Aquatics Supervision is the primary resource for aquatics at the unit level. Aquatics activities at district and council day and short-term/long-term (overnight, resident) camps must follow appropriate National Camp Accreditation Program (NCAP) standards.
Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat training programs are available online at my.scouting.org and may also be offered locally by instructors approved by the council aquatics committee or other council authority.
Aquatics Supervision: Swimming and Water Rescue and Aquatics Supervision: Paddle Craft Safety cover 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.
BSA Lifeguard provides professional-level training for lifeguards at unit or summer camp swimming activities and is provided locally by qualified instructors who are authorized by the local council.
BSA Aquatics Instructor prepares adults for leadership roles in year-round aquatics programs and is recommended for a least one member of the council aquatics committee. Those with BSA Aquatics Instructor training may serve as aquatics directors at district and council day camps, short-term/long-term (overnight) camps. The training is available at National Camping Schools.
Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat govern BSA swimming and boating activities. Both specify that the activities are supervised by a mature and conscientious adult age 21 or older who:
- Understands and knowingly accepts responsibility for the well-being and safety of youth members in their care
- Is experienced in the particular activity
- Is confident in their ability to respond appropriately in an emergency
- Is trained and committed to the nine points of BSA Safety Afloat and/or the eight points of Safe Swim Defense.
Unit leadership that accompanies the unit on an outing handles the first and last bullet points above. However, under appropriate circumstances, the unit leader may delegate responsibility to trained individuals within the unit or to on-site professionals for the second and third bullet points above. For example, a Scouts BSA troop at a water park with trained lifeguards on duty need not assign separate unit personnel to perform water rescue. A Venturing crew on a whitewater excursion may rely on a licensed outfitter to provide the necessary equipment and trained guides.
Every possible contingency will not be covered with a hard-and-fast rule, and rules are poor substitutes for experience. Ultimately, each responsible adult leader must personally decide if they understand the risk factors associated with the activity and is sufficiently experienced and well-informed to make the rational decisions expected of a “qualified supervisor.” The BSA training programs listed above help provide the skills, experience, and guidance for making such a determination.
BSA groups shall use Safe Swim Defense for all swimming activities. Adult leaders supervising a swimming activity must have completed Safe Swim Defense training within the previous two years. Safe Swim Defense standards apply at backyard, hotel, apartment, and public pools; at established waterfront swim areas such as beaches at state parks and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes; and at all temporary swimming areas such as a lake, river, or ocean. Safe Swim Defense does not apply to boating or water activities such as waterskiing or swamped boat drills that are covered by Safety Afloat guidelines. Safe Swim Defense applies to other nonswimming activities whenever participants enter water over knee deep or when submersion is likely, for example, when fording a stream, seining for bait, or constructing a bridge as a pioneering project. Snorkeling in open water requires each participant to have demonstrated knowledge and skills equivalent to those for Snorkeling BSA in addition to following Safe Swim Defense. Scuba activities must be conducted in accordance with the BSA Scuba policy found in the Guide to Safe Scouting. Because of concerns with hyperventilation, competitive underwater swimming events are not permitted in Scouting.
Safe Swim Defense training may be obtained from my.scouting.org, at council camps, and at other council and district training events. Additional information on various swimming venues is provided in the Aquatics Supervision guide.
- Qualified Supervision
All swimming activity must be supervised by a mature and conscientious adult age 21 or older who understands and knowingly accepts responsibility for the well-being and safety of those in their care, and who is trained in and committed to compliance with the eight points of BSA Safe Swim Defense. It is strongly recommended that all units have at least one adult or older youth member currently trained in BSA Aquatics Supervision: Swimming and Water Rescue or BSA Lifeguard to assist in planning and conducting all swimming activities.
