The Merit Badge Program
PLEASE NOTE: The Guide to Advancement has been updated for 2017.
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188.8.131.52 The Benefits of Merit Badges
There is more to merit badges than simply providing
opportunities to learn skills. There is more to them than
an introduction to lifetime hobbies, or the inspiration to
pursue a career—though these invaluable results occur
regularly. It all begins with a Scout’s initial interest and
effort in a merit badge subject, followed by a discussion
with the unit leader or designated assistant, continues
through meetings with a counselor, and culminates in
advancement and recognition. It is an uncomplicated
process that gives a Scout the confidence achieved
through overcoming obstacles. Social skills improve.
Self-reliance develops. Examples are set and followed.
And fields of study and interest are explored beyond the
limits of the school classroom.
All merit badge requirements must be met while a
registered Boy Scout or Varsity Scout, or a qualified
Venturer or Sea Scout. Accomplishments before
joining, or while a Cub Scout, do not apply.
184.108.40.206 About the Application for Merit Badge ("Blue Card")
It is important to note the “blue card” is the nationally
recognized merit badge record. It has been updated
from time to time and carries the information needed for
proper posting and for evidence and reference as
needed later. The card has three parts: the actual
“Application for Merit Badge” portion, the “Applicant’s
Record,” and the “Counselor’s Record.” It requires a total
of four signatures—two each from the unit leader and a
merit badge counselor. The unit leader signs first on the
front of the Application for Merit Badge portion and gives
the entire blue card to the Scout. See “The Scout, the BlueCard, and the Unit Leader,” 220.127.116.11.
Typically after the unit leader signs the blue card, the
Scout contacts the merit badge counselor and sets an
appointment. Even though Scouts may benefit from
reviewing requirements with a counselor before pursuing
them, a boy may begin working on a merit badge at any
time after he is registered. It is the counselor’s decision
whether to accept work or activities completed prior to
the issuing of the signed blue card. Common sense
should prevail, however. For example, nights already
camped as a Boy Scout, or coins or stamps already
collected, would count toward their respective badges.
A merit badge counselor—once he or she is satisfied a
Scout has met all the requirements—signs in two places:
on the reverse of the Application for Merit Badge (to the
left) and on the Applicant’s Record (in the middle). These
two parts are returned to the Scout. The approving
counselor should retain the part of the card called the
Counselor’s Record for at least one year—in case
questions are raised later. If the Scout did not complete all
the requirements, the counselor initials those that were
fulfilled in the spaces provided on the back of the
Applicant’s Record part. This is called a “partial” (see
“Partial Completions,” 18.104.22.168). Once a registered
counselor signs that all requirements have been met, the
Scout should meet with his unit leader to discuss his
experience. The unit leader then signs the Applicant’s
Record portion and returns it to the young man, who
should retain it in his personal permanent records.
For very large events—such as the national Scout
jamboree—the National Council may approve an
alternative format and sizing for the blue card. This is
done through the National Advancement Team.
Though it may not have been clearly stated in the
past, units, districts, and local councils do not have
the authority to implement a different system for
merit badge approval and documentation. In any
case, through the years, many councils have created
new forms and approaches to the process, some
including IT components. In an effort to gather and
consider these potential best practices, councils are
now asked to submit descriptions and copies of their
blue card alternatives to the National Design and
In the event unit leaders or other volunteers discover that
any merit badge counselors are not following mandated
procedures regarding the use of blue cards or working
with the requirements as they are written, they should
complete and submit to the council advancement
committee the Reporting Merit Badge Counseling Concerns form 22.214.171.124. Unit leaders
should regularly review the policies and procedures
related to the merit badge process with Scouts, parents,
and leaders, and counsel them on proper methods as the
126.96.36.199 The Scout, the Blue Card, and the Unit Leader
A few merit badges have certain restrictions, but otherwise
any registered Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, or qualified
Venturer or Sea Scout may work on any of them at any
time. Before he begins working with a merit badge
counselor, however, he is to have a discussion with his unit
leader. That a discussion has been held is indicated by the
unit leader’s signature on the Application for Merit Badge,
No. 34124, commonly called the “blue card.” Although it
is the unit leader’s responsibility to see that at least one
merit badge counselor is identified from those approved
and made available, the Scout may have one in mind with
whom he would like to work. The unit leader and Scout
should come to agreement as to who the counselor will be.
Lacking agreement, the Scout must be allowed to work
with the counselor of his choice, so long as the counselor is
registered and has been approved by the council
advancement committee. However, see “Counselor
Approvals and Limitations,” 188.8.131.52, for circumstances
when a unit leader may place limits on the number of merit
badges that may be earned from one counselor.
The Scout may also want to take advantage of
opportunities at merit badge fairs or midways, or at
rock-climbing gyms or whitewater rafting trips that
provide merit badge instruction. This is also acceptable,
but the Scout must still discuss the merit badge with the
unit leader and get a signed blue card.
Should a Scout want to change counselors, he should
once again speak with the unit leader to verify that the
counselor is properly registered and approved. Whatever
the source, all merit badge counselors must be registered
and approved for the merit badges they counsel. See
“Counselor Approvals and Limitations,” 184.108.40.206, and
“Registration and Reregistration,” 220.127.116.11.
