Zip Lining

Thousands of participants go through COPE courses annually; many more use a zip line as part of an aerial adventure course or stand-alone experience. For most, it can be a positive life-altering experience as they learn to overcome their fears and limitations.

However, when COPE and zip line guidelines are not followed, these experiences can also produce negative life-altering consequences such as serious and fatal injuries both in and outside of Scouting. The incidents below outline several of these. Please share and learn from these incidents to prevent future occurrences.

Incident Review #1

A group of nine Scouts and two leaders traveled out of council for some cabin camping on privately owned property. The next morning, one of the adults began setting up a privately owned zip line between the cabin property and an adjacent property. The zip line was approximately 20 years old and post-incident discussions indicated the unit had used it in the past. Before the braking system was completely installed, a 15-year-old who had never ridden the zip line got into the sling seat and proceeded down the line. Upon hitting the stops at the end of the zip, he was thrown into a tree and died of a head injury.

Key Points

  • The use of privately owned and maintained COPE elements is not part of the Scouting program.
  • Factors contributing to the impact with the tree and resulting fatality included the lack of an installed braking system, a seating system that was not secure, and the lack of a helmet.
  • The Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) develops, refines, and publishes standards for installing, maintaining, and managing challenge courses including annual inspection requirements. When planning these types of activities, ask a course owner or operator about how they follow these standards.

Incident Review #2

A 52-year-old registered adult leader was attempting to go down a troop-built zip line “Superman style” while at a Scout-o-rama. He fell approximately 15 to 20 feet and punctured a lung, broke a rib, and sustained face and mouth lacerations and kidney damage.

Key Points

  • COPE elements (including zip lines) used in Scouting are to be designed, maintained, and operated to the ACCT standards.
  • There are no provisions for a homemade zip line in Scouting.

“A process used by all COPE and climbing staff in BSA programs is the safety CHECK system. Always ensure that the following are double-checked before any climbing or rappelling activities:

  • Clothing
  • Harnesses/Helmets
  • Environment
  • Connections
  • Knots”

Incident Review #3

An 8-year-old youth member was standing on an elevated platform waiting for a turn at a zip line ride in a unit leader’s backyard. He stepped to his left, which caused him to fall from the platform and break his thigh bone. The outing was advertised as a hot dog roast. The unit leader owned the zip line.

Key Points

  • This is another example of a privately owned, operated, and maintained zip line that has resulted in injury to participants.
  • Youth may not have developed a sense of awareness of their surroundings, which means it is critical that fall potentials like this be addressed before engaging in activity.
  • Fall protection systems should be in use on launching and landing platforms.

Incident Review #4

A 13-year-old Scout fell about 20 feet from a zip line at a commercial rock gym facility and landed on her feet, injuring her left foot. Witnesses say the youth was seen using the zip line without properly fastening the restraining carabiner.

Key Points

  • Many commercial gyms operate outside of the program guidelines of the BSA, making it important for the unit leader to know and understand the requirements of the BSA program.
  • Double-checking the anchors—the “connections” part of the CHECK system—might have made a difference in this incident.

“Privately installed, homemade, and backyard zip lines are not part of Scouting.”

Discussion Questions

  • Did any of the incidents involve inappropriate behavior which proper supervision might have prevented?
  • What training is appropriate for those supervising zip lines?
  • Have you ever had a near miss on a zip line? If so, please share.
  • What risks will your group likely encounter at your next zip line experience?