As an adult leader, you do your best to comply with the BSA’s Scouter Code of Conduct, which states that you will “exercise sound judgment and demonstrate good leadership.” One key element of sound judgment is a commitment to not take chances.
Exercising patience becomes especially important when young people depend on you to help them make critical decisions during an outing.
The following anecdotes from my own Scout outings illustrate how exercising extra patience during trying times can equate to a safer Scouting experience.
‘We Can’t Get Off Schedule!’
During a canoeing trip, the wind was blowing hard. My Scout troop decided to wait out the bad weather on shore. The waves continued through supper, so we agreed to camp for the night and try again tomorrow.
We were taking shelter beneath a tarp when we saw two canoes paddling our way. I waved them in and suggested they camp with us. They said they were behind schedule and had to keep going.
We started early the next day in much fairer conditions. Around noon, we passed their camp. Everyone was sleeping; they were worn out from paddling into the wind. We canoed until dark and logged 31 miles, which put us back on schedule. We never saw the other canoes again.
Pushing to make a timeline — especially in bad weather — is a major cause of accidents. The Sweet 16 of BSA Safety points out that proper planning of an event “anticipates contingencies that may require … change of plan.” Even if you can’t make up for lost mileage or time, your activity plan should be flexible to account for those changes.
‘Been There, Done That’
In his book Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why, Laurence Gonzales shares how bad judgment and overconfidence of professional raft guides resulted in multiple capsizes and drownings on Oregon’s Illinois River, which is renowned for its huge, difficult rapids.
One story describes an outing with an intermediate-level whitewater rafter who knew rain could make the Illinois River too dangerous to paddle. So when the first raindrops fell, his crew put ashore and camped. As the rain continued for days, the group stayed put; however, other groups led by professional raft guides decided to press on. They thought it would be “challenging, but fun.” Multiple capsizes and drownings resulted.
Even if you’ve “been there, done that,” weather and human activity can quickly turn an ordinarily easy outing into a nightmare. Clear heads typically prevail over those who act with over-confidence. View each trip with fresh, clear eyes.
‘There’s a Great Campsite Ahead. We’ve Gotta Get to It!’
My Scouts and I were canoeing on a lake with few places to camp. An icy rain began falling. We put on rain gear and paddled on. Shortly after, we caught up to another group paddling in some aluminum canoes. A girl was visibly cold; she was wearing shorts, a tank top and a clear plastic raincoat. Her lips were blue and she was shivering.
When asked how she was doing, the girl said, “OK.” I didn’t feel good about the situation and asked for the leader to stop and let us help warm her up. “Linda,” the leader said to the girl, “There’s a great campsite ahead. Can you make it?” She nodded. My stomach sank.
After some prodding, the group leaders decided it was important to stop and help warm up the freezing youth. The group agreed to camp at the location so Linda could rest. She recovered just fine.
Remember: People who are tired, sick or injured will usually say “I’m OK” when pressed. Most accidents occur at the end of the day when fatigue clouds everyone’s judgment. The health and safety of those in your group are far more important than reaching the “perfect” destination.
‘Others Did It. We Can, Too!’
While canoeing in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area, my troop ran a long rapid in the Granite River that requires some skill. My crew was well-trained and had no trouble. A man watching from shore said loudly to his friend: “If those kids can run that rapid, we can, too!” Wrong! His canoe capsized. The men were rescued by smiling 14-year-old Scouts.
Just because others have climbed a peak or sailed to the far island doesn’t mean your group is up to the challenge. And that’s OK! It takes a long time to develop skills, fitness and good judgment. Be patient and work up to the challenge of high-adventure experiences.
Macho thinking — with a dash of inexperience and impatience — can cause injuries. That’s why every Scout unit needs wise adult leaders who can help filter out the gray and safely guide the way.
To help leaders protect participants during Scouting activities, the BSA’s Health and Safety team created the Sweet 16 of BSA Safety. View all 16 points on this list at bit.ly/bsasweet16.
You can also find the BSA’s Scouter Code of Conduct at bit.ly/scoutercode.
LEARN MORE about outdoor skills, like knot-tying, camping, hiking and more at scoutingmagazine.org/groundrules.
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