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.
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.
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.
These 16 safety points, which embody good judgment and common sense, are applicable to all activities:
- 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 all applicable BSA standards and a commitment to implement and follow BSA policy and procedures are essential parts of the supervisor’s qualifications.
- 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.
- Buddy System. The long history of the “buddy system” in Scouting has shown that it is always best to have at least one other person with you and aware at all times of your circumstances and what you are doing in any outdoor or strenuous activity.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, and the supervisor must assure compliance.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Caving is a specialized activity requiring advanced planning and technical skills. Scouting units participating in caving must follow the guidelines set forth in Cave Safely Cave Softly (www.scouting.org/outdoor-program/cope).
Cub Scouts and Webelos Scouts are encouraged to visit commercially operated caves and lava tubes. For commercial operations, leaders should follow the guidelines set by the operators and reference Cave Safely Cave Softly for more information. Non-commercial “easy caves” with no access control, such as those in parks where people of all abilities are allowed uncontrolled access, may also be suitable for Cub Scouts and Webelos Scouts.
Boy Scout–age youth are generally mature enough to enter “easy wild caves,” which means easily accessible, non-technical/non-vertical caves. A “wild cave” is anything that is not commercially operated with a professional tour guide.
Older Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, Sea Scouts, and Venturers should be ready to explore more technical wild caves.
Canyoneering is a specialized activity requiring advanced planning and technical skills. Scouting units participating in canyoneering must follow the guidelines set forth in Canyoneering Safely (www.scouting.org/outdoor-program/cope).
The American Canyoneering Association has developed a rating system for canyons that can be found at www.canyoneeringusa.com/utah/introduction/understanding-canyon-ratings/.
Cub Scouts may hike ACA-rated Class 1 canyons with age-appropriate bouldering over obstacles or other steep faces without going more than a few feet off the ground with trained adult spotters. Cub Scouts may not participate in canyoneering activities in ACA Class 2 or higher canyons.
Webelos Scouts may hike in ACA-rated Class 1 and Class 2 canyons with age-appropriate bouldering over obstacles or other steep faces without going more than a few feet off the ground with trained spotters. Webelos Scouts may not participate in canyoneering activities in ACA Class 3 or higher canyons.
Boy Scouts may participate in canyoneering activities in ACA-rated Class 1 and Class 2 canyons with age-appropriate bouldering obstacles and trained spotters. They may also participate in canyoneering activities in ACA-rated Class 3 technical canyons. All bouldering moves should have appropriate spotters. Boy Scouts may not participate in canyoneering activities in ACA-rated Class C canyons.
Older Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, Sea Scouts, and Venturers may participate in canyoneering activities in ACA-rated Class 1 and Class 2 canyons with age appropriate bouldering obstacles with trained spotters. They may also participate in canyoneering activities in ACA Class 3 and Class C canyons. All bouldering moves should have appropriate spotters.
Participation in canyoneering activities in ACA-rated Class 4 canyons is not allowed for any BSA units.
The requirements applicable to climbing and rappelling listed in National Camp Standards, No. 430-056, apply to district and council activities.
- Climbing activities in which the participant’s feet are more than 6 feet off the ground must be top-rope belayed.
- All rappelling activities must be properly belayed (see NCAP standard PS-206).
Climb On Safely (see www.scouting.org/outdoorprogram/COPE) applies to climbing activities operated by a unit.
- BSA units conducting their own climbing activities must follow the requirements set forth in Climb On Safely.
- Leaders who supervise unit climbing activities must have current Climb On Safely training (available at MyScouting.org).
Cub Scouts and Webelos Scouts can do the following:
- Participate in bouldering (climbing on boulders or bouldering walls) no higher than the climber’s shoulder height with adults (or camp staff with adult supervision) who are trained to provide spotting for bouldering activities.
- Participate in closely controlled climbing activities with trained adult belayers, close adult supervision, and age-appropriate routes, instruction, and equipment.
In addition, Webelos Scouts can:
- Rappel with a trained adult belayer and backup.
In addition, Boy Scouts can:
- Belay with supervision and a backup.
- Participate in natural rock climbing programs.
In addition, older Boy Scouts (age 13 and older), Varsity Scouts, and Venturers may participate in lead climbing, sport climbing, snow and ice climbing, and clean aid climbing, subject to the following:
- All participants must be at least 13 years old.
- Qualified instructors must have training from a nationally recognized organization that trains climbing instructors in the appropriate special activity. Note: BSA National Camping School does not train climbing directors and instructors in lead climbing, snow and ice climbing, or clean aid climbing.
- Lead climbing without a top-rope belay is prohibited as part of a council or district activity; however, if participants are on a top-rope belay, simulated lead climbing, sport climbing, snow and ice climbing, and clean aid climbing are allowed.
