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This Guide to Safe Scouting reproduced from the National BSA -

Viking Council BSA recommends that each adult volunteer have their own hardcopy of this document for their use in service to youth of their units.

Table of Contents


  1. Adult Leadership
    • Leadership Requirements for Trips and Outings
  2. Aquatics Safety
    • Who Can Instruct Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat Training?
    • Safe Swim Defense
    • Classification of Swimming Ability
    • Pool and Surf Swimming
    • Safety Afloat
    • Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)
    • Water Clarity
    • BSA Lifeguard
    • Swimming
    • Diving and Elevated Entry
    • Scuba (Venturers and older Scouts only)
    • Policy on Asthma/Reactive Airwave Disease
    • Snorkeling, BSA
    • Waterskiing
    • Boardsailing
    • Whitewater Safety Code
  3. Camping
    • Age Guidelines
    • Family Camping
    • Wilderness Camping
    • Trail Safety
    • Beware of Lightning
    • Pure Drinking Water
    • BSA Property Smart
    • Hantavirus
    • Rabies Prevention
  4. Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Use and Abuse
  5. Emergency Preparedness
    • Reporting Deaths or Serious Injury
    • Emergency Phone Number List
  6. First Aid
    • First-Aid Kits
    • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
    • Protection Considerations for Bloodborne Pathogens
    • Near-Drowning
  7. Fuels and Fire Prevention
    • Chemical Fuels
    • Guidelines for Safely Using Chemical Stoves and Lanterns
    • Flammability Warning
    • Extinguishers
    • Fireworks
  8. Guns and Firearms
    • Cub Scout Standards
    • Boy Scout Standards
    • Handguns (Venturers only)
    • Shotguns
    • Muzzle Loaders
    • Rifles
  9. Sports and Activities
    • The Sweet 16 of BSA Safety
    • Cave Exploring
    • Judo, Tai Chi, and Aikido
    • Climbing and Rappelling
    • Unauthorized and Restricted Activities
    • Carbon Tetrachloride
    • Knives
    • Rope Monkey Bridges
    • Parade Floats and Hayrides
    • Unit Fund-raisers
    • Tractor Safety
    • Bike Safety
    • Skating Guidelines
  10. Inspections
    • Meeting Room
    • Motor Vehicles
    • Unit Camping
    • Boats
  11. Medical Information
    • Immunizations
    • Life-Threatening Communicable Diseases
    • Sun Safety
    • Religious Beliefs and Medical Care
    • Prescriptions
  12. Transportation
    • Automobiles
    • Campers, Trailers, and Trucks
    • Buses
    • Trains
    • Boats
    • Aircraft
    • Tour Permits
    • Commercial Driver's License Compliance
  13. Winter Activities
    • Winter Camping Safety
    • Winter Sports Safety
  14. Youth Protection and Child Abuse
    • Hazing and Initiations

I. Adult Leadership

Each Cub Scout den and Webelos Scout den and each chartered Cub Scout pack, Boy Scout troop, Varsity Scout team, and Venturing crew shall have one citizen of the United States, 21 years of age or older, who shall be registered and serve as the unit or den leader. A unit leader may not serve simultaneously in any other position within the same unit. The head of the chartered organization or chartered organization representative and the local council must approve the registration of the unit or den leader on the appropriate form.

Primary reference: Rules and Regulations of the Boy Scouts of America

Leadership Requirements for Trips and Outings

  1. Two-deep leadership:
    Two registered adult leaders, or one adult and a parent of a participating Scout, one of whom must be at least 21 years of age or older, are required for all trips or outings. There are a few instances, such as patrol activities, when no adult leadership is required. Coed overnight activities require male and female adult leaders, both of whom must be 21 years of age or older.

  2. During transportation to and from planned Scout outings,
    1. Meet for departure at a designated area.
    2. Prearrange a schedule for periodic checkpoint stops as a group.
    3. Plan a daily destination point.
    A common departure site and a daily destination point are a must. If you cannot provide two adults for each vehicle, the minimum required is one adult and two or more youth members - never one on one.

  3. Safety rule of four:
    No fewer than four individuals (always with the minimum of two adults) go on any backcountry expedition or campout.
    If an accident occurs, one person stays with the injured, and two go for help. Additional adult leadership requirements must reflect an awareness of such factors as size and skill level of the group, anticipated environmental conditions, and overall degree of challenge.

  4. Male and female leaders require separate sleeping facilities. Married couples may share the same quarters if appropriate facilities are available.