Because of the counseling opportunity involved, it
is the unit leader’s responsibility to sign blue cards.
In the role of giving leadership to the delivery of the
troop program, a Scoutmaster, for example, has a
better opportunity than other leaders to get to know
the youth. This background with the Scouts allows a
unit leader to add greater value in the discussion and
counseling intended to take place with the signing of
the card. However, in circumstances when this may
be impractical—for example, in large units or when
the unit leader may be absent—the unit leader may
delegate authority to sign cards and conduct the
discussions. This authority should be entrusted to a
knowledgeable assistant unit leader.
A unit leader should consider making more of the process
than just providing a signature. The opportunity exists to
provide inspiration and direction in a young man’s life.
Preliminary merit badge discussions can lead to
conversations about talents and interests, goal setting, and
the concept of “challenge by choice.” The benefits can be
much like those of a well-done Scoutmaster conference.
The discussion a Scout is to have with the unit leader is
meant to be a growth-oriented and positive conversation.
The unit leader should discuss any concerns related to
working on the merit badge and provide appropriate
counseling. It is then the Scout’s decision whether or not
to proceed with the merit badge. The process is intended
to inform the Scout about what he may encounter along
the way, and perhaps to give him suggestions on how the
work might be approached. It also has the purpose of
keeping the unit leader up to date with what the members
of the unit are doing.
18.104.22.168 About Merit Badge Counselors
22.214.171.124 Qualifications of Counselors
People serving as merit badge counselors must maintain
registration with the Boy Scouts of America as merit
badge counselors and be approved by their local council
advancement committee for each of their badges. This
includes those working at summer camp or in any other
group instruction setting, or providing Web-based
opportunities. See “Counselor Approvals and
Limitations,” 126.96.36.199. There are no exceptions.
For example, Scoutmasters must register as merit badge
counselors and be approved for any badge they wish to
counsel or sign off in their troop. Before working with
Scouts, counselors must have completed Youth Protection
training within the last two years. They must be men or
women of good character, age 18 or older, and
recognized as having the skills and education in the
subjects they cover. It is important, too, they have good
rapport with Scout-age boys and unit leaders.
It is acceptable for a counselor registered in one
council to approve merit badges for Scouts in another.
This is an important consideration, especially in
areas where counselors are scarce, when Scouts are
away from home and want to continue advancing, or
when merit badge experiences include Web-based
components provided by someone in another council.
Several badges involve activities for which the Boy Scouts
of America has implemented strategies to improve safety,
enhance the Scouts’ experiences, and manage risk.
These activities often require supervision with specialized
qualifications and certifications. Merit badge counselors
who do not meet the specific requirements may use the
services of helpers who do. Additional details can be
found below, and also in the Guide to Safe Scouting and
the merit badge pamphlets.
General Supervision Requirements
- Swimming and watercraft activities must be conducted
in accordance with BSA Safe Swim Defense or BSA
Safety Afloat, respectively, and be supervised by
mature and conscientious adults at least 21 years old
and trained in the program applicable. Counselors
for merit badges involving swimming or the use of
watercraft must be so trained, or use helpers who are.
- All physical activities presented in any Scouting
program must be conducted in accordance with
“The Sweet Sixteen of BSA Safety.” These 16 points,
embodying good judgment and common sense,
can be found at www.scouting.org/
- CPR instruction, wherever it is required, must be
taught by people currently trained as CPR instructors
by a nationally certified provider. Several such
providers are mentioned in the Guide to
The following merit badges have special qualifications or
certifications for either the merit badge counselor or the
supervisor of certain activities that may be involved.
Counselors and advancement administrators should consult
the merit badge pamphlets for details and to maintain awareness
of changes and updates as pamphlets are revised.
Archery. Archery activities must be supervised by a
BSA National Camping School–trained shooting sports
director or USA Archery or National Field Archery
Association instructor, or by someone who has been
trained by one of the three; or alternatively, the activities
may be supervised by someone with at least Level 1
training in the operation of an archery range from
USA Archery, NFAA, or an equivalent.
Canoeing. Those supervising canoeing activities must
have either BSA Aquatics Instructor or Canoeing
Instructor certification from the American Canoe
Association, American Red Cross, or equivalent;
OR local councils may approve individuals previously
certified as such, or trained by an instructor so qualified.
Climbing. All climbing, belaying, and rappelling exercises
and activities must be supervised by a rock climbing
instructor who is a mature and conscientious adult at
least 21 years old, and who is trained in BSA Climb
On Safely and understands the risks inherent to these
activities. Training as a BSA climbing Level 2 Instructor
is highly recommended. Someone with certification in
First Aid/CPR/AED from the American Red Cross
(or equivalent) must be present at these activities.
Kayaking. Those supervising kayaking activities must have
formal training in kayaking and paddle craft instruction,
evidenced by either BSA Aquatics Instructor or Paddle
Craft Safety Instructor certification, or kayaking instructor
certification from the American Canoe Association, British
Canoe Union, or American Red Cross, or equivalent; OR
local councils may approve individuals previously certified
as such, or trained by an instructor so qualified.