- Units may conduct activities involving lead climbing with adult supervision and qualified instructors.
References: Climb On Safely, No. 430-099, and
Belay On, No. 430-500
Challenging Outdoor Personal Experience (COPE) activities are defined as low or high challenge course activities, including but not limited to those listed in Chapter 20: Low-Course Activities or Chapter 21: High-Course Activities in Belay On, No. 430-500 (see www.scouting.org/outdoorprogram). They are to be used only in conjunction with council or district activities that meet the current NCAP standards.
Units may participate in age-appropriate initiative games. These are group challenge activities that do not involve constructed facilities, such as Blind Square, Couples Tag, Hoops Around the Circle, and Traffic Jam. See Chapter 3: Warm-Ups and Initiative Games in Belay On. Units shall not construct low- or high-course elements, including zip lines.
Individual participation is based on the judgment of the COPE director or Level II instructor for facilities operated by districts and councils, and jointly by the facility operator/owner and unit leader for commercial facilities. Cub Scout units may not participate in COPE, zip line, canopy tour, or aerial adventure park activities unless those activities are specifically designed for Cub Scout-age youth participation, such as climbing facilities or obstacle courses. Refer to the age-appropriate guidelines chart in the Guide to Safe Scouting.
Zip Lines, Canopy Tours, and Aerial Adventure Parks
Commercial adventure facilities are becoming more popular as activity destinations for BSA units. There also has been an increase in incidents, some of them serious. For this reason, special care should be taken before participating in these activities.
Members of Boy Scout troops, Varsity Scout teams, Sea Scout ships, and Venturing crews may conduct unit outings involving zip line, canopy tour, and aerial adventure park activities when such facilities are operated according to Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) or American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) operating standards. Unit leaders shall verify current compliance to these standards with facility operators/owners prior to scheduling the activity. Councils with COPE or climbing programs have access to the ACCT standards, and the local council COPE and climbing committee can assist unit leaders in evaluating such facilities. Councils that do not have COPE or climbing programs should contact their COPE and climbing area advocate for this information.
Unit leaders shall verify that the operators of commercial facilities will comply with the following BSA NCAP standards from PS-206.C:
8. Measures are in place to provide for the safety of everyone at the program site, including observers. Everyone must be belayed or anchored when within 8 feet of an edge where a fall of more than 6 feet could occur.
9. A consistent process is used by all COPE and climbing staff to ensure that clothing, head protection, environment, connections, and knots are double-checked in any belayed events for staff members and participants.
Use of COPE Activities and Initiative Games in Training and Other Events
Use of low or high COPE activities in council or district training or other programs shall comply with NCAP standards.
Many training programs, such as Wood Badge, NYLT, and unit leader training, have adopted initiative games in their curriculum to strengthen group experiences. This can be a valuable addition to the training curriculum or activity when handled properly. Course and activity directors should make certain that the following important concerns are addressed:
- Proper supervision. Participants should be properly supervised during an activity to make sure they are following safety procedures throughout the activity. Activity areas/facilities should be monitored or disabled when not in use so that participants do not utilize them on their own without proper supervision.
- Discipline. Leaders should determine that participants have sufficient maturity and self-control to participate in the activities that are planned.
- Trained instructors. All activity instructors/leaders must be properly trained to operate whatever initiative games they use in a safe and effective manner. The council COPE and climbing committee is an excellent resource to assist with obtaining proper training to operate the activities safely and effectively.
Slacklining is an adventure program growing in popularity. As with any activity involving height and motion, there is risk involved. Before units, districts, or councils decide to promote or host slacklining activities and other adventure sports, they should evaluate the activities to identify and mitigate risks.
Staff members for these types of events are responsible for learning proper setup, operational guidelines, and safety techniques. Equipment used for these activities must be designed for the adventure sport industry and will be exposed to extreme forces. Therefore, it should not be used for other purposes. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Fall precautions should include spotters or crash pads. Stepping off the line safely is recommended when a participant feels he or she is about to fall. Trees used for anchors should be protected from damage and be at least 8 inches in diameter. The line should never be more than 3 feet high. Never allow more than one participant on the line at a time. Acrobatics (any time your head is lower than your torso) are prohibited.
The following activities have been declared unauthorized and restricted by the Boy Scouts of America:
- All-terrain vehicles (ATVs or UTVs) are banned from program use. The exception is council-approved ATV programs. They are not approved for unit use. ATVs are defined as motorized recreational cycles with three or four large, soft tires, designed for off-road use on a variety of terrains.
- Boxing, karate, and related martial arts—except judo, aikido, and Tai Chi—are not authorized activities.
- Chainsaws and mechanical log splitters may be authorized for use only by trained individuals over the age of 18, using proper protective gear in accordance with local laws.