- Personal Health Review
A complete health history is required of all participants as evidence of fitness for swimming activities. Forms for minors must be signed by a parent or legal guardian. Participants should be asked to relate any recent incidents of illness or injury just prior to the activity. Supervision and protection should be adjusted to anticipate any potential risks associated with individual health conditions. For significant health conditions, the adult supervisor should require an examination by a physician and consult with the parent, guardian, or caregiver for appropriate precautions.
- Safe Area
All swimming areas must be carefully inspected and prepared for safety prior to each activity. Water depth, quality, temperature, movement, and clarity are important considerations. Hazards must be eliminated or isolated by conspicuous markings and discussed with participants.
Controlled Access: There must be safe areas for all participating ability groups to enter and leave the water. Swimming areas of appropriate depth must be defined for each ability group. The entire area must be within easy reach of designated rescue personnel. The area must be clear of boat traffic, surfing, or other nonswimming activities.
Bottom Conditions and Depth: The bottom must be clear of trees and debris. Abrupt changes in depth are not allowed in the nonswimmer area. Isolated underwater hazards should be marked with floats. Rescue personnel must be able to easily reach the bottom. Maximum recommended water depth in clear water is 12 feet. Maximum water depth in turbid water is 8 feet.
Visibility: Underwater swimming and diving are prohibited in turbid water. Turbid water exists when a swimmer treading water cannot see their feet. Swimming at night is allowed only in areas with water clarity and lighting sufficient for good visibility both above and below the surface.
Diving and Elevated Entry: Diving is permitted only into clear, unobstructed water from heights no greater than 40 inches. Water depth must be at least 7 feet. Bottom depth contours below diving boards and elevated surfaces require greater water depths and must conform to state regulations. Persons should not jump into water from heights greater than they are tall, and should jump only into water chest deep or greater with minimal risk from contact with the bottom. No elevated entry is permitted where the person must clear any obstacle, including land.
Water Temperature: Comfortable water temperature for swimming is near 80 degrees. Activity in water at 70 degrees or less should be of limited duration and closely monitored for negative effects of chilling.
Water Quality: Bodies of stagnant, foul water, areas with significant algae or foam, or areas polluted by livestock or waterfowl should be avoided. Comply with any signs posted by local health authorities. Swimming is not allowed in swimming pools with green, murky, or cloudy water.
Moving Water: Participants should be able to easily regain and maintain their footing in currents or waves. Areas with large waves, swiftly flowing currents, or moderate currents that flow toward the open sea or into areas of danger should be avoided.
Weather: Participants should be moved from the water to a position of safety whenever lightning or thunder threatens. Wait at least 30 minutes after the last lightning flash or thunder before leaving shelter. Take precautions to prevent sunburn, dehydration, and hypothermia.
Life Jacket Use: Swimming in clear water over 12 feet deep, in turbid water over 8 feet deep, or in flowing water may be allowed if all participants wear properly fitted, Coast Guard–approved life jackets and the supervisor determines that swimming with life jackets is safe under the circumstances.
- Response Personnel (Lifeguards)
Every swimming activity must be closely and continuously monitored by a trained rescue team on the alert for and ready to respond during emergencies. Professionally trained lifeguards satisfy this need when provided by a regulated facility or tour operator. When lifeguards are not provided by others, the adult supervisor must assign at least two rescue personnel, with additional numbers to maintain a ratio of one rescuer to every 10 participants. The supervisor must provide instruction and rescue equipment and assign areas of responsibility as outlined in Aquatics Supervision. The qualified supervisor, the designated response personnel, and the lookout work together as a safety team. An emergency action plan should be formulated and shared with participants as appropriate.
The lookout continuously monitors the conduct of the swim, identifies any departures from Safe Swim Defense guidelines, alerts rescue personnel as needed, and monitors the weather and environment. The lookout should have a clear view of the entire area but be close enough for easy verbal communication. The lookout must have a sound understanding of Safe Swim Defense but is not required to perform rescues. The adult supervisor may serve simultaneously as the lookout but must assign the task to someone else if engaged in activities that preclude focused observation.