  5. Male and female youth participants will not share the same sleeping facility.

  6. When staying in tents, no youth will stay in the tent of an adult other than his or her parent or guardian.

  7. If separate shower and latrine facilities are not available, separate times for male and female use should be scheduled and posted for showers. The buddy system should be used for latrines by having one person wait outside the entrance, or provide Occupied and Unoccupied signs and/or inside door latches.

  8. Two-deep adult leadership is required for flying activities. For basic orientation flights, the adult licensed pilot in control of the aircraft is sufficient for the flight while two-deep leadership is maintained on the ground.

II. Aquatics Safety

Who Can Instruct Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat Training?

Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat training can be given by any person authorized by the council, including a BSA Aquatics resource person, a unit leader with aquatics skill, or any other person with aquatics knowledge or experience whom the local council has approved.

Most accidents in aquatics activities are caused by the lack of adult supervision and discipline. Almost every accidental drowning can be attributed to the violation of one or more safe swim defenses.

Safe Swim Defense

Before a BSA group may engage in swimming activities of any kind, a minimum of one adult leader must complete Safe Swim Defense training, have a commitment card (No. 34243) with them, and agree to use the eight defenses in this plan.

One of the best opportunities for Safe Swim Defense training is in summer camp. The eight defenses are:

1. 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 youth members in his or her care, who is experienced in the water and confident of his or her ability to respond in the event of an emergency, 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 as a BSA Lifeguard to assist in the planning and conduct of all swimming activity.)
2. Physical Fitness
Require evidence of fitness for swimming activity with a complete health history from physician, parent, or legal guardian. The adult supervisor should adjust all supervision, discipline, and protection to anticipate any potential risks associated with individual health conditions. In the event of any significant health conditions, the unit leader should require proof of an examination by a physician.

Those with physical disabilities can enjoy and benefit from aquatics if the disabilities are known and necessary precautions are taken.

3. Safe Area
When swimming in areas not regularly maintained and used for swimming activity, have lifeguards and swimmers systematically examine the bottom of the swimming area to determine varying depths, deep holes, rocks, and stumps. Mark off the area for three groups: not more than 31/2 feet deep for nonswimmers; from shallow water to just over the head for beginners; deep water not more than 12 feet for swimmers. A participant should not be permitted to swim in an area where he cannot readily recover and maintain his footing, or cannot maintain his position on the water, because of swimming ability or water flow. When setting up a safe swimming area in natural waters, use poles stuck in the bottom, or plastic bottles, balloons, or sticks attached to rock anchors with twine for boundary markers. Enclose nonswimmer and beginner areas with buoy lines (twine and floats) between markers. Mark the outer bounds of the swimmer area with floats. Be sure that clear-water depth is at least 7 feet before allowing anyone to dive into the water. Diving is prohibited from any height more than 40 inches above the water surface; feet-first entry is prohibited from more than 60 inches above the water. For any entry from more than 18 inches above the water surface, clear-water depth must be 10 to 12 feet. Only surface swimming is permitted in turbid water. Swimming is not permitted in water over 12 feet deep, in turbid water where poor visibility and depth would interfere with emergency recognition or prompt rescue, or in whitewater, unless all participants wear appropriate personal flotation devices and the supervisor determines that swimming with personal flotation equipment is safe under the circumstances.
4. Lifeguards on Duty
Swim only where there are lifeguards on duty. For unit swims in areas where lifeguards are not provided by others, the supervisor should designate two capable swimmers as lifeguards. Station them ashore, equipped with a lifeline (a 100-foot length of 3/4-inch nylon cord). In an emergency, one carries out the line; the other feeds it out from shore, then pulls in his partner and the person being helped. In addition, if a boat is available, have two people, preferably capable swimmers, take it out - one rowing and the other equipped with a 10-foot pole or extra oar. Provide one guard for every 10 people in the water, and adjust the number and positioning of guards as needed to protect the particular area and activity.
5. Lookout
Station a lookout on the shore where it is possible to see and hear everything in all areas. The lookout may be the adult in charge of the swim and may give the buddy signals.
6. Ability Groups
Divide into three ability groups: Nonswimmers, beginners, and swimmers. Keep each group in its own area. Nonswimmers have not passed a swimming test. Beginners must pass this test: jump feetfirst 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 the starting place. Swimmers pass this test: jump feet-first 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 swum continuously and include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating. These classification tests should be renewed annually, preferably at the beginning of the season.
7. Buddy System
Pair every youth with another in the same ability group. Buddies check in and out of the swimming area together. Emphasize that each buddy lifeguards his buddy. Check everyone in the water about every 10 minutes, or as needed to keep the buddies together. The adult in charge signals for a buddy check with a single blast of a whistle or ring of a bell and a call of "Buddies!" The adult counts slowly to 10 while buddies join and raise hands and remain still and silent. Guards check all areas, count the pairs, and compare the total with the number known to be in the water. Signal two blasts or bells to resume swimming. Signal three blasts or bells for checkout.
8. Discipline
Be sure everyone understands and agrees that swimming is allowed only with proper supervision and use of the complete Safe Swim Defense. The applicable rules should be presented and learned prior to the outing, and should be reviewed for all participants at the water's edge just before the swimming activity begins. Scouts should respect and follow all directions and rules of the adult supervisor. When people know the reason for rules and procedures they are more likely to follow them. Be strict and fair, showing no favoritism.