- Exploration of abandoned mines is an unauthorized activity.
- Varsity football teams and interscholastic or club football competition and activities are unauthorized activities.
- Fireworks secured, used, or displayed in conjunction with program and activities is unauthorized except where the fireworks display is conducted under the auspices of a certified or licensed fireworks control expert.
- The selling of fireworks as a fundraising or money-earning activity by any group acting for or on behalf of members, units, or districts may not be authorized by councils.
- Flying in hang gliders, ultralights, experimental aircraft, or hot-air balloons (nontethered); parachuting; and flying in aircraft as part of a search and rescue mission are unauthorized activities. Tethered hot-air balloon flights are authorized, and a flying plan must be completed.
- Motorized go-carts and motorbike activities are unauthorized for Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs. Go-carting conducted at a commercial facility that provides equipment and supervision of cart operation is authorized with parental consent for any youth participant. Participating in motorized speed events (racing), including motorcycles, boats, drag racing, demolition derbies, and related events are not authorized activities for any program level.
- Participation in amateur or professional rodeo events and council or district sponsorship of rodeos are not authorized. This includes mechanized bulls and similar devices.
- Pointing any type of firearm or simulated firearm at any individual is unauthorized. This prohibition includes archery tag. Scout units may plan or participate in paintball, laser tag or similar events where participants shoot at targets that are neither living nor human representations. Units may participate in formally organized historical reenactment events, where firearms are used and intentionally aimed over the heads of the reenactment participants. The use of paintball guns, laser guns, or similar devices may be utilized in target shooting events following the Sweet 16 of BSA Safety.
- Hunting is not an authorized Cub Scout or Boy Scout activity, although hunting safety is part of the program curriculum.(The purpose of this policy is to restrict chartered packs, troops, and teams from conducting hunting trips. However, this policy does not restrict Venturing crews from conducting hunting trips or special adult hunting expeditions provided that adequate safety procedures are followed and that all participants have obtained necessary permits and/or licenses from either state or federal agencies. While hunter safety education might not be required prior to obtaining a hunting license, successful completion of the respective state voluntary program is required before participating in the activity.)
- Motorized personal watercraft (PWC), such as Jet-Skis®, are not authorized for use in Scouting aquatics, and their use should not be permitted in or near BSA program areas. The exception is council-approved PWC programs. They are not approved for unit use.
- Except for law enforcement officers required to carry firearms within their jurisdiction, firearms shall not be brought on camping, hiking, backpacking, or other Scouting activities except those specifically planned for target shooting under the supervision of a currently certified BSA national shooting sports director or National Rifle Association firearms instructor.
- Parasailing, or any activity in which a person is carried aloft by a parachute, parasail, kite, or other device towed by a motorboat, including a tube, or by any other means, is unauthorized.
- All activities related to bungee cord jumping (sometimes called shock cord jumping) are unauthorized.
- Technical tree-climbing with ropes or harnesses is not authorized as an activity.
- Water chugging and related activities are not authorized for any program level.
- Bubbleball, Knockerball™, zorbing, Battle Ball™, bubble soccer or football, and similar orb activities where participants run into one other or roll around on land or water have been reviewed and are now unauthorized.
A sharp pocketknife with a can opener on it is an invaluable backcountry tool. Keep it clean, sharp, and handy. The BSA believes choosing the right equipment for the job at hand is the best answer to the question of what specific knife should be used. We are aware that many councils or camps may have limits on the type or style of knife that should be used. The BSA neither encourages nor bans fixed-blade knives nor do we set a limit on blade length. Since its inception, Boy Scouting has relied heavily on an outdoor program to achieve its objectives. This program meets more of the purposes of Scouting than any other single feature. We believe we have a duty to instill in our members, youth and adult, the knowledge of how to use, handle, and store legally owned knives with the highest concern for safety and responsibility.
Remember—knives are not allowed on school premises, nor can they be taken aboard commercial aircraft.
References: Boy Scout Handbook, Fieldbook, Bear Handbook, and Wolf Handbook
The BSA’s prohibition on the transportation of passengers in the backs of trucks or on trailers may be tempered for parade floats or hayrides, provided that the following points are strictly followed to prevent injuries:
- Transportation to and from the parade or hayride site is not allowed on the truck or trailer.
- Those persons riding, whether seated or standing, must be able to hold on to something stationary.
- Legs should not hang over the side.
- Flashing lights must illuminate a vehicle used for a hayride after dark, or the vehicle must be followed by a vehicle with flashing lights.
Include these safety considerations when planning a unit fundraiser:
- Money-earning projects should be suited to the ages and abilities of youth participants.
- Proper adult supervision should be provided.