Lifesaving. Demonstrations or activities in or on the
water must be supervised by an adult at least 21 years
old with certification in Red Cross First Aid/CPR/AED
or equivalent, and also as BSA Lifeguard or Aquatics
Instructor or equivalent.
Rifle Shooting. The merit badge counselor is responsible
for ensuring that all instruction or other activities involving
any handling of firearms or live ammunition is consistent
with state and federal law and supervised by a certified
BSA National Camping School (NCS) shooting sports
director, or National Rifle Association (NRA) Rifle
Shooting Instructor or Coach.
Instruction or other activities involving handling
muzzleloaders must be supervised by an NCS shooting
sports director or NRA/National Muzzleloader Rifle
Association (NMLRA)–certified muzzleloader firearms
instructor. Shooting must be supervised by an NRAcertified
Range Safety Officer (RSO). If instruction and
shooting are to occur at the same time, both the RSO and
qualified instructor must be present. The supervisor and
instructor may not be the same person. Note that
commercial shooting ranges may provide RSOs. See the
Guide to Safe Scouting and the BSA National Shooting
Sports Manual, No. 30931, for further details on
Rowing. Those supervising rowing activities must have
either BSA Aquatics Instructor certification or equivalent;
OR local councils may approve individuals previously
certified as such, or trained by an instructor so qualified.
Scuba Diving. All phases of scuba instruction—classroom,
pool, and open-water training—are limited to instructors
trained and certified by one of the BSA’s recognized
scuba agencies as found in the Guide to Safe Scouting.
Shotgun Shooting. The merit badge counselor is
responsible for ensuring that all instruction or other
activities involving any handling of firearms or live
ammunition is consistent with state and federal law and
supervised by a certified NCS shooting sports director or
NRA Shotgun Instructor or Coach. Instruction or other
activities involving handling muzzle-loading shotguns
must be supervised by an NCS shooting sports director or
NRA/NMLRA certified muzzle-loading shotgun instructor.
Shooting must be supervised by an NRA-certified Range
Safety Officer. If instruction and shooting are to occur at
the same time, both the RSO and qualified instructor must
be present. They may not be the same person. Note that
commercial shooting ranges may provide RSOs. See the
Guide to Safe Scouting and the BSA National Shooting
Sports Manual, No. 30931, for further details on
Snow Sports. Activities in the field must be supervised
by a mature and conscientious adult 21 years or older
who is committed to compliance with BSA Winter Sports
Safety as defined in the Guide to Safe Scouting.
Swimming. Demonstrations or activities in or on the water
must be conducted according to BSA Safe Swim Defense
and BSA Safety Afloat.
Whitewater. Those supervising whitewater activities must
be certified as whitewater canoeing or kayaking
instructors by the American Canoe Association or have
equivalent certification, training, or expertise.
All certifications listed above must be current.
In approving counselors, the local council advancement committee has the authority to establish a higher minimum, reasonable level of skills and education for the counselors of a given merit badge than is indicated in "Qualifications of Counselors," 188.8.131.52. For example, NRA certification could be established as a council standard for approving counselors for the Rifle Shooting or Shotgun Shooting merit badges.
The required qualifications above for merit badge
counseling and supervision not only assist in managing
risk, but also give counselors credibility. Scouts will see
them as people of importance they can look up to and
learn from. A well-qualified counselor can extend a
young person’s attention span: More will be heard and
understood, discussions will be more productive, and
true interest developed. The conversations can lead to
a relationship of mutual respect where the Scout is
confident to offer his thoughts and opinions and value
those of his merit badge counselor. Thus it is that social
skills and self-reliance grow, and examples are set
184.108.40.206 Sources of Merit Badge Counselors
District or council advancement committees are charged
with recruiting and training sufficient counselors to meet
unit needs. As with any recruitment effort, it begins with
prospecting: gathering names of people who may be
qualified to serve. This can be done in a group setting
through brainstorming as outlined in Friendstorming
On Tour, No. 510-003, or considered on an individual
basis. Merit badge counselor prospects are most often
found from the following sources:
- Schools and colleges
- Parents groups
- Local businesses
- Service clubs
- Trade groups
- Religious organizations
- Neighborhood associations
- Government agencies
- The armed services
- Chartered organizations
- Nonprofit organizations such as the Boys & Girls
Clubs of America
- Parents and guardians of Scouts
A Guide for Merit Badge Counseling, No. 34532,
can be useful in recruiting. Visits to district meetings,
roundtables, training sessions, and other events may
also uncover prospects. While there, unit and district
volunteer feedback may be sought on the quality of
those currently active.
To learn more about Friendstorming,
have your council call the national Design
and Development Department at the
national office. The booklet
Friendstorming On Tour can be accessed at
220.127.116.11 Venturing Consultants as Merit Badge Counselors
Venturing consultants are people whose special skills
or talents are needed for a crew activity or project.
Usually they are adults recruited on a one-time basis.