- Ability Groups
All youth and adult participants are designated as swimmers, beginners, or nonswimmers based on swimming ability confirmed by standardized BSA swim classification tests. Each group is 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 youth has earned the Swimming merit badge.
Swimmers pass this test: Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth. Level off and swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl; then swim 25 yards using an easy resting backstroke. The 100 yards must be completed in one swim without stops and must include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.
Beginners pass this test: Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth, level off, and swim 25 feet on the surface. Stop, turn sharply, resume swimming, and return to the starting place.
Anyone who has not completed either the beginner or swimmer tests is classified as a nonswimmer.
The nonswimmer area should be no more than waist to chest deep and should be enclosed by physical boundaries such as the shore, a pier, or lines. The enclosed beginner area should contain water of standing depth and may extend to depths just over the head. The swimmer area may be up to 12 feet in depth in clear water and should be defined by floats or other markers.
- Buddy System
Every participant is paired with another. Buddies stay together, monitor each other, and alert the safety team if either needs assistance or is missing.
Buddies check into and out of the area together. Buddies are normally in the same ability group and remain in their assigned area. If they are not of the same ability group, then they swim in the area assigned to the buddy with the lesser ability.
A buddy check reminds participants of their obligation to monitor their buddies and indicates how closely the buddies are keeping track of each other. Roughly every 10 minutes, or as needed to keep the buddies together, the lookout, or other person designated by the supervisor, gives an audible signal, such as a single whistle blast, and a call for “Buddies.” Buddies are expected to raise each other’s hand before completion of a slow, audible count to 10. Buddies who take longer to find each other should be reminded of their responsibility for the other’s safety.
Once everyone has a buddy, a count is made by area and compared with the total number known to be in the water. After the count is confirmed, a signal is given to resume swimming.
Rules are effective only when followed. All participants should know, understand, and respect the rules and procedures for safe swimming provided by Safe Swim Defense guidelines. Applicable rules should be discussed prior to the outing and reviewed for all participants at the water’s edge just before the swimming activity begins. People are more likely to follow directions when they know the reasons for rules and procedures. Consistent, impartially applied rules supported by skill and good judgment provide steppingstones to a safe, enjoyable outing.
The BSA’s Aquatics Play Structure Policy applies to all play structures operated in Scouting whether inflatable, floatable, or fixed structures. It includes, but is not limited to, slides, swings, mats, logs, rockers, and climbing or bouncing devices. Key components of the policy include: program hazard analysis, location, operating procedures, installation/construction, participant safety equipment, safety checks, and emergency action plans. Details on how to implement this policy can be found at www.scouting.org/outdoor-programs/Aquatics.
The swimmer and beginner classification tests defined in Safe Swim Defense may be administered at the unit level following procedures specified in Aquatics Supervision.
The following policies apply when distance swimming is conducted outside the confines of a normal Safe Swim Defense area.
- The environment for an open-water swim must conform to Safe Swim Defense guidelines regarding hazards such as submerged trees, currents, and boat traffic, as well as water quality, depth, and clarity.
- Each individual swimmer, or at most a buddy pair, may be accompanied by a rowboat with two people onboard—one skilled in controlling the boat and the other trained in basic water rescue—equipped with a reaching device and flotation aid, continuously watching the swimmers.
- Alternatively, a closed circuit may be established where all swimmers are constantly in reach of safety personnel strategically positioned at fixed points on anchored boats, the shore, or piers. Each participant swims with a buddy, and the number and spacing of the swimmers in the water should not exceed the capacity of the watchers to easily count the swimmers as they move from one zone to another.
- Some competitive swimming events, such as triathlons, also cover long distances. Long-distance swimming races are not approved for Cub Scouts or members of Scouts BSA, but Venturers may participate in triathlon training and competitive events. All swimming activities conducted by Venturing crews must conform to Safe Swim Defense guidelines. Individual Venturers may participate in outside triathlon events sanctioned by USA Triathlon.