Classification of Swimming Ability

Swimmer Test

The swimmer test demonstrates the minimum level of swimming ability required for safe deep-water swimming. The various components of the test evaluate the several skills essential to this minimum level of swimming ability:

Jump feetfirst 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.
The test administrator must objectively evaluate the individual performance of the test, and in so doing should keep in mind the purpose of each test element.

  1. "Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth, level off, and begin swimming. . . ."

    The swimmer must be able to make an abrupt entry into deep water and begin swimming without any aids. Walking in from shallow water, easing in from the edge or down a ladder, pushing off from side or bottom, or gaining forward momentum by diving do not satisfy this requirement.

  2. ". . . Swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl; . . ."

    The swimmer must be able to cover distance with a strong, confident stroke. The 75 yards must not be the outer limit of the swimmer's ability; completion of the distance should give evidence of sufficient stamina to avoid undue risks. Dog-paddling and strokes repeatedly interrupted and restarted are not sufficient; underwater swimming is not permitted. The itemized strokes are inclusive. Any strong side or breaststroke or any strong overarm stroke (including the back crawl) is acceptable.

  3. ". . . swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke . . ."

    The swimmer must indicate the ability to execute a restful, free-breathing backstroke that can be used to avoid exhaustion during swimming activity. This element of the test necessarily follows the more strenuous swimming activity to show that the swimmer is, in fact, able to use the backstroke as a relief from exertion. The change of stroke must be accomplished in deep water without any push-off or other aid. Any variation of the elementary may suffice if it clearly provides opportunity for the swimmer to rest and regain wind.

  4. ". . . The 100 yards must be swum continuously and include at least one sharp turn. . . ."

    The total distance is to be covered without rest stops. The sharp turn simply demonstrates the swimmer's ability to reverse direction in deep water without assistance or push-off from side or bottom.

  5. ". . . After completing the swim, rest by floating."

    This critically important component of the test evaluates the swimmer's ability to maintain in the water indefinitely even though exhausted or otherwise unable to continue swimming. Treading water or swimming in place will further tire the swimmer and are therefore unacceptable. The duration of the float test is not significant, except that it must be long enough for the test administrator to determine that the swimmer is, in fact, resting and could likely continue to do so for a prolonged time. The drownproofing technique may be sufficient if clearly restful, but it is not preferred. If the test is completed except for the floating requirement, the swimmer may be retested on the floating only (after instruction) provided that the test administrator is confident that the swimmer can initiate the float when exhausted.

Reference: Swimming and Lifesaving merit badge pamphlets

Beginner Test

Jump feetfirst 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.

The entry and turn serve the same purpose as in the swimmer test. The swimming can be done with any stroke, but no underwater swimming is permitted. The stop assures that the swimmer can regain a stroke if it is interrupted. The test demonstrates that the beginning swimmer is ready to learn deepwater skills and has the minimum ability required for safe swimming in a confined area in which shallow water, sides, or other support is less than 25 feet from any point in the water.

Pool and Surf Swimming

The Safe Swim Defense applies to swimming at the beach, private or public pool, wilderness pond, stream, lake, or anywhere Scouts swim. Here are some additional points for the pool and the surf.

Pool - If the swimming activity is in a public facility where others are using the pool at the same time, and the pool operator provides guard personnel, there may be no need for additional designation of Scout lifeguards and lookout.

The buddy system is critically important, however, even in a public pool. Remember, even in a crowd, you are alone without protection if no one is attentive to your circumstances.