More information can be found in the Venturing Advisor
Guidebook, No. 34655. Consultants generally would be
considered qualified to counsel merit badges related to
their expertise. To do so, they must be approved and
registered as merit badge counselors, according to the
18.104.22.168 Counselor Approvals and Limitations
The council advancement committee is responsible
for approval of all merit badge counselors before they
provide services, although it is acceptable to delegate
authority for this function to districts. The process should
not be rushed to the point where unqualified counselors
are allowed to serve. The National Council places no
limit on the number of merit badges an individual may
be approved to counsel, except to the extent a person
lacks skills and education in a given subject. The intent
is for Scouts to learn from those with an appropriate level
Merit badge counselors must submit the Merit Badge
Counselor Information sheet, No. 34405, according to
local council practices. The form must show each badge for
which the counselor requests approval. Additions or
subtractions may be submitted using the same form. It is
permissible for councils to limit the number of badges that
one person counsels. They must not do so, however, to the
point where Scouts’ choices, especially in small or remote
units, are so limited as to serve as a barrier to advancement.
The National Council does not place a limit on the
number of merit badges a youth may earn from one
counselor. However, in situations where a Scout is
earning a large number of badges from just one
counselor, the unit leader is permitted to place a limit on
the number of merit badges that may be earned from one
counselor, as long as the same limit applies to all Scouts
in the unit. Approved counselors may work with and pass
any member, including their own son, ward, or relative.
Nevertheless, we often teach young people the
importance of broadening horizons. Scouts meeting with
counselors beyond their families and beyond even their
own units are doing that. They will benefit from the
perspectives of many “teachers” and will learn more as
a result. They should be encouraged to reach out.
22.214.171.124 Registration and Reregistration
Volunteers who are properly registered as merit
badge counselors can renew annually without
completing a BSA adult application; their names will
appear on the district roster for renewal. Anyone
who is currently unregistered, or who is registered in
another position but also desires to serve as a merit
badge counselor, must complete an adult application.
Merit badge counselors register at no fee, using the Boy
Scouts of America’s standard adult registration form with
position code 42. Designated members of the council
or district advancement committee should provide the
approval signature. The council advancement committee
annually coordinates counselor reregistration. This may
be done as part of the local council charter renewal
process. A letter or message extending an invitation can
be sent to each counselor who is to be approved for
another year. Those identified as not following Boy
Scouts of America policies and procedures, or not
providing services as promised, should not be invited
The invitational message or letter could include
- Gratitude for service
- Invitation to reregister
- Reminder to maintain current Youth Protection training
- Listing of merit badges each is currently approved
- Contact name in the district or council who can
provide assistance and information
- Response card, e-form, or other way for counselors to
return updated contact information, preferred method
for contact, merit badges they wish to add or drop,
updates to their skills and education profile, and
anything else that may be helpful
- News and information regarding merit badge
“midways” or “fairs,” counselor training
opportunities, other activities or meetings of interest,
and additional volunteer opportunities
- FAQs or suggestions covering “best practices” for counseling
- Recommendation to subscribe to the Counselor’s
Compass by sending a SUBSCRIBE message to
126.96.36.199 Training for Counselors
The council or district advancement committee must assure
counselors understand the Boy Scouts of America’s aims,
methods, and mission. It is also important they know how
Scouts can learn and grow through the merit badge process.
To enhance the merit badge counselor experience, the
National Advancement Committee’s Education Task Force
has developed the presentation “The Essentials of Merit
Badge Counseling.” It can be downloaded from www.
scouting.org/advancement, and viewed individually,
featured in merit badge counselor training events, or
delivered as part of a wider experience covering several
levels of Scout leader training. Where a counselor corps is
organized into groups based on the popularity or subject
matter of badges, with “head counselors” for each group
(see below), there is also an opportunity for “on-the-job
coaching.” This is helpful where individual counselors
need a better understanding of the merit badge plan.
In multicultural communities, local councils should endeavor to offer bilingual training and mentoring.
188.8.131.52 Merit Badge Counselor Lists
184.108.40.206 Getting Started
It is the responsibility of the council advancement
committee to maintain a current list of registered and
approved counselors, although this may be delegated to
districts. To get started, the council advancement
committee should consider organizing the badges into
logical groups, such as business and industry, natural
science, communications, and public service, and
recruiting a head counselor for each group.
Head counselors are not expected to be experts in each
badge, but they should be capable of recruiting those who
meet the qualifications. Remember that counselor recruiting
is an ongoing responsibility. As new ones are added and
others drop off, it is vital these changes be communicated
to the district or council advancement committee.
The number of counselors needed for the list depends
on badge popularity. First consider badges required for
Eagle Scout rank, which are obvious “musts.” Next think
about those most popular in the local area. Reports on
merit badges earned can be generated at your council
service center. For low-demand subjects, counselors may
appear on more than one district list. Urge troops, teams,
crews, and ships to make as many of their counselors as
possible available districtwide.
The council or district counselor list is reproduced for
distribution to troops, teams, crews, and ships. It is most
efficient to set the list up as an electronic document that
includes all counselors in the council. Establishing it as a
spreadsheet or database can allow sorting for counselors
willing to serve at the council, district, or unit level. It is
important to maintain and update this list regularly so that
users can depend upon it.
220.127.116.11 Web-Based Counselor Lists
Online counselor lists present a number of challenges.
