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Safe Use of Chinese Lanterns; the Do's and Dont's

As the name suggests, Chinese lanterns originated in China, where they’ve been used in traditional
celebrations for thousands of years. A Chinese lantern is a form of lantern or light that is usually made from paper wrapped around a wire frame. Inside there’s solid fuel or a small candle at the bottom of the lantern which is lit
before the lantern is released into the sky. Chinese lanterns, or flying sky lanterns as they’re also known, are increasing in popularity in the UK. Used at celebrations, they’re a substitute for fireworks and light up the night sky. But although the lanterns look pretty when released into the sky, they can cause problems.  

The lanterns come in various shapes and sizes, and are designed to fly from 5-20 minutes in the air. Lit
Chinese lanterns are often used at celebrations such as weddings, birthdays, memorials, anniversaries or other special events, and can create quite a spectacle when they’re released en masse. At celebrations such as weddings they make for beautiful wedding photographs and a spectacular site.  

While lit Chinese lanterns flying in the sky at night do look magical to those down below, there are some
safety issues related to their use. For a start, the use of burning Chinese lanterns has sparked several major false rescue incidents in the UK, wasting a lot of time and money from valuable services. When they’re up in the sky, the lanterns can look like emergency flares, which has caused members of the public to call the emergency services and coastguards to think that people are in distress. Even the coastguard has mistook sky lanterns for flares and raised the alarm.

There is also the major safety problem that once a lantern is in the air, you can’t control where it goes and
you never know where a burning Chinese sky lantern is going to land. Although sky lantern manufacturers are keen to suggest that they are completely safe and will burn out before they land, in reality, that’s not necessarily the case. There have been incidents where Children Have Suffered Burns as the result of a sky lantern falling on them. While some lanterns are made from fire retardant paper, others aren’t, and the outside can catch fire very easily if they’re not handled properly, putting parents and children at risk.

There have been several newsworthy cases where sky lanterns have landed and set fire to buildings,
marquees, farmland or fields full of crops. There’s also a problem with the metal that is mostly used as a frame for the outer part of the lantern to be wrapped around, and farm animals have been harmed by the wire. Farmers have expressed concern over the issue of sky lanterns landing on farmland and are worried that the wire could damage their machinery or even get into animal feed.

Despite the calls from some campaign groups to ban the use of Chinese lanterns, they are still being sold and used widely. If you decide that you’d like to use them at your wedding, then here are some practical guidelines on safety points to keep in mind when using Chinese lanterns to help ensure children and adults are kept safe.


Be careful where you choose to use Chinese lanterns. 

If you’re letting off a large number at once at a large event or celebration, let the emergency services know in advance.

Check the direction of the wind and don’t launch lanterns in wind speeds higher than 5mph.

Ensure that only adults light and launch Chinese lanterns, keeping children well out of the way.  

Ensure you have plenty of water to hand, in case lantern lighting goes wrong.  

Keep the launch area clear of flammable materials.



Set Chinese lanterns off near buildings, especially those with thatched roofs, woodland, farmland or heath
land areas.

Set lanterns off near major roads, motorways or airports.

Set lanterns off in very dry weather, as there’s an increased risk they could land and set fire to something.

Don't be tempted to use lanterns if under the influence of drink or drugs.

Ensure you’re not close to the coast or anywhere where the light in the sky could get mistaken for an emergency

About the Author

William Johnston

Wedding Photography and Advice by Soft Tones Photography

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