Handheld Lasers

Russel Wilcox's Laser Beacon and David Best's Temple of Joy, 2002 (Photo by DzM)
Russel Wilcox’s Laser Beacon and David Best’s Temple of Joy, 2002 (Photo by DzM)

As of 2015, handheld lasers are not permitted at the annual Burning Man event in Black Rock City. Mounted lasers are only permitted on art pieces, Mutant Vehicles and in theme camps if they comply with specific restrictions.

While lasers are not new to Burning Man, technological advances have made it so even inexpensive, readily-available handheld lasers may be powerful enough to cause permanent injury from distances up to 10 miles away. We’ve seen a significant rise in the number of these lasers in recent years, thus greatly increasing the risk of injury.

Following the 2014 event, a number of BRC employees and volunteers — including Rangers, Pyro team and Burn Control staff — reported feeling unsafe because they were repeatedly flashed by handheld lasers. This was in addition to a tragic incident in which a Black Rock Ranger suffered permanent loss of eyesight as a result of a laser the night of the Man Burn.

As a result, handheld lasers are no longer permitted at the Burning Man event. Do not bring them. Period. This policy is in line with nearly all major festivals and events in the United States and Europe.

Mounted Lasers

As of 2015, all Theme Camp, Art Installation, and DMV Mutant Vehicle applications include the requirement to disclose the presence or inclusion of a laser as part of the project or operation. All relevant applications are forwarded to the Event Safety Officer for review and further communication. Unsafe laser installations will not be permitted to operate.

Mutant Vehicles may use lasers on Saturday night prior to the Man Burn. All lasers must be off when prior to the fire conclave entering the Great Circle. Lasers can begin being used after the perimeter has been released by the Rangers. All approved Mutant Vehicles will have a sticker affixed to the rear of the vehicle. 

If you see a laser you feel is being operated unsafely anywhere, please note the location and other relevant details, and contact a BRC Ranger as soon as you can.

Tips when considering incorporating a laser into your theme camp, art installation, or Mutant Vehicle:

If you are considering using mounted lasers on playa, be sure to follow industry guidelines and remember:

  • Treat laser operations as a serious safety matter.
  • Ensure all operators are sober.
  • Designate someone to monitor the laser to make sure it is operated safely.
  • If your laser operates automatically or without an operator, have someone monitor the system so they can shut it down if necessary.

Guidelines on the safe use of lasers from the International Laser Display Association can be found here:

These guidelines cover use in crowded areas and all aspects of a laser’s operation, including movement, scanning, system control, masking and filtering. These links provide basic information only — if you are unsure about laser safety, please include a professional laser operator in the planning and execution of your laser activity. Unsafe laser installations will not be permitted to operate.