They should only be placed on official council websites
that conform to the National Council guidelines at
Give attention to protecting counselor privacy. Limit
access to those who have merit badge–related
responsibilities, such as advancement committee
members and chairs, or unit leaders and selected
assistants. Scouts should not have access. Their
interaction with the Scoutmaster in discussing work
on a badge, and obtaining a counselor’s name,
is an important part of the merit badge plan.
18.104.22.168 Unit Counselor Lists
Units may establish their own lists of counselors, who
may or may not opt to work with youth in other units. This
may be necessary in wide geographic areas. It can also
be helpful to have ready counselors for the most popular
badges. Recognize, however, that Scouts learn from the
perspectives of counselors outside their own troop. Note
that all merit badge counselors, including those serving
only one unit, must be registered and be approved by the
council (or district, if authorized) advancement committee.
Due to concerns about merit badge counselor privacy,
and since Scouts should receive the names and contact
information from the Scoutmaster, unit counselor lists
should not be made available to Scouts online.
Recommended Merit Badge Process
- The Scout develops an interest in a merit
badge and may begin working on the
- The Scout discusses his interest in the merit
badge with his unit leader.
- The unit leader signs a blue card and provides
the Scout with at least one counselor contact.
- The Scout contacts the counselor.
- The counselor considers any work toward
requirements completed prior to the initial
discussion with the unit leader.
- The Scout, his buddy, and the counselor meet
(often several times).
- The Scout finishes the requirements.
- The counselor approves completion.
- The Scout returns the signed blue card to his
unit leader, who signs the applicant record
section of the blue card.
- The unit leader gives the Scout the
- The unit reports the merit badge to the council.
- The Scout receives his merit badge.
22.214.171.124 The Process of Counseling
Earning merit badges should be Scout initiated, Scout
researched, and Scout learned. It should be hands-on
and interactive, and should not be modeled after a
typical school classroom setting. Instead, it is meant to be
an active program so enticing to young men that they will
want to take responsibility for their own full participation.
If subject matter relates to a counselor’s vocation,
meetings with youth might take place at an office or
work site. Hobby-related badges are usually counseled
at home. For others like Rowing, Rifle Shooting, or
Geocaching, learning could occur in the field where
special facilities or an appropriate venue are available.
Once a counselor has reviewed the signed Application
for Merit Badge, he or she might begin with discussions
about what the Scout already knows. This could be
followed with coaching, guidance, and additional
meetings, not only for passing the candidate on the
requirements, but also to help him understand the subject.
The sort of hands-on interactive experience described
here, with personal coaching and guidance, is hardly
ever achieved in any setting except when one counselor
works directly with one Scout and his buddy, or with a
very small group. Thus, this small-scale approach is the
recommended best practice for merit badge instruction
and requirement fulfillment. Units, districts, and councils
should focus on providing the most direct merit badge
experiences possible. Large group and Web-based
instruction, while perhaps efficient, do not measure up in
terms of the desired outcomes with regard to learning
and positive association with adults.
The health and safety of those working on merit badges
must be integrated with the process. Besides the Guide to
Safe Scouting, the “Sweet 16 of BSA Safety” must be
consulted as an appropriate planning tool. It can be
found online at “Scouting Safely,” www.scouting.org/
126.96.36.199 The Buddy System and Certifying Completion
A youth member must not meet one-on-one with an adult.
Sessions with counselors must take place where others
can view the interaction, or the Scout must have a buddy:
a friend, parent, guardian, brother, sister, or other
relative—or better yet, another Scout working on the
same badge—along with him attending the session. If
merit badge counseling or instruction includes any
Web-based interaction, it must be conducted in
accordance with the BSA Social Media Guidelines
For example, always copy one or more authorized adults
on email messages between counselors and Scouts.
When the Scout meets with the counselor, he should
bring any required projects. If these cannot be transported,
he should present evidence, such as photographs or adult
verification. His unit leader, for example, might state
that a satisfactory bridge or tower has been built for the Pioneering merit badge, or that meals were prepared for Cooking. If there are questions that requirements
were met, a counselor may confirm with adults involved.
Once satisfied, the counselor signs the blue card
using the date upon which the Scout completed the
requirements, or in the case of partials, initials the
individual requirements passed.
Note that from time to time, it may be appropriate for a
requirement tht has been met for one badge to also
count for anothaer. See “Fulfilling More Than One
Requirement With a Single Activity,” 188.8.131.52.
184.108.40.206 Group Instruction
It is acceptable—and sometimes desirable—for merit
badges to be taught in group settings. This often occurs at
camp and merit badge midways, fairs, clinics, or similar
events, and even online through webinars. These can be
efficient methods, and interactive group discussions can
support learning. Group instruction can also be attractive
to “guest experts” assisting registered and approved
counselors. Slide shows, skits, demonstrations, panels,
and various other techniques can also be employed, but
as any teacher can attest, not everyone will learn all the
material. Because of the importance of individual attention
and personal learning in the merit badge program, group
instruction should be focused on those scenarios where
the benefits are compelling.
There must be attention to each individual’s projects and
his fulfillment of all requirements. We must know that
every Scout—actually and personally—completed them.
If, for example, a requirement uses words like “show,”
“demonstrate,” or “discuss,” then every Scout must do
that. It is unacceptable to award badges on the basis
of sitting in classrooms watching demonstrations, or
remaining silent during discussions.