All ability groups may use snorkeling equipment within confined areas when following all Safe Swim Defense policies, including visibility for underwater swimming.
Snorkeling is a swimming activity in which one must abide by Safe Swim Defense policies, but the following additions to Safe Swim Defense apply when snorkeling is conducted in open water. “Open water” denotes a temporary swimming area of flexible extent in a natural body of water that may or may not be close to shore.
Qualified Supervision: In addition to Safe Swim Defense training and the 21-year-old minimum age, the supervisor must be an experienced snorkeler. At a minimum, the supervisor must possess skills and knowledge matching the Snorkeling BSA Award and have experience with environments similar to those of the planned activity.
Participant Ability: All participants in open-water snorkeling must either complete Snorkeling BSA requirements or be a certified scuba diver. Open-water is limited to Scouts BSA, Venturing and Sea Scouts.
Equipment: All snorkeling equipment must be properly fitted and in good repair. Full-face snorkel masks (combinations of a built-in snorkel with a mask that covers the mouth and nose) are prohibited. Use of individual flotation devices (inflatable snorkeling vests or life jackets) is required whenever there is a noticeable current or swells, when the bottom is not visible from the surface due to vegetation or limited visibility beyond 8 feet, or when the activity is greater than 50 yards from shore or craft.
A dive flag is required in areas shared by boats. Local regulations specifying the size of the flag and how far snorkelers may be from it must be followed. Weight belts may not be worn unless the participant has scuba certification. Dive boats should be equipped with radios and first-aid kits and should deploy safety lines.
The BSA scuba diving policy is applicable to scuba training/certification courses, and recreational diving activities by BSA members. In addition, council programs are subject to BSA National Camp Accreditation Program (NCAP). The BSA recognizes scuba industry standards and implements them by using outside agencies for training and certification. Introductory scuba experience programs that are conducted in a swimming pool only must at a minimum meet the requirements set forth by the instructor’s recognized scuba training agency.
Training and Supervision
Any diver possessing, displaying, or using scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) in connection with any Scouting-related activity must be either under the direct supervision of a recognized diving instructor or currently certified by a recognized agency. Any introductory scuba experience program or training/certification course must be conducted by a recognized diving instructor.
A recognized professional divemaster or instructor is any currently certified (renewed) divemaster or instructor in good standing with an agency recognized by the RSTC (Recreational Scuba Training Council), with professional liability insurance and is approved by the local BSA council.
Scuba Diving merit badge counselors are not required to be diving instructors. However, the merit badge requirement for earning an open water diver certification must be done under the supervision of a recognized diving instructor.
Recreational diving activities by BSA groups whose members are currently certified must be directly supervised by a responsible adult currently certified (renewed) as a divemaster, assistant instructor, or higher rating from a recognized agency. Dive environments, equipment, depths, procedures, supervision, and buddy assignments must be consistent with each individual’s certification.
Because dives by recreational divers may be infrequent, the divemaster or instructor supervising a BSA scuba activity should screen participants prior to open-water activities and provide remedial instruction and practice as appropriate. Such remedial instruction and practice should be in accordance with the policies and standards of the divemaster’s or instructor’s agency for Scuba Review, Scuba Refresher, or similar program.
Diving using surface-supplied air systems is not authorized in connection with any BSA activity or facility except when done under contract by commercial divers.
Youth members registered in Cub Scout programs are not authorized to use scuba in any activity.
Registered members of Scouts BSA and older BSA youth programs (age 11 and above) may participate in introductory Scuba BSA programs and scuba certification programs conducted by recognized agencies appropriate to their age and current level of certification.
Members of BSA programs, based on age, may participate in recreational group dives as unit, district, or council activities, provided such dives are consistent with their certifications and under direct supervision of a responsible adult currently certified as a divemaster, assistant instructor, or higher rating from a recognized agency.
Standards of the recognized scuba agencies require students for open-water certification programs to be at least 15 years of age but allow special certification programs for younger students. Since all instruction for BSA scuba programs must be conducted by professionals certified by a recognized agency, additional agency-specific, age-related restrictions and protocols apply to students under 15 years of age.
The divemaster or instructor supervising a recreational dive by a BSA group must implement the following policies. Additional restrictions and protocols from the certifying agency may apply:
- Depths are limited to 40 feet for divers under 12 years of age and to 60 feet for divers 12 to 14 years of age.
- Additional divemasters or instructors are present to maintain a ratio of one trained supervisor to four buddy pairs (eight divers) containing one to four divers under 15 years of age.
- In addition to the divemaster or trained supervisor, each diver under the age of 15 must have an assigned adult diver who is certified as an open water diver or higher rating as part of the dive group. It is recommended that no more than 3 youth under the age of 15 years of age may dive with the assigned adult diver.
- Note: The 8:1 youth to trained supervisor ratio is a maximum ratio and should be reduced based upon weather, water conditions including current, surface conditions and visibility, participants comfort and skill level and the ability of the divemaster or instructor to control the group.
Each scuba training agency recognized by the BSA requires a specific health history form be completed prior to enrollment in a certification program (e.g., RSTC Diver Medical Participant Questionnaire). The BSA requires review and approval of the completed form by a physician. Various risk factors identified on the forms may exclude a person from scuba training, either temporarily or permanently. Risk factors include, but are not limited to, ear and sinus problems, recent surgery, spontaneous pneumothorax, asthma or reactive airway disease (RAD), seizure disorders, diabetes, cardiac disorders, leukemia, sickle-cell disorder, pregnancy, panic disorders, and active psychosis.
The divemaster or instructor supervising a BSA recreational scuba activity/introductory scuba experience program must review the annual health information (i.e., BSA AHMR and RSTC Diver Medical Participant Questionnaire) and evaluate risk conditions using medical standards consistent with those used by their certifying agency and the BSA. Additional tests or physician consultations may be required to confirm fitness for diving. Consultation with medical specialists knowledgeable about diving medicine (Divers Alert Network’s 24-hour hotline) may be needed. If the scuba activity is conducted as part of a council program, then approval to dive is also subject to review and confirmation by the camp health officer and/or medical director/Council Health Supervisor.
The following medical contraindications are based on BSA operational considerations and may be more conservative than those listed in the “Diving Medical Guidance to the Physician.”
- Diabetes Mellitus. Diabetes must be well-controlled. Hypoglycemia can lead to unconsciousness and drowning
- Diving as part of an official Scouting activity is prohibited for the following:
- For persons under age 18 with the diagnosis of diabetes.
- Persons using insulin to control diabetes.
- Persons with diabetes, who are non-insulin dependent and who have had recurrent problems and/or hospitalizations for diabetic problems.
- Persons with any HbA1c test greater than 7.0 in the previous 12 months.
- Persons having a documented or suspected hypoglycemic event requiring treatment or assessment in the previous 12 months.
- Diabetes is considered well-controlled when the following are met:
- The acceptable oral medications for diabetic control are as single agents only: metformin and metformin analogs; DPP-4 inhibitors (sitagliptin, vildagliptin, alogliptin, saxagliptin and linagliptin); or SGLT2 inhibitors and analogies.
- Persons who control their diabetes with exercise and diet (without the aid of medication, except metformin) and document HbA1c test value less than 7.0 in the last 6 months may be approved to scuba dive.
- Diving as part of an official Scouting activity is prohibited for the following:
- Seizures or Epilepsy. Seizures while snorkeling or scuba diving are extremely dangerous and often fatal.
- Diving as part of an official Scouting activity is prohibited for participants with a history of seizures.
- Prospective participants with a history of infant febrile seizures may be considered for diving after formal consultation with a neurologist.
- Asthma or Reactive Airway Disease.
- Diving as part of an official Scouting activity is prohibited for persons being treated for asthma or reactive airway disease.
