Chinese lanterns

We do not endorse the use of flying lanterns but have provided this guidance to help you safely enjoy their use should you choose to do so.

No liability is accepted for any injury, loss or damage that may arise from their use, however caused. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions fully.

Considerations for safe use

Traditional flying lanterns go back thousands of years in both Chinese and Thai celebrations. They are becoming more popular worldwide for celebrating weddings, birthdays, anniversaries or any other special event.

However unexpired sky lanterns can pose a significant fire hazard, and livestock and wildlife on both the land and sea can be harmed by leftover parts from lanterns. The Norfolk sky lantern and balloon release charter encourages businesses, communities, and individuals to sign up and switch to alternative ways of celebrating events, instead of using balloon or lantern releases. There are many alternatives to releasing lanterns such as tree planting, flag flying, or even using giant bubbles!   

Consider the risk of fire caused by incorrect handling, fuel remaining, or changes to the recommended flight or weather conditions.

The lanterns are generally made from paper supported by a wire frame with a holder at the bottom for a solid fuel cell. The paper outer may or may not be fire retardant. Sizes and shapes vary usually 90cm high with a diameter of about 80cm. Flying times suggested by manufacturers vary from 6 minutes up to 20 minutes with heights claimed to be up to 1 mile.

Flying lanterns should always have full safety instructions; further information should also be available from the supplier or manufacturer through their websites. A list of general instructions is also available at the end of this page.

We strongly recommend that guidance provided for safe use and enjoyment is followed at all times.

Whilst lighting and launch are mostly in the control of the user, the actual flight path and end destination is usually not. There is no guarantee that the fuel cell will be completely out and cooled when the lantern eventually descends and any contact with a flammable surface could result in a fire developing.

As well as the user instructions, think about the local area for the launch and the intended flight path. The following list is not complete but highlights some areas that should be avoided for fire safety reasons:

  • Areas of crops
  • Buildings with thatched roofs
  • Areas of dense woodland
  • Areas of heath or bracken, especially in dry conditions

Event organisers subject to the Regulatory Reform (fire safety) Order 2005 must ensure that a suitable and sufficient fire risk assessment has been completed prior to allowing the launch of flying lanterns. They are further advised to check with their insurance providers that the use will not adversely affect their insurance arrangements or if additional insurance cover will be required.

Guidance for the use of flying lanterns

These notes are to aid the risk assessment for the use of flying lanterns however users should always follow the manufacturer's instructions.

  • Only responsible adults should use lanterns
  • Adults should not be under the influence of alcohol or any substance that could affect their level of responsibility
  • Have water or other extinguishing facility available at the launch site, lanterns or clothing may ignite if the correct launch procedures are not followed
  • Keep the launch area clear of flammable materials
  • Children and other observers must maintain a safe distance upwind of the launch area
  • Two adults are required to correctly launch each lantern
  • Do not attempt to launch damaged lanterns, be aware that writing messages on the paper can cause damage
  • Do not smoke whilst handling lanterns
  • Ensure sufficient clearance to avoid obstacles such as trees, power lines or buildings
  • Avoid launching near roads, especially major roads or motorways
  • Avoid crops, especially in dry conditions
  • Avoid areas where confusion may arise with distress signals
  • Do not launch within five miles of any airport
  • Do not launch in wind speeds in excess of 5 mph
  • Check wind direction before launch
  • Be aware of any other local conditions that could affect launch or landing safety such as thatched buildings, crops or dry heathland

Caution! – Steps may vary, refer to the manufacturers instructions

  • Unpack and assemble the components carefully to avoid damage
  • Remove packaging waste from the area
  • Use two adults to launch each lantern
  • Gently pull the centre of the lantern up and start to inflate it by “dropping” to allow the air pressure to inflate. Take care not to damage the paper.
  • Hold the lantern upright and ask the second person to carefully light the fuel cell
  • Support the lantern gently as it inflates fully, it will eventually feel lighter and start to rise
  • Do not attempt to throw the lantern skyward, allow it to rise with support only
  • Do not tie anything to the lantern to as this may cause instability which could lead to the lantern igniting