It is sometimes reported that Scouts who have received
merit badges through group instructional settings have
not fulfilled all the requirements. To offer a quality merit
badge program, council and district advancement
committees should ensure the following are in place for
all group instructional events.
A culture is established for merit badge group
instructional events that partial completions are
acceptable expected results.
It is permissible for guest speakers, guest experts, or
others who are not merit badge counselors to assist
in the counseling process. Those providing such
assistance must be under the direction of a registered
and approved counselor who is readily available onsite,
and provides personal supervision to assure all
applicable BSA policies and procedures—including
those related to BSA Youth Protection—are in place
- A guide or information sheet is distributed in advance
of events that promotes the acceptability of partials,
explains how merit badges can be finished after
events, lists merit badge prerequisites, and provides
other helpful information that will establish realistic
expectations for the number of merit badges that can
be earned at an event.
- Merit badge counselors are known to be registered
- Any guest experts or guest speakers, or others assisting
who are not registered and approved as merit badge
counselors, do not accept the responsibilities of, or
behave as, merit badge counselors, either at a group
instructional event or at any other time. Their service is
temporary, not ongoing.
- Counselors agree to sign off only requirements that
Scouts have actually and personally completed.
- Counselors agree not to assume that stated
prerequisites for an event have been completed
without some level of evidence that the work has been
done. Pictures and letters from other merit badge
counselors or unit leaders are the best form of
prerequisite documentation when the actual work done
cannot be brought to the camp or site of the merit
- There is a mechanism for unit leaders or others to report
concerns to a council advancement committee on
summer camp merit badge programs, group instructional
events, and any other merit badge counseling issues—
especially in instances where it is believed BSA
procedures are not followed. See “Reporting Merit Badge Counseling Concerns,” 220.127.116.11.
There must be attention to each individual's projects and his fulfillment of all requirements. We must know that every Scout—actually and personally—completed them.
18.104.22.168 Partial Completions
A Scout need not pass all the requirements of one merit
badge with the same counselor. It may be that due to
timing or location issues, etc., he must meet with a different
counselor to finish a badge. The Application for Merit
Badge has a place to record what has been finished—
a “partial.” In the center section on the reverse of the blue
card, the counselor initials for each requirement passed.
In the case of a partial completion, the counselor does
not retain his or her portion of the card. A subsequent
counselor may choose not to accept partial work, but this
should be rare. A Scout, if he believes he is being treated
unfairly, may work with his unit leader to find another
counselor. An example for the use of a signed partial
would be to take it to camp as proof that the camp’s
prerequisites have been met. Partials have no expiration
except the Scout’s 18th birthday. Units, districts, or councils
shall not establish other expiration dates for partial
22.214.171.124 Merit Badge Miscellany
126.96.36.199 New Merit Badges
Suggestions for new merit badges may be sent to
email@example.com. Ideas are researched for
relevance to the BSA mission and the needs of today’s
youth and families. Subject matter must spark interest in
Scout-age boys; thus part of the process involves
presenting submissions to a youth panel.
188.8.131.52 Revising Merit Badges
Through a process managed by the National Advancement
Committee, all merit badges are reviewed periodically to
improve relevance, consistency, and also requirement and
content accuracy. Merit badge counselors, unit leadership,
parents, and youth are encouraged to send suggestions or
comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. All submissions are
reviewed and considered as merit badges and pamphlets
are revised. Feedback has been invaluable in correcting
errors, updating material, and enhancing content.
184.108.40.206 What to Do When Requirements Change
The current annual edition of Boy Scout Requirements lists the official merit badge requirements. Once new
or revised merit badge requirements appear in this
publication, which is released each January, any Scout
just beginning work on a merit badge must use the
requirements as stated there.
If changes to merit badge requirements are introduced in
a revised merit badge pamphlet after the January release
of the Boy Scout Requirements book, then the Scout has
until the following January 1 to decide what to do. He
may continue—or begin work—using the old merit badge
requirements and the old pamphlet; or he may switch
to—or begin work—using the new requirements and the
new pamphlet. Unless it is otherwise stated in the merit
badge pamphlet, Boy Scout Requirements, or official
communications from the National Council, if a Scout
chooses to use the old merit badge requirements and
pamphlet, he may continue using them until he has
completed the badge.
There is no time limit between starting and completing
a badge, although a counselor may determine so much
time has passed since any effort took place that the new
requirements must be used.
The authoritative source for all merit badge
requirements is the current year’s Boy Scout
220.127.116.11 Discontinued Merit Badges
Scouts are not allowed to begin work on discontinued
merit badges. If actual and purposeful effort that is more
than simply incidental to participation in Scouting
activities has already begun by the time discontinuation
becomes effective, and work actively continues, then the
badge may be completed and can count toward rank
advancement. However, presentation of the badge itself
will be subject to availability. It is a misconception that
discontinued merit badges may be earned as long as the
patch and requirements can be found.
