Aquatic Safety


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 his or her care
  • Is experienced in the particular activity
  • Is confident in his or her 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 is always responsible for the first and last bulleted points above. However, under appropriate circumstances, the unit leader may delegate responsibility to trained individuals within the unit or to onsite professionals for the second and third bulleted points above. For example, a Scout 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 he or she understands 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 below help provide the skills, experience, and guidance for making such a determination.

Safe Swim Defense

The eight points of the Safe Swim Defense program are:

1. Qualified Supervision
2. Personal Health Review
3. Safe Area
4. Response Personnel (Lifeguards)
5. Lookout
6. Ability Groups
7. Buddy System
8. Discipline

The full Safe Swim Defense training course is now available online. Click HERE to view it.

Safety Afloat

The nine points of the Safety Afloat program are:

1. Qualified Supervision
2. Personal Health Review
3. Swimming Ability
4. Personal Flotation Equipment
5. Buddy System
6. Skill Proficiency
7. Planning
8. Equipment
9. Discipline

The full Safety Afloat training course is now available online.  Click HERE to view it.

Risk Management

Risk management can help adult leaders conduct Scouting activities in a safe and prudent manner. Policies and guidelines have been established because of the need to protect members from risk and hazards that have been identified through nearly 100 years of Scouting experience. The Risk Management Guide for Units provides adult leaders with information on:

  • Council Emergency Procedures
  • Youth Protection Procedures & Training
  • Insurance Coverage for Volunteers
  • Tour Permits
  • BSA Training Courses for Health & Safety
  • Unauthorized & Restricted Activities
  • Unit Administration
  • Unit Money Earning Project

Medical Histories

Both Safe Swim Defense for swimming and Safety Afloat for boating require the unit leader to assess whether there are any health conditions that require special consideration.  The BSA has established minimum standards for providing medical information before participation in various activities:

 A complete health history is required of all participants as evidence of fitness for swimming and boating activities. Form for minors must be signed by 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 a parent, guardian, or caregiver for appropriate precautions. 

The adult supervisor should review the health history of every participant, youth and adult, for swimming or boating activities and respect any recommendations of the physician or other person licensed by the state to perform physical examinations. Some medications increase sensitivity to the sun. Individuals with severe allergic reactions to insects and marine life will need immediate access to self-administered medication. Certain chronic conditions such as epilepsy, asthma, or diabetes may require special precautions. For example, a person with seizures controlled by medication may be able to participate in normal swimming activities in a pool when accompanied by a buddy familiar with the situation, but be required to wear a flotation device when engaged in an open-water exercise. The unit leader should discuss such situations with parents or guardians and respect the privacy and the dignity of the person involved. Medical information should be requested only when safety is an issue, and shared only with permission with those who need to know.

The most common medical conditions that require restricted water contact are temporary and may not be noted on a health history completed before the condition arose. Those include ear infections, healing wounds, eye irritations, and rashes. Since such conditions are not always visible, the adult supervisor should ask parents about any recent medical problems just before the outing. Such a question can be combined with standard permission slips that inform parents of the nature of the activity and allow emergency medical treatment for a youth in case of injury or illness when a guardian cannot be contacted.


Annual Health and Medical Record


BSASwim Tests  

All persons participating in BSA aquatics are classified according to swimming ability. The classification tests and test procedures have been developed and structured to demonstrate a skill level consistent with the circumstances in which the individual will be in the water. The Swimmer's Test demonstrates the minimum level of swimming ability required for safe deep-water swimming. The Beginner's Test demonstrates the minimum level of swimming ability for recreational and instructional activity in a confined swimming area with a maximum 6-foot depth, and with shallow water footing or a pool or pier edge always within 25 feet of the swimmer.

The various components of each test evaluate the several skills essential to the minimum level of swimming ability. Precise statements of the tests are as follows:

Swimmer's Test Jump feet first into water over the head in depth, level off, and begin swimming. 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 swum continuously and include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.

Beginner's Test Jump feet first into water over the head in depth, level off, swim 25 feet on the surface, stop, turn sharply, resume swimming as before, and return to starting place.

Administration of Swim Classification Test

  • Option A (at camp): The swim classification test is completed the first day of camp by aquatics program personnel. Buddy Tags will be issued.
  • Option B (council-conducted/council-controlled): The council controls the swim classification process by predetermined dates, locations, and approved personnel to serve as aquatics instructors. When the unit goes to a summer camp, each individual will be issued a buddy tag under the direction of the aquatics program director for use at the camp.
  • Option C (at unit level with council-approved aquatics resource people): The swim classification test done at a unit level should be conducted by one of the following council-approved resource people: BSA Aquatics Instructor, BSA Lifeguard Counselor, Cub Scout Aquatics Supervisor, Swim& Water Rescue Instructor, BSA Lifeguard, American Red Cross Lifeguard or a lifeguard from another nationally recognized training organization.  Please provide information on requirements of the BSA swim tests to Lifeguards not affilitated with BSA. We have found that many public facility lifeguards and ARC Lifeguards are not performing the correct BSA Swim Tests. Copy of certification and contact numbers must be included.

Special note: The classification tests should be renewed annually, preferably at the beginning of each outdoor season. Although swim tests may be conducted prior to summer camp, the aquatics director is expected to review or retest any Scout or Scouter whose skills appear to be inconsistent with his classification. Additionally, the aquatics program director is authorized to retest any Scout or group of Scouts when he is reasonably concerned that precamp swim tests were not properly administered.

Swim Test Classification Record


Activities that are not sanctioned by Boy Scouts of America:


  • Cliff jumping/diving
  • Diving boards/platforms
  • Rope Swings
  • Personal Watercraft (except at pilot camps)
  • Parasailing
  • Kite surfing
  • Teak surfing
  • Wake surfing behind a motorboat
  • Ziplines
  • Blobs, trampolines and other inflatables over water