enjoy them. They haven’t even been causing massive problems so far! That’s just my opinion

  20. I can understand a ban on Sky Lanterns, but I am having trouble with the reasoning behind the ban. Sky Lanterns burn a candle inside a cloth or plastic bag. When the candle burns out the bag comes back to earth. That would cause polution and would be a good reason, or, a mass of Sky Lanterns could cause trouple for air traffic, another good reason. But Sky Lanterns have been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years, and I don’t know of any cases of forest fires, or houses burning down because of them. I have not seen or even heard of any cases of this happening. If it has, I would like to hear about it, but to have so many people stating fact that is not fact is a danger in itself.

  21. I’ve seen plenty of these things and can tell you they don’t always rise to a cruising altitude. At times they tangle in power lines, trees, catch on roof lines etc. Don’t believe me? Look up some video on YouTube. Depending on the wind they can hit a structure on the way up. I agree its the same as leaving a campfire unattended. You have no control over it once it leaves your hands and if they do get some altitude they can cover quite a distance. First time I saw them I thought “wow, cool” then half a second later I was thinking “wow, glad I’m not down wind of these things”.

    Just don’t see the value that makes it worth the risk.

  22. OK, I understand releasing the sky lanterns, lit, then they fall to earth and become trash and potentially a fire hazard. So the fishing pole makes senses, as the fire is now tended and that doesn’t violate the Firem’n Chit or Unit Fireguard Chart rules. As the device is retrieved, there is no trash so it is “Leave No Trace”. Done in the right area, a large field, etc (with the owners permission) with appropriate fire buckets on hand, then I think you’re with in the rules. However, what amazed me in this discussion was the lack of alternatives. Why launch sky lanterns to light up the night sky, when God has already done that for us with the stars and the moon? So, instead of sky lanterns pull out a telescope and star chart and teach your Scouts some astonomy. Maybe even help them complete First Class Requirement #1. Demonstrate how to find directions during the day and at night without using a compass. Can they find the North star? Are your Star, Life or Eagle Scouts who already fulfilled this requirement or earned the Astronomy MB still proficient? Star gazing, sounds like a good “Leave No Trace” alternative to me, especially when you get awaya from the city lights, so why add more man made light pollution while camping?

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