18.104.22.168 Earning Eagle-Required Merit Badges for Star or Life Rank
Candidates for Star or Life, in the selection of “any four”
or “any three,” respectively, of the merit badges required
for Eagle, may choose from all those listed, including
where alternatives are available: Emergency Preparedness
OR Lifesaving; Cycling OR Hiking OR Swimming; and
Environmental Science OR Sustainability. For example, if a
Scout earns Cycling, Hiking, and Swimming, all three of
them count as Eagle-required for Life rank. Only one,
however, would serve toward the required merit badges for
the Eagle Scout rank. The other two would count toward
the optional merit badges required to make up the total of
21 merit badges.
Note that Star and Life requirements each allow two
non-Eagle-required merit badges. It is the Scout’s
decision, however, to earn more—or all—of his Star and
Life badges from the Eagle-required list.
22.214.171.124 Once It Is Earned, It's Earned
A Scout who has earned a merit badge from a registered
and approved counselor by actually and personally
fulfilling the requirements as written will have met the
purpose of the merit badge program and the contribution
to the aims of Scouting. The badge is his to keep and
count toward his advancement. See “Personal Growth
Is the Primary Goal,” 126.96.36.199. The same holds true if a
Scout, without intent to violate national BSA procedures
or policies, fulfills merit badge requirements with
someone who is not registered and approved as a
counselor. This could happen, for example, if a Scout,
in good faith, contacts someone who has inadvertently
been dropped from a unit or district charter or otherwise
has an expired membership, but who remains on an
approved list of counselors.
In cases where it is discovered that unregistered or
unapproved individuals are signing off merit badges,
this should be reported to the council or district
advancement committee so they have the opportunity
to follow up. But it is also the responsibility of unit
leaders to help Scouts understand that only registered
and approved counselors are to be used. Because
background checks, Youth Protection training, and
merit badge program quality control are involved,
BSA registration and council advancement committee
approval are mandated procedures. If a Scout to whom
this mandated procedure has been made clear has
ignored it, then unit leaders may require the youth to
work with other counselors who are properly documented
who will verify that requirements were met and sign the
blue cards. A unit leader should discuss any potential
follow-up counselors with the Scout and provide the name
of at least one, but Scouts must be allowed to work with
registered and approved counselors of their choice as
outlined in “About the Application for Merit Badge(“Blue Card”),” 188.8.131.52.
184.108.40.206 Limited Recourse for Unearned Merit Badges
From time to time, it may be discovered that merit
badges could not actually have been earned. For
example, a Scout who returns from summer camp or a
merit badge fair with signed blue cards for an
extraordinary number of badges could raise concerns.
If, after consulting with those involved in the merit badge
program—such as an event coordinator, the camp
director, or a merit badge counselor—it becomes plainly
evident that a youth could not have actually and
personally fulfilled requirements as written, then the
limited recourse outlined below is available. It may result
in a decision that some or all of the requirements for a
badge could not have been fulfilled, and thus, that the
badge was not actually earned.
After such a consultation, the unit leader, in a positive
environment similar to that of a unit leader conference,
discusses with the Scout the circumstances under which a
merit badge in question was approved. A parent or an
assistant unit leader should attend as an observer. The
young man shall not be retested on the requirements, but
a conversation with him can reveal if he was present at
the class and actually and personally fulfilled all the
requirements. Such a discussion could cover who taught
a class, what sort of activities took place, where and
when they occurred, how testing was done, what the
Scout might have brought home from the class, and other
similar process-oriented details.
In most cases, with a fair and friendly approach, a young
man who did not complete the requirements will admit it.
Short of this, however, if it remains clear under the
circumstances that some or all of the requirements could
not have been met, then the merit badge is not reported
or awarded, and does not count toward advancement.
The unit leader then offers the name of at least one other
merit badge counselor through whom any incomplete
requirements may be finished. Note that in this case a
merit badge is not “taken away” because, although
signed off, it was never actually earned.
Just as we avoid penalizing Scouts for the mistakes of
adults, it should be a rare occurrence that a unit leader
finds the need to question whether merit badges have
been earned. This procedure for recourse is limited and
reserved only for clear and evident cases of
noncompletion or nonparticipation. For example, the
recourse could be allowed when it would not have been
possible to complete a specific requirement at the
location of the class, event, or camp; if time available
was not sufficient—perhaps due to class size or other
factors—for the counselor to observe that each Scout
personally and actually completed all the requirements;
if time available was insufficient for a “calendar”
requirement such as for Personal Fitness or Personal
Management; or if multiple merit badges in question
were scheduled at the same time.
This procedure is not to be viewed as an opportunity for
retesting on requirements, for interjecting another set of
standards over those of a merit badge counselor, or for
debating issues such as whether a Scout was strong
enough, mature enough, or old enough to have
Unit leaders who find it necessary to make use of this
recourse must act quickly—if possible, within 30 days of
discovery. It is inappropriate to delay a Scout’s
advancement with anything less than a prompt decision.
If a Scout or his parent or guardian believes a unit leader
has incorrectly determined a Scout has not earned a
merit badge, or more than 30 days have passed without
a reasonable explanation for the lack of a decision, they
should address their concerns with the unit committee.
They should first, however, develop a thorough
understanding of the merit badge requirements and that
each one must be passed exactly as it is set forth.
Upon encountering any merit badge program where
BSA standards are not upheld, unit leaders are strongly
encouraged to report the incident to the council
advancement committee, preferably using the form
found in the appendix (see “Reporting Merit BadgeCounseling Concerns,” 220.127.116.11).
