Activity Planning and Risk Assessment

Policy Regarding Prohibited and Unauthorized Activities

The Boy Scouts of America’s Charter and Bylaws, Rules and Regulations, policies, and program guidelines help provide a safe and consistent program. Council and unit charters as well as individual registration are conditioned upon adherence to those requirements.

Adult volunteer leaders and units that allow youth or units to engage in prohibited or unauthorized activities in contravention of program requirements, and leaders who fail to take steps to stop any such activities, put Scouts and the organization at risk.

Only leaders possessing the educational, emotional, and moral qualities necessary for leadership are permitted to register and serve as Scouters. Actions which put youth or the organization at risk call into question the suitability of a Scouter for leadership.

If it is determined that Scouts were allowed to participate or engage in unauthorized or prohibited activities, a leader’s registration and/or the unit’s charter may be subject to adverse action, including revocation.

Approved by the National Executive Committee, February 13, 2018

Prohibited Activities 

The Scouting program incorporates common activities such as swimming, climbing, cycling, archery, and snowboarding that, depending on the details, may include both real and perceived risks to participants. Those risks are managed by BSA policies, procedures, and guidelines that set limits and incorporate specific features such as safety equipment or qualified supervision. Guidance is provided by, but not limited to, the Age-Appropriate Guidelines for Scouting Activities, Safe Swim Defense, Safety Afloat, Climb on Safely, Belay On, and the BSA shooting sports program. Activity components outside of BSA program guidelines are prohibited as follows:

  1. Nonadherence to the Scouter Code of Conduct
  2. Any activity that is not aligned with the current Age-Appropriate Guidelines for Scouting Activities
  3. Aquatic activities that fail to comply with Safe Swim Defense and/or Safety Afloat
  4. Activities related to COPE or climbing that fail to comply with Climb on Safely and/or Belay On. This includes activities on courses that are not constructed to comply with standards set by the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) and/or are not inspected annually for integrity.
  5. Flying—use of hang gliders, ultralights, experimental aircraft, or nontethered hot-air balloons, or flying in an aircraft as part of a search-and-rescue mission (exceptions: transportation to Scouting events by commercial airlines; flying or tethered hot-air balloon flights following completion of the Flying Plan Checklist)
  6. Motorized vehicles used as program or activities—including all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), off-road vehicles, motorized personal watercraft (PWC), and motorized speed events (exceptions: council-approved ATV and PWC programs that comply with National Camp Accreditation Program [NCAP] standards; go-karting conducted at a commercial facility that provides equipment and supervision of cart operation; youth completing the Motorboating merit badge)
  7. Shooting or throwing sports outside of BSA program literature and guidance. Examples of prohibited activities (with exceptions in italics) include:
    • Anvil shooting, flintlocks, exploding targets, and devices regulated by the National Firearms Act
    • Blow guns, boomerangs, and ballistae
    • Homemade firearms and air cannons, potato cannons, and tennis ball cannons
    • Throwing of shovels, torpedoes, spikes, or stars
    • Inappropriate ammunition such as pumpkins, hard slingshot ammo, and tracers
    • Cannons (exception: council camp ceremonies, which must follow the BSA’s guidelines for cannon use)
    • Crossbows (except at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve)
    • Reloading ammunition, and using reloaded ammunition (except at Philmont Scout Ranch)
    • Spears, including atlatls, pole spears, and spear guns (except at Philmont Scout Ranch)
  8. Open or concealed carry or use of firearms at any Scouting activity, with the following exceptions:
    • Law enforcement officers who are required to carry firearms within their jurisdiction
    • Use as part of an official BSA shooting sports program
    • Appropriate hunting in Venturing

Some activities considered by youth and leaders are not compatible with the Scouting program. Some have unacceptable risks that have been confirmed by serious or even fatal consequences. Others are not compatible with the Scout Oath and Scout Law. The activities listed below are strictly prohibited as part of any Scouting program.