The rule that people swim only in water suited to their ability and with others of similar ability applies in a pool environment. Most public pools divide shallow and deep water, and this may be sufficient for defining appropriate swimming areas. If not, the supervisor should clearly indicate to the participating Scouts the appropriate areas of the public facility. Although such procedures add a margin of safety, their use may not always be practical when the swim activity is conducted at a public facility where non-Scouts are present. A responsible adult supervisor, who understands his or her responsibility and the elements of safety, can exercise discretion regarding certain procedures while maintaining safety.

Surf - The surf swimming environment of wave action, currents, tides, undertow, runouts, and sea pests like stinging jellyfish requires precautions for safe swimming that aren't necessary in other environments. A swimmer's physical condition is very important and should enable the swimmer to recover footing in waves, swim vigorously for at least five minutes without becoming exhausted, and remain calm and in control when faced with unexpected conditions.

Designated swimming areas are marked by flags or pennants that are easily seen. Beginners and nonswimmers are positioned inshore from the standing lifeguards equipped with reach poles. Better swimmers are permitted seaward of the lifeguard but must remain shoreward of anchored marker buoys. The lifeguard-to-swimmer ratio should always be 1-to-10, with a rescue team stationed at the beach area and supplied with a rescue tube or torpedo buoy.

Safety Afloat

 Safety Afloat has been developed to promote boating and boating safety and to set standards for safe unit activity afloat.   Before a BSA group may engage in an excursion, expedition, or trip on the water (canoe, raft, sailboat, motorboat, rowboat, tube, or other craft), adult leaders for such activity must complete Safety Afloat Training, No. 34159A, have a commitment card, No. 34242A, with them, and be dedicated to full compliance with all nine points of Safety Afloat.
1. 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 the children in his or her care, who is experienced and qualified in the particular watercraft skills and equipment involved in the activity, and who is committed to compliance with the nine points of BSA Safety Afloat. One such supervisor is required for each 10 people, with a minimum of two adults for any one group. At least one supervisor must be age 21 or older, and the remaining supervisors must be age 18 or older. All supervisors must complete BSA Safety Afloat and Safe Swim Defense training and rescue training for the type of watercraft to be used in the activity, and at least one must be trained in CPR. It is strongly recommended that all units have at least one adult or older youth member currently trained as a BSA Lifeguard to assist in the planning and conducting of all activity afloat.

For Cub Scouts: The ratio of adult supervisors to participants is one to five.

2. Physical Fitness
All persons must present evidence of fitness assured by a complete health history from physician, parent, or legal guardian. The adult supervisor should adjust all supervision, discipline, and protection to anticipate any potential risks associated with individual health conditions. In the event of any significant health conditions, the adult leader should require proof of an examination by a physician.

Those with physical disabilities can enjoy and benefit from aquatics if the disabilities are known and necessary precautions taken.

3. Swimming Ability
A person who has not been classified as a "swimmer" may ride as a passenger in a rowboat or motorboat with an adult "swimmer" or in a canoe, raft, or sailboat with an adult certified as a lifeguard or a lifesaver by a recognized agency. In all other circumstances, the person must be a swimmer to participate in an activity afloat. "Swimmers" must pass this test:
Jump feetfirst 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.
This qualification test should be renewed annually.
4. Personal Flotation Equipment
Properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices (PFDs) must be worn by all persons engaged in activity on the open water (rowing, canoeing, sailing, boardsailing, motorboating, waterskiing, rafting, tubing, kayaking, and surfboarding). Type II and III PFDs are recommended.
5. Buddy System
All activity afloat must adhere to the principles of the buddy system. The buddy system assures that for every person involved in aquatics activity, at least one other person is always aware of his or her situation and prepared to lend assistance immediately when needed. Not only does every individual have a buddy, but every craft should have a ''buddy boat'' when on the water.
6. Skill Proficiency
All participants in activity afloat must be trained and experienced in watercraft handling skills, safety, and emergency procedures. (a) For unit activity on white water, all participants must complete special training by a BSA Aquatics Instructor or qualified whitewater specialist. (b) Powerboat operators must be able to meet requirements for the Motorboating merit badge or equivalent. (c) Except for whitewater and powerboat operation as noted above, either a minimum of three hours' training and supervised practice or meeting requirements for "basic handling tests" is required for all float trips or open-water excursions using unpowered craft.