- Persons with a history of asthma who have been asymptomatic and have not used medications to control asthma for five years or more may be allowed to scuba dive if resolution of asthma is specifically confirmed by their physician and includes provocative pulmonary function testing. Provocative testing can include exercise, hypertonic saline, a hyperpnea test, etc.
- Psychological and Emotional Difficulties (ADD, ADHD, anxiety, and depression). Any condition should be well-controlled. Many medications are not compatible with scuba diving.
- Diving as part of an official Scouting activity is prohibited for the following:
- Participants taking more than one medication for any of these conditions.
- Participants with anxiety disorder requiring any medication.
- Diving as part of an official Scouting activity is prohibited for the following:
- Severe Risk Factors. Diving as part of an official scouting activity is prohibited for persons with conditions listed as “severe” by the Undersea & Hyperbaric Medical Society (UHMS). See: UHMS Diving Medical Guidance to the Physician (2020).
Youth, parents, dive supervisors, and physicians with questions or concerns about diving with specific medical conditions should consult the UHMS Diving Medical Guidance to the Physician, Recreational Scuba Training Council (RSTC) and the Divers Alert Network (DAN). DAN medical professionals are available for non-emergency consultation by telephone at 919-684-2948 during business hours or via email.
Recognized agencies are:
- PADI: Professional Association of Diving Instructors
- NAUI: National Association of Underwater Instructors
- SSI: Scuba Schools International
- IDEA: International Diving Educators Association
- PDIC: Professional Diving Instructors Corporation
- SDI/TDI: Scuba Diving International
- YMCA Scuba Program (discontinued in 2008, but certification cards are still recognized)
- NASDS: National Association of Scuba Diving Schools (merged with SSI, but certification cards are still recognized)
- IANTD: International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers
- RAID: Rebreather Association of International Divers
- SNSI: Scuba and Nitrox Safety International
- NASE: National Academy of Scuba Educators
- In addition to the agencies listed by name, any current member of the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC), which includes all RSTC members, is also recognized.
BSA groups shall use Safety Afloat for all boating activities. Adult leaders supervising activities afloat must have completed Safety Afloat training within the previous two years. Cub Scout activities afloat are limited to council, district, pack, or den events that do not include moving water or float trips (expeditions). Safety Afloat standards apply to the use of canoes, kayaks, rowboats, rafts, floating tubes, sailboats, motorboats (including waterskiing), and other small craft, but do not apply to transportation on large commercial vessels such as ferries and cruise ships. Parasailing (being towed airborne behind a boat using a parachute), kite-surfing (using a wakeboard towed by a kite), and unit-level recreational use of personal watercraft (small sit-on-top motorboats propelled by water jets) are not authorized BSA activities.
Safety Afloat training may be obtained from my.scouting.org, at council camps, and at other council and district training events. Additional guidance on appropriate skill levels and training resources is provided in Aquatics Supervision.
- Qualified Supervision
All activity afloat must be supervised by a mature and conscientious adult age 21 or older who understands and knowingly accepts responsibility for the well-being and safety of those in his or her care and who is trained in and committed to compliance with the nine points of BSA Safety Afloat. That supervisor must be skilled in the safe operation of the craft for the specific activity, knowledgeable in accident prevention, and prepared for emergency situations. If the adult with Safety Afloat training lacks the necessary boat operating and safety skills, then they may serve as the supervisor only if assisted by other adults, camp staff personnel, or professional tour guides who have the appropriate skills. Additional leadership is provided in ratios of one trained adult, staff member, or guide per 10 participants. For Cub Scouts, the leadership ratio is one trained adult, staff member, or guide per five participants. At least one leader must be trained in first aid including CPR. Any swimming done in conjunction with the activity afloat must be supervised in accordance with BSA Safe Swim Defense standards. It is strongly recommended that all units have at least one adult or older youth member currently trained in BSA Aquatics Supervision: Paddle Craft Safety to assist in the planning and conduct of all activities afloat.
