They are thought to bring good luck and prosperity, but are causing nothing but nuisance to Coastguards and farmers.

Sky Lanterns, also known as Chinese Lanterns, are thought to bring good luck and prosperity to those releasing them, but concerns have been raised by the maritime authorities of lanterns that have been released near the coast and drifting out to sea, being mistaken for distress flares.

Last year a sighting of a suspected distress flare was investigated between Bexhill and Pevensey, on investigation it was recognised as a Chinese Lantern. All sightings of red flares which are sent up by boats in distress are investigated by local coastguard volunteers. False alarms are a waste of valuable resources which could also put others in danger, for these reasons coastguards ask that anyone releasing lanterns near to the coast alert them beforehand so to avoid any confusion if possible.

With economic cuts everywhere public services such as the coastguard cannot afford to waste resources pursuing false call outs. RoSPA urges everyone using these items to consider their responsibilities in these respects – a quick phone call to the coastguard to advise them you’re going to release Chinese Lanterns could save a lot of time and money.

As lanterns are a relatively recent phenomenon in the UK there is limited evidence of incidents that may have been caused by them. However, they are fast becoming a popular addition to weddings and parties, and in the middle of wedding season and with Bonfire Night fast approaching the number of incidents is likely to increase.

Research has found that high quality lanterns when used according to instructions were generally safe in relation to fire safety, but, there are many poor quality lanterns, which lack sufficient safety and operating instructions. A recent survey carried out by BIS (Department for Business, Innovation and skills) and trading standards services throughout the UK, found incidents where property (e.g. fences, garden furniture, roofs, hedges) had been either damaged or destroyed, or the lanterns had caused death or injury to livestock.

Non-biodegradable lanterns often include metal parts which upon descent are discarded into the surrounding countryside. If not noticed by farmers, those parts of the lantern may end up in livestock silage or feed which, when ingested, can cause considerable and sometimes fatal harm to livestock. There have been reports of incidents involving several cows and at least one horse.

At present the department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) do not feel that a ban is necessary but hope that retailers and importers in the UK will take the lead and demand that the lanterns they purchase from manufacturers are 100% biodegradable (no metal wires), that they come with a high quality fuel source; and they have comprehensive operating and safety instructions.

These products are regulated by the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 which is enforced by Trading Standards Services across the UK. For more information about these products, the regulations or safe bonfire night procedures go to or

Phil LeShirley

RoSPA’s product safety adviser

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