The list is not comprehensive, but it serves as a definitive list of prohibited activities and it offers a broad sense of what is not allowed as a Scouting activity. Scouting leaders should refer to this list when deciding on activities, and they should reflect vigorously on how any activity outside our published program would resonate with the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

The Boy Scouts of America prohibits the following activities (with exceptions in italics):

  1. Extreme or action sports and associated activities that involve an unusually high degree of risk and often involve speed, height, a high level of exertion, and specialized gear or equipment. These activities include but are not limited to
    • Parkour
    • Cliff diving or jumping
    • Whitewater paddling on rapids rated Class V or above
    • Tree climbing
    • Free or solo climbing
    • Aerobatics while snowboarding, skiing, wakeboarding, or mountain biking
    • Parachuting, BASE jumping, or wingsuiting
    • Parasailing or any activity in which a person is carried aloft by a parachute, parasail, kite, flying tube, or other device
    • Participation in amateur or professional rodeo events, council or district sponsorship of rodeos, and use of mechanized bulls or similar devices (This restriction does not apply to bicycle safety rodeos.)
    • Jumping with bungee-cord devices (sometimes called shockcord jumping)
    • Bubbleball, Knockerball®, zorbing, Battle Balls™, bubble soccer, bubble football, and similar orb activities where participants collide or roll around on land or water
    • Flyboarding/jet-boarding
    • Highlining
    • XPOGO
    • Trampolines and trampoline parks (exception: commercial facilities that meet or exceed current ASTM Standard F2970-15)
  2. Use of accelerants, chemicals, or pyrotechnics to start fires or in ceremonies (exception: solid fire starters designed and manufactured for this purpose)
  3. Using homemade or modified equipment that fails to comply with the BSA Chemical Fuels and Equipment policy
  4. Burning any solid, liquid, gel, or gas fuel in a tent—including tents or teepees that feature or support stoves or fires
  5. Activities where participants strike at each other, including martial arts, boxing, combat games, gladiator games, and reenactment activities such as live action role-playing games (LARP) and Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) activities (exception: tai chi)
  6. Activities where participants shoot or throw objects at each other, such as rock-throwing, paintball, laser or archery tag, sock fights, or dodgeball
  7. Service projects that fail to comply with federal, state, or local laws regarding the safety of youth (For more information, visit www.youthrules.gov and www.dol.gov/general/topic/youthlabor/hazardousjobs/.)
  8. Use of power tools by youth, including chainsaws, log splitters, wood chippers, and power saws or mills (Youth may use age-appropriate tools following tool manufacturers’ guidelines.)
  9. Exploration of abandoned mines
  10. Fireworks, including selling of fireworks (exception: fireworks displays by a certified or licensed fireworks control expert)
  11. Water chugging, and eating or drinking competitions such as “chubby bunny” or hot dog eating contests
  12. Hunting (Venturing crews may conduct hunting trips, and councils may host special adult hunting expeditions provided that all participants have obtained necessary permits and/or licenses from state or federal agencies and have completed a hunter safety education course.)
  13. Intramural, interscholastic, or club sport competitions or activities

Please review Prohibited Activities FAQ’s if you have any questions.

You can use this Safety Moment on prohibited activities to help explain the policies at your meetings.

Approved by the National Leadership Council May 30, 2019

Activity Planning and Risk Assessment

No organization, including the Boy Scouts of America, can anticipate every possible activity that could be conducted as part of a unit, district, or council event. As such, it is neither the intent nor the desire of the BSA to provide specific guidance on subjects that are not core to the program or part of our literature.

For those activities that support the values of the Boy Scouts of America, there are several tools available for participants that will help them plan for a fun and safe tour, activity, or event. Good planning and preparedness prior to executing the activity is key to success. This guide is one of those tools. Other such resources are the Program Hazard Analysis, safety checklists, and the PAUSE card.

As you use these tools, reflect on the words of Robert Baden-Powell: Be Prepared … the meaning of the motto is that a Scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.

Program Hazard Analysis

This tool is primarily used for program areas within camps or high-adventure bases. It covers specific risks to the program areas. This tool has a defined way of assessing probability and severity of risks. This tool assesses risks initially, as if there are no protective measures in place, then looks at the risks again with protective measures.

Reference: www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/680-009.pdf

Safety Checklists

These tools are used to inspect a vehicle or a meeting place when you have small events or campouts. Checklists are a “body of knowledge” for running Scouting activities safely. Like an airline pilot who uses a checklist before takeoff, these tools help to make sure critical things are in place in order to conduct a safe Scouting activity. Many safety-related program materials include checklists; Sweet 16 of BSA Safety, Safe Swim Defense, Safety Afloat, and Climb on Safely are examples.

Reference: www.scouting.org/health-and-safety/guidelines-policies/

 Safety PAUSE

The Safety PAUSE process stresses the importance of a last-minute safety check in the field. By encouraging each Scout or adult leader to pause and reflect on the tasks at hand just before beginning, you have an opportunity to take necessary precautions to prevent any present or potential hazards.

