Five steps to a safe and fun aquatics program

Scouting is a year-round activity. Though the temperatures rise as we enter summer, we still take Scouts outdoors.

Hiking, biking, camping … these are all popular summer outings. But there’s one warm-weather activity that rules them all: aquatics.

If you can get a kid outdoors in the summer near a body of water, chances are they’re going to be up for some swimming. And once a Scout learns to swim, they’ll likely be eager to try other, more advanced, activities on the water.

At the same time, the water can be a dangerous place if you don’t follow proper procedures. Lots of aquatics accidents aren’t solely the result of bad luck. They’re also the result of a breakdown somewhere along the way in following Safe Swim Defense, the BSA’s official methods designed to manage safety on or in the water.

Here are five things you need to keep in mind as you plan your water-related activities. Read them over, and then follow the links for more training and resources.

1. Get trained.

The two key training prerequisites for all BSA aquatics programs are Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat.

Safe Swim Defense covers all swimming activities. Safety Afloat covers all boating activities, including kayaking, canoeing, rowing and small craft such as sailing and motorboating.

Both can be obtained at or in person at most council summer camps and council and district training events.

Among other things, these trainings cover the type of supervision required at aquatics activities, how to set up a safe swim area and how to split up your Scouts into swimming groups based on their abilities.

Additional training classes — Aquatics Supervision: Swimming and Water Rescue and Aquatics Supervision: Paddle Craft Safety — cover the skills needed for Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat policies at the unit level. These training courses are provided locally by qualified instructors who are authorized by the local council.

2. Know which activities are appropriate for your Scout unit.

There are plenty of age-appropriate aquatics activities. Get familiar with what’s right for Cub Scouts and what’s right for older Scouts and Venturers.

Basic swimming in a confined, designated swim area under proper supervision is available to kids of all ages, from Cub Scouts to older Scouts BSA members. Outside of that, it gets a little more complicated.

For example, tubing — floating in gently flowing water — is available to Wolf Scouts and older. It doesn’t matter if a Tiger or Lion Scout in your pack has gone tubing dozens of times with their family; when it comes to official Scout events, only Wolf Scouts and older can go tubing.

Then you’ve got paddle sports. Lions and Tigers can only ride in a canoe on calm water, whereas older Cub Scouts can actually start to learn paddle strokes.

Snorkeling in confined water is open to all ages. Scuba is an option only for Scouts BSA members, Venturers and Sea Scouts.

For a list of aquatics age-appropriate activities, visit

3. The personal health review and swim tests are really important — for youth and adults.

Some kids are practically raised on the water. By the time they join Scouts BSA, they’re stronger swimmers than many adults. At the same time, some older Scouts aren’t as comfortable on the water as you might think.

This is where the BSA swim test comes in handy.

All youth and adult participants are designated as swimmers, beginners or non-swimmers based on their performance in the standardized BSA swim classification test.

During your swimming outing, each group should be assigned a specific swimming area with depths consistent with those abilities.

The classification tests must be renewed annually, preferably at the beginning of the season, even if the Scout has earned the Swimming merit badge.

Additionally, a complete health history, known as an Annual Health and Medical Record, is required of all participants — youth and adults — as evidence of fitness for swimming activities, and it’s critical for scuba.

Supervision and protection should be adjusted to anticipate any potential risks associated with individual health conditions. Adults should keep in mind any changes to their health that could affect their swimming ability.

Info on the BSA swim test and AHMR can be found at and

4. Remember that some activities are completely unauthorized.

There are a handful of aquatics activities that the BSA has deemed unsuitable for Scouting. It doesn’t matter if you have been participating in these activities on your own for years; when it comes to Scouting, stay away.

These activities are:

• aerial-towed activities such as kitesurfing and parasailing;

• cliff jumping and diving from heights;

• swim races in open water, such as you would find in a triathlon, are authorized only in sanctioned events;

• operation of personal watercraft is limited only to programs conducted by your council.

• Cub Scouts do not participate in aquatics activities on moving water, such as river canoeing or whitewater sports.

Make it a habit to check the Guide to Safe Scouting for updates to this and other BSA safety guidelines:

5. If you have some older, advanced swimmers, consider activities appropriate for older, advanced Scouts.

Whitewater rafting, canoeing and kayaking are awesome activities for qualified adults and Scouts. Trips on whitewater rivers rated above Class II require either specialized training or professional guides. Trips on rapids above Class IV are prohibited.

The swim test and AHMR are critical for these outings. High, fast or exceptionally cold water can be deadly to underqualified participants.

Units interested in learning scuba can do so with an insured recreational diving instructor in good standing with a recognized agency and approved by the council.

Snorkeling in open water — that is, a temporary swimming area of flexible extent in a natural body of water that may or may not be close to shore — is great for strong swimmers. It requires less gear than scuba while still giving participants a great look at underwater life.

Learn more about advanced aquatic activities at

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