18.104.22.168 Unofficial Worksheets and Learning Aids
Worksheets and other materials that may be of assistance
in earning merit badges are available from a variety of
places including unofficial sources on the Internet and
even troop libraries. Use of these aids is permissible as
long as the materials can be correlated with the current
requirements that Scouts must fulfill. Completing
“worksheets” may suffice where a requirement calls for
something in writing, but this would not work for a
requirement where the Scout must discuss, tell, show,
or demonstrate, etc. Note that Scouts shall not be
required to use these learning aids in order to complete
a merit badge.
22.214.171.124 Merit Badge Opportunities With Non-Scouting Organizations or Businesses
There may be opportunities for Scouts to earn merit
badges through participation in activities presented by
organizations or businesses not affiliated with the BSA.
Zoos, museums, recreation centers, major home
improvement stores, and even individuals may be
involved. There are, however, a number of important
considerations council advancement committees should
keep in mind.
It is permissible for outside organizations or businesses to
present various programs where fulfilling merit badge
requirements is incidental. For example, a youth
recreation center or school could present a basketball
camp for the purpose of teaching basketball skills—even
charge a participation fee—and mention in promotional
material that participating boys may fulfill some of the
requirements for the Sports merit badge. That some merit
badge requirements might be fulfilled during such an
activity does not make it a Scouting activity, so therefore
the activity would not require BSA approval. A registered
and approved merit badge counselor, however, would
have to sign off on each requirement passed.
Even when merit badge opportunities are incidental to
the programs presented, outside organizations are not
allowed to use protected BSA trade names, images,
logos, or artwork without the express written consent of
the National Council, BSA. If registered and approved
merit badge counselors are available within the
organization, then merit badge blue cards may be
signed according to BSA policies and procedures. That
counselors are present, however, and blue cards may be
signed, does not make the program a Scouting activity.
Outside organizations and businesses are not allowed to
present classes, events, or similar activities that are
largely for the purpose of offering merit badges—even if
no fee is involved—without approval from the local
council. For example, the recreation center mentioned
above would not be allowed to present a “Sports merit
badge camp” without permission. A written agreement
should be involved in approving such a merit badge
opportunity. The council must assure compliance with
applicable BSA policies and procedures, including those
related to Youth Protection and safety, National Council
consent to use protected brand images, and the merit
badge counseling and approval process.
The council advancement committee should be involved
in the approval. However, because there are issues
beyond advancement, the Scout executive should be the
one to grant final permission. Council approval should
not be granted if it is believed merit badge opportunities
will generate a profit or revenue that is surplus to
recovering costs related to presenting the opportunity.
126.96.36.199 Charging Fees for Merit Badge Opportunities
Council, district, and multiunit merit badge fairs have
become increasingly popular over the past several years.
While they provide a service to our Scouts, they should
not be presented as fundraisers. There are many other
methods available to raise the funds necessary to operate
the Scouting programs at any level.
Although charging fees for merit badge fairs, clinics, or
similar events is not prohibited, any fees charged should
be limited to recovering the costs related to presenting the
opportunity. Local councils and districts may also include
in the fee a reasonable contribution to the council’s
overhead and administrative costs. Using merit badge
events as fundraisers, however, is discouraged, and
councils may exercise their authority not to approve them.
In considering whether to approve outside organizations,
businesses, or individuals for the presentation of merit
badge opportunities, the same limitations should be
placed on fees. Any fees should cover only those costs
directly related to presenting the opportunity.
Such costs could include wages an organization or
business pays to employees who present classes.
However, if employees are to serve as merit badge
counselors and sign blue cards, they must take Youth
Protection training, become registered, submit to a
background check, and be approved by the council
The Boy Scouts of America is proud of its tradition of
volunteer service. It does not endorse merit badge
opportunities where fees are paid directly to individuals,
or to groups of individuals, especially if the individuals
are looking to Scouting as a source of income that could
be considered taxable. The council advancement
committee should not approve merit badge counselors
who will not honor the tradition of volunteer service.
188.8.131.52 About Merit Badge Prerequisites
Some merit badges appear to have “prerequisites.” The
Emergency Preparedness merit badge, for example,
requires the earning of the First Aid merit badge. But
since the requirement does not state that First Aid must be
earned before beginning work on the other Emergency
Preparedness requirements, it is not, by definition, a
prerequisite. It is just another requirement. Even though
“Earn the First Aid Merit badge” is the first requirement, it
need not be the first requirement fulfilled. It is just that the
Emergency Preparedness merit badge is not finished until
after the First Aid merit badge is completed.
The First Aid merit badge, too, has a requirement that
reads a little like a prerequisite. It calls for current
knowledge of the first-aid requirements for Tenderfoot
through First Class ranks. It would make sense that a
counselor and a Scout would explore this knowledge first,
but doing so is not mandated. Other requirements could
be learned and tested before this one.
On the other hand, the Swimming merit badge, for all
practical purposes, is a very real prerequisite for the
Scuba Diving merit badge. Requirement 2 for Scuba
Diving clearly states that the Scout must earn the
Swimming merit badge before completing the