For Cub Scouts: Canoeing and rafting for Cub Scouts (including Webelos Scouts) is to be limited to council/district events on flat water ponds or controlled lake areas free of powerboats and sailboats. Prior to recreational canoeing, Cub Scouts are to be instructed in basic handling skills and safety practices.

7. Planning
  1. Float Plan. Know exactly where the unit will put in, where the unit will pull out, and precisely what course will be followed. Determine all stopover points in advance. Estimate travel time with ample margins to avoid traveling under time pressures. Obtain accurate and current maps and information on the waterway to be traveled, and discuss the course with others who have made the trip under similar seasonal conditions. (Preferably, an adult member of the group should run the course before the unit trip.)
  2. Local Rules. Determine which state and local laws or regulations are applicable. If private property is to be used or crossed, obtain written permission from the owners. All such rules must be strictly observed.
  3. Notification. The float plan must be filed with the parents of participants and a member of the unit committee. For any activity using canoes on running water, the float plan must be filed with the local council service center. Notify appropriate authorities, such as Coast Guard, state police, or park personnel, when their jurisdiction is involved. When the unit returns from this activity, persons given the float plan should be so advised.
  4. Weather. Check the weather forecast just before setting out, know and understand the seasonal weather pattern for the region, and keep an alert "weather eye." Imminent rough weather should bring all ashore immediately.
  5. Contingencies. Planning must anticipate possible emergencies or other circumstances that could force a change in the original plan. Identify and consider all such circumstances in advance so that appropriate contingency plans can be developed.

For Cub Scouts: Cub Scout canoeing and rafting does not include "trips" or "expeditions" and is not to be conducted on running water (i.e., rivers or streams); therefore, some procedures are inapplicable. Suitable weather requires clear skies, no appreciable wind, and warm air and water.

8. Equipment

All equipment must be suited to the craft, to the water conditions, and to the individual; must be in good repair; and must satisfy all state and U.S. Coast Guard requirements. To the extent possible, carry spare equipment. On long trips or when spare equipment is not available, carry repair materials. Have appropriate rescue equipment available for immediate use.

9. Discipline
All participants should know, understand, and respect the rules and procedures for safe unit activity afloat. The applicable rules should be presented and learned prior to the outing, and should be reviewed for all participants at the water's edge just before the activity begins. When Scouts know and understand the reasons for the rules, they will observe them. When fairly and impartially applied, rules do not interfere with the fun. Rules for safety, plus common sense and good judgment, keep the fun rom being interrupted by tragedy.

Note: For cruising vessels (excluding rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and rafts, but including sailboats and powerboats longer than 20 feet) used in adult-supervised unit activities by a chartered Venturing crew or Sea Scout ship specializing in watercraft operations or used in adult-supervised program activity in connection with any high-adventure program or other activity under the direct control of the National Council, the standards and procedures in a forthcoming Sea Scout manual may be substituted for the "Safety Afloat" standards.

Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

Properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices (PFDs) must be worn by all persons engaged in activity on the open water (rowing, canoeing, sailing, boardsailing, motorboating, waterskiing, rafting, tubing, and kayaking).

Only U.S. Coast Guard-approved equipment (types I, II, or III) is acceptable for use in Scouting aquatics. Ski belts are not acceptable. Scouts and unit leaders should learn which type is appropriate for each specific circumstance and how to wear and check for proper fit.

Water Clarity

Swimming activity in turbid water should be limited to surface swimming. Turbid water exists when a 12-inch white disk at the depth of 3 feet is not visible from above the surface of the water. Underwater swimming, headfirst entry (except for racing dives), and board diving are not permitted in turbid water. Supervised instruction in lifesaving skills and surface diving may be conducted in confined areas of turbid water not exceeding 8 feet in depth and free of bottom hazards.

Snorkeling and scuba skills are taught and practiced only in clear water. Clear water exists when a 12-inch disk at a depth of 8 feet is visible from above the surface of the water.

BSA Lifeguard

BSA Lifeguard training has been established to provide units (packs, troops, teams, and posts) with qualified individuals within their own membership to give knowledgeable supervision for activities on or in the water. The first standard in the Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat guidelines establishes a need for qualified supervision. An adult currently trained as a BSA Lifeguard or an adult leader assisted by a Scout holding BSA Lifeguard training meets this requirement. To enroll in the BSA Lifeguard course, you must be at least 14 years of age or have completed the eighth grade. The latest requirements for BSA Lifeguard training are included on the application form, No. 34435. Every unit leader is encouraged to become trained or to be certain that at least one youth or adult member of the unit has such training.