- Personal Health Review
A complete health history is required of all participants as evidence of fitness for boating activities. Forms for minors must be signed by a parent or legal guardian. Participants should be asked to relate any recent incidents of illness or injury just prior to the activity. Supervision and protection should be adjusted to anticipate any potential risks associated with individual health conditions. For significant health conditions, the adult supervisor should require an examination by a physician and consult with parent, guardian, or caregiver for appropriate precautions.
- Swimming Ability
Operation of any boat on a float trip is limited to youth and adults who have completed the BSA swimmer classification test. Swimmers must complete the following test, which must be administered annually.
Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth. Level off and swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl; then swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke. The 100 yards must be completed in one swim without stops and must include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.
For activity afloat, those not classified as a swimmer are limited to multiperson craft during outings or float trips on calm water with little likelihood of capsizing or falling overboard. They may operate a fixed-seat rowboat or pedal boat accompanied by a buddy who is a swimmer. They may paddle or ride in a canoe or other paddle craft with an adult swimmer skilled in that craft as a buddy. They may ride as part of a group on a motorboat or sailboat operated by a skilled adult.
- Life Jackets
Properly fitted life jackets with U.S. Coast Guard approval for the activity must be worn by all persons while boating. Check the life-jacket label for performance, turning ability, and warnings. Some life jackets are NOT approved for water skiing, wakeboarding, tubing, personal watercraft, or whitewater paddling.
For vessels over 20 feet in length, life jackets need not be worn when participants are below deck or on deck when the qualified supervisor aboard the vessel determines that it is prudent to abide by less-restrictive state and federal regulations concerning the use and storage of life jackets, for example, when a cruising vessel with safety rails is at anchor. All participants not classified as swimmers must wear a life jacket when on deck underway.
Life jackets need not be worn when an activity falls under Safe Swim Defense guidelines—for example, when an inflated raft is used in a pool or when snorkeling from an anchored craft.
- Buddy System
All participants in an activity afloat are paired as buddies who are always aware of each other’s situation and prepared to sound an alarm and lend assistance immediately when needed. When several craft are used on a float trip, each boat on the water should have a “buddy boat.” All buddy pairs must be accounted for at regular intervals during the activity and checked off the water by the qualified supervisor at the conclusion of the activity. Buddies either ride in the same boat or stay near each other in single-person craft.
- Skill Proficiency
Everyone in an activity afloat must have sufficient knowledge and skill to participate safely. Passengers should know how their movement affects boat stability and have a basic understanding of self-rescue. Boat operators must meet government requirements, be able to maintain control of their craft, know how changes in the environment influence that control, and undertake activities only that are within their personal and group capabilities.
Content of training exercises should be appropriate for the age, size, and experience of the participants, and should cover basic skills on calm water of limited extent before proceeding to advanced skills involving current, waves, high winds, or extended distance. At a minimum, instructors for canoes and kayaks should be able to demonstrate the handling and rescue skills required for BSA Aquatics Supervision: Paddle Craft Safety. All instructors must have at least one assistant who can recognize and respond appropriately if the instructor’s safety is compromised.
Anyone engaged in recreational boating using human-powered craft on flatwater ponds or controlled lake areas free of conflicting activities should be instructed in basic safety procedures prior to launch, and allowed to proceed after they have demonstrated the ability to control the boat adequately to return to shore at will.
For recreational sailing, at least one person aboard should be able to demonstrate basic sailing proficiency (tacking, reaching, and running) sufficient to return the boat to the launch point. Extended cruising on a large sailboat requires either a professional captain or an adult with sufficient experience to qualify as a bareboat skipper.
Motorboats may be operated by youth, subject to state requirements, only when accompanied in the boat by an experienced leader or camp staff member who meets state requirements for motorboat operation. Extended cruising on a large power boat requires either a professional captain or an adult with similar qualifications.
