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.

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

  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. Pingback: Sky Lanterns - Oooo Pretty Ball of Fire - Jabbering All Day Long

  7. 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).

  8. 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.

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

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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,

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

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