Swimming areas should be large enough to avoid crowding (minimum of 40 square feet per swimmer). Note the following in accordance with Safe Swim Defense rules. Mark off the area for three groups: not more than 3.5 feet deep for nonswimmers; from shallow water to just over the head for beginners; deep water not more than 12 feet for swimmers.

Diving and Elevated Entry

"Diving" refers to any water entry where the feet are not making first contact with the water. "Elevated entry" refers to any water entry from a height more than 18 inches above the water. According to BSA Safety Afloat standards, no diving or swimming activity of any kind is done in water with a depth greater than 12 feet.

All water entry must be feetfirst where the water has less than 7 feet of unobstructed depth. A leaping entry is recommended where water is at or above head level; a step-down or jump-down entry from a sitting position is recommended for shallower water.

No diving is permitted in water with less than 7 feet of unobstructed depth. Diving is permitted in clear water over 7 feet deep from a dock, pier, or platform that is no more than 18 inches above the water surface. For elevated entry from 18 inches high but less than 40 inches above the water surface, clear and unobstructed water depth must be at least 9 feet. The water must be clear enough to enable supervisory and guard personnel to see the diver at the deepest part of the plunge.

Board diving is permitted only from boards, mounted on a fixed (not floating) platform or deck, no more than 40 inches (approximately 1 meter) above the water surface. Clear water depth below the board should be 9 to 12 feet. A guard or supervisor should be positioned where the diver can be seen at all times beneath the surface. There should be no other surface or underwater activity or obstruction for at least 15 feet on either side of the board and 25 feet in front of the board. Diving should always be done straight ahead from the board, never to the sides.

Any elevated entry from a height greater than 40 inches must be feetfirst and only from a fixed platform or solid footing no more than 60 inches above the water surface. Clear water depth should be 10 to 12 feet. Other protective measures and distances are the same as for board diving.

Scuba (Venturers and older Scouts only)

Any person possessing, displaying, or using scuba equipment in connection with any Scouting-related activity must be currently certified by the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) or the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). These two agencies are recognized by the Boy Scouts of America for scuba training and instruction. Alternatively, if PADI or NAUI training and instruction is not available, certification may be accepted from other agencies that comply with Recreational Scuba Training Council (RSTC) guidelines, provided that such acceptance has been expressly approved by the BSA local council in consultation with the BSA national Health and Safety Service.

Scuba programs may be a part of Boy Scout or Venturing activities for participants who are 14 years of age or older. Persons meeting the age requirement and properly certified may participate in group dives under the supervision of a responsible adult who is currently certified as a dive master, assistant instructor, or any higher rating from NAUI or PADI. Student divers must be under the supervision of a currently certified NAUI or PADI instructor. No exceptions to the BSA age requirement are permitted, and any NAUI or PADI age requirements for those 14 and older shall be followed in all Scout-related activities. A 14-year-old participant with a junior diver certification may dive only when accompanied by a buddy who is a certified open-water diver at least 18 years old.

Because of lack of frequency of diving by most sports divers, it is important that any certified divers be screened and evaluated by a certified diving instructor before participating in BSA-related activities. The skills to be evaluated include the following:

  1. Use of buoyancy control device
  2. Giant stride entry
  3. Removal and replacement of weight belt
  4. Neutral buoyancy
  5. Snorkel to regulator exchange
  6. Removal and replacement of scuba unit under the water
  7. Face mask removal, replacement, and clearing
  8. Emergency swimming ascent
  9. Alternate air source ascent
  10. Predive safety drill
  11. Five-point ascent and descent
  12. Deepwater exits
  13. Simulation of surface procedures

BSA Policy on Asthma/Reactive Airway Disease as Related to Scuba Activities

  1. Persons with symptomatic or active asthma/reactive airway disease (commonly known as RAD) should not be allowed to scuba dive. This would include, at a minimum, anyone who:
    1. Is currently taking medication for asthma/RAD
    2. Has received treatment for bronchospasm in the past five years
    3. Has exercise induced bronchospasm
    4. Has cold-induced bronchospasm

  2. Persons with asymptomatic asthma/RAD who wish to scuba dive should be referred to a pulmonary medical specialist who is also knowledgeable about diving medicine for a complete medical examination, including exercise and bronchial challenge testing. Any determination of fitness for diving must be made on the basis of such examination and specific testing.

Snorkeling, BSA

The Snorkeling, BSA, requirements have been developed to introduce