Before a unit using human-powered craft controlled by youth embarks on a float trip or excursion that covers an extended distance or lasts longer than four hours, each participant should either receive a minimum of three hours training and supervised practice or demonstrate proficiency in maneuvering the craft effectively over a 100-yard course and recovering from a capsize.
Self-guided unit trips on Class III whitewater may only be done after all participants have received American Canoe Association or equivalent training for the class of water and type of craft involved. Unit trips on whitewater sections of rivers rated Class IV are only allowed in rafts with a professionally trained guide in each raft. Trips above Class IV are not allowed.
Proper planning is necessary to ensure a safe, enjoyable exercise afloat. All plans should include a scheduled itinerary, notification of appropriate parties, communication arrangements, contingencies in case of foul weather or equipment failure, and emergency response options.
Preparation. Any boating activity requires access to the proper equipment and transportation of gear and participants to the site. Determine what state and local regulations are applicable. Get permission to use or cross private property. Determine whether personal resources will be used or whether outfitters will supply equipment, food, and shuttle services. Lists of group and personal equipment and supplies must be compiled and checked. Even short trips require selecting a route, checking water levels, and determining alternative pull-out locations. Changes in water level, especially on moving water, may pose significant, variable safety concerns. Obtain current charts and information about the waterway and consult those who have traveled the route recently.
Float Plan. Complete the preparation by writing a detailed itinerary, or float plan, noting put-in and pull-out locations and waypoints, along with the approximate time the group should arrive at each. Travel time should be estimated generously.
Notification. File the float plan with parents, the local council office if traveling on running water, and local authorities if appropriate. Assign a member of the unit committee to alert authorities if prearranged check-ins are overdue. Make sure everyone is promptly notified when the trip is concluded.
Weather. Check the weather forecast just before setting out, and keep an alert weather eye. Anticipate changes and bring all craft ashore when rough weather threatens. Wait at least 30 minutes before resuming activities after the last incidence of thunder or lightning.
Contingencies. Planning must identify possible emergencies and other circumstances that could force a change of plans. Develop alternative plans for each situation. Identify local emergency resources such as EMS systems, sheriff’s departments, or ranger stations. Check your primary communication system, and identify backups, such as the nearest residence to a campsite. Cell phones and radios may lose coverage, run out of power, or suffer water damage.
All craft must be suitable for the activity, be seaworthy, and float if capsized. All craft and equipment must meet regulatory standards, be properly sized, and be in good repair. Spares, repair materials, and emergency gear must be carried as appropriate. Life jackets and paddles must be sized to the participants. Properly designed and fitted helmets must be worn when running rapids rated Class II and above. Emergency equipment such as throw bags, signal devices, flashlights, heat sources, first-aid kits, radios, and maps must be ready for use. Spare equipment, repair materials, extra food and water, and dry clothes should be appropriate for the activity. All gear should be stowed to prevent loss and water damage. For float trips with multiple craft, the number of craft should be sufficient to carry the party if a boat is disabled, and critical supplies should be divided among the craft.
Rules are effective only when followed. All participants should know, understand, and respect the rules and procedures for safe boating activities provided by Safety Afloat guidelines. Applicable rules should be discussed prior to the outing and reviewed for all participants near the boarding area just before the activity afloat begins. People are more likely to follow directions when they know the reasons for rules and procedures. Consistent, impartially applied rules supported by skill and good judgment provide steppingstones to a safe, enjoyable outing.
All participants in towed activity afloat (waterskiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding, tubing, etc.) must have successfully completed the BSA swimmer classification test and must wear a life jacket that has U.S. Coast Guard approval for the activity. Supervision must include both a skilled boat driver currently trained in Safety Afloat and a separate observer. Participants should observe the Water-Skiers Safety Code and the Boat Drivers Safety Code found in Aquatics Supervision. Use only floats specifically designed for towing that provide secure handholds for each rider.