Reference: www.scouting.org/filestore/healthsafety/pdf/680-046.pdf

The Sweet 16 of BSA Safety

These 16 safety points, which embody good judgment and common sense, are applicable to all activities: 

  1. Qualified Supervision. Every BSA activity should be supervised by a conscientious adult who understands and knowingly accepts responsibility for the well-being and safety of the children and youth in his or her care. The supervisor should be sufficiently trained, experienced, and skilled in the activity to be confident of his or her ability to lead and teach the necessary skills and to respond effectively in the event of an emergency. Field knowledge of BSA programs and a commitment to implement and follow BSA policy and procedures are essential parts of the supervisor’s qualifications.
  2. Physical Fitness. For youth participants in any potentially strenuous activity, the supervisor should receive a complete health history from a health-care professional, parent, or guardian. Adult participants and youth involved in higher-risk activities (e.g., scuba diving) may have to undergo professional evaluation in addition to completing the health history. The supervisor should adjust all supervision, discipline, and protection to anticipate potential risks associated with individual health conditions. Neither youth nor adults should participate in activities for which they are unfit. To do so would place both the individual and others at risk.
  3. Buddy System. The buddy system has a dual purpose: You ensure your buddy’s safety during activities, and your buddy ensures your safety. You are never alone and vulnerable.
  4. Safe Area or Course. A key part of the supervisors’ responsibility is to know the area or course for the activity and to determine that it is well-suited and free of hazards.
  5. Equipment Selection and Maintenance. Most activity requires some specialized equipment. The equipment should be selected to suit the participants and the activity and to include appropriate safety and program features. The supervisor should also check equipment to determine whether it is in good condition for the activity and make sure it is kept properly maintained while in use.
  6. Personal Safety Equipment. The supervisor must assure that every participant has and uses the appropriate personal safety equipment. For example, activity afloat requires that each participant properly wear a life jacket; bikers, horseback riders, and whitewater kayakers need helmets for certain activities; skaters need protective gear; and all need to be dressed for warmth and utility as the circumstances require.
  7. Safety Procedures and Policies. For most activities, common-sense procedures and standards can greatly reduce any risk. These should be known and appreciated by all participants.
  8. Skill Level Limits. Every activity has a minimum skill level, and the supervisor must identify and recognize this level and be sure that participants are not put at risk by attempting any activity beyond their abilities. A good example of skill levels in Scouting is the swim test, which defines conditions for safe swimming on the basis of individual ability.
  9. Weather Check. The risks of many outdoor activities vary substantially with weather conditions. Potential weather hazards and the appropriate responses should be understood and anticipated. Weather Hazards training should be up to date for at least one leader on the outing.
  10. Planning. Safe activity follows a plan that has been conscientiously developed by the experienced supervisor or other competent source. Good planning minimizes risks and also anticipates contingencies that may require an emergency response or a change of plan.
  11. Communications. The supervisor needs to be able to communicate effectively with participants as needed during the activity. Emergency communications also need to be considered in advance for any foreseeable contingencies.
  12. Plans and Notices. Council office registration, government or landowner authorization, and any similar formalities are the supervisor’s responsibility when such are required. Appropriate notification should be directed to parents, enforcement authorities, landowners, and others as needed, before and after the activity.
  13. First-Aid Resources. The supervisor should determine what first-aid supplies to include among the activity equipment. The level of first-aid training and skill appropriate for the activity should also be considered. An extended trek over remote terrain obviously may require more first-aid resources and capabilities than an afternoon activity in a local community. Whatever is determined to be needed should be available.
  14. Applicable Laws. BSA safety policies generally parallel or go beyond legal mandates, but the supervisor should confirm and assure compliance with all applicable regulations or statutes.
  15. CPR Resource. Any strenuous activity or remote trek could present a cardiac emergency. Aquatic programs may involve cardiopulmonary emergencies. BSA strongly recommends that a person (preferably an adult) trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) be part of the leadership for any BSA program. This person should be available for strenuous outdoor activity.
  16. Discipline. No supervisor is effective if he or she cannot control the activity and individual participants. Youth must respect their leaders and follow their directions.
Reference: The Sweet 16 of BSA Safety,
www.scouting.org/health-and-safety/resources/sweet16/