- Youth should engage in money-earning projects only in neighborhoods that are safe and familiar and should use the buddy system.
- Leaders must train youth members to never enter the home of a stranger and to know whom to contact in case of an emergency.
- Youth participants should be familiar with safe pedestrian practices and participate during daylight hours only.
- Compliance requirements:
- Check local statutes regarding solicitation rules and permits.
- A Unit Money-Earning Application must be obtained from the local council service center.
Bicycle riding is fun, healthy and a great way to be independent. But it is important to remember that a bicycle is not a toy; it’s a vehicle! Be cool—follow these basic safety tips when you ride.
- Sweet 16 of BSA Safety. As with all Scouting activities, these principles should be applied in your cycling event.
- Wear a properly fitted helmet. Protect your brain; save your life! Bicycle helmets can reduce head injuries by 85 percent, according to the NHTSA.
- Adjust your bicycle to fit. Make sure you can stand over the top tube of your bicycle.
- Assure bicycle readiness. Make sure all parts are secure and working well. Assure that tires are fully inflated and brakes are working properly.
- See and be seen. Wear clothing that makes you more visible, such as bright neon or fluorescent colors. Wear reflective clothing or tape. Avoid riding at night.
- Watch for and avoid road hazards. Stay alert at all times. Be on the lookout for hazards, such as potholes, broken glass, gravel, puddles, leaves, animals, or anything that could cause you to crash. If you are riding with friends and you are in the lead, call out and point to the hazard to alert the riders behind you.
- Follow the rules of the road. Check and obey all local traffic laws. Always ride on the right side of the road in the same direction as other vehicles. Go with the flow— not against it! Yield to traffic and watch for parked cars.
For more information on bicycle safety, visit the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) website at www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
Skating, which includes ice skating, skateboarding, roller-skating, and in-line skating (rollerblading), is fun and healthy. But it is important to remember the safety concerns, primarily risks of falls and collisions, while participating in any of these skating activities. These safety tips emphasize prevention, and are meant to cover all BSA skating programs.
- Sweet 16 of BSA Safety. As with all Scouting activities, these principles should be applied in your skating event.
- Always skate within your ability. If you don’t know how to skate, seek instruction. If you haven’t skated in awhile, take it slow and easy. Don’t try to skate too fast or do fancy tricks. Know how to stop safely.
- Skate at a safe and comfortable speed. Avoid dangerous pranks.
- Watch where you skate! When skating indoors, keep in mind that others have varying abilities of expertise. Skating into people can cause serious injury.
- Racing, hockey, or similar activities are to be held only in areas free of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, and hazardous objects. No skating activity is authorized on streets that have not been blocked off to traffic.
- Skate on a smooth surface or terrain. A skating center is best because the surface is well maintained. When you skate outdoors, check the surface. Any small rock, pothole, or crack could cause you to lose your balance and fall. Iced surfaces should be rigid and completely frozen.
- Do not skate at night. Others can’t see you and you can’t see obstacles or other skaters.
- Wear full protective gear (helmets, knee and elbow pads, and wrist protectors) when skating outdoors. The gear is optional when skating indoors at a skating center as risk of injury is reduced when the skating surface is smooth and well maintained, and discipline is enforced. Protect your brain; save your life! Helmets can reduce head injuries by 85 percent, according to the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Visit their website at www.nhtsa.dot.gov.
- Wear properly fitting equipment and assure equipment readiness. Make sure all parts are secure and working well. Before permitting equipment to be used in a BSA activity, the supervisor should determine that all skates and/or skateboards are well maintained and in good repair, consistent with the manufacturer’s recommendation. Actual maintenance and repair are the responsibility of the owner.
- See and be seen. Wear clothing that makes you more visible, such as bright neon or fluorescent colors. Wear reflective clothing or tape. Avoid skating at night.
- Watch for and avoid road hazards. Stay alert at all times. Be on the lookout for hazards, such as potholes, broken glass, gravel, puddles, leaves, animals or anything that could cause you to crash. If you are skating with friends and you are in the lead, call out and point to the hazard to alert the skaters behind you.
- Follow the rules of the road. Check and obey all local traffic laws. Yield to traffic and watch for parked cars. NEVER “hitch a ride” on any vehicle. For more information, go to www.safekids.org/safetytips.
Horsemanship activities in Scouting include merit badge activities, arena rides, multi-day trips (including treks and cavalcades), and Cub Scouting familiarization rides.
Each sponsoring council should take care to design age and activity-appropriate procedures and guidelines for each particular equine activity. Policies and procedures should include routine horse care, participant guidelines, staff policies, and emergency plans.
Requirements must also be met if the horseback riding program is provided by or at an off-site facility. The council must enter a contractual agreement as outlined in the resident camp standards.
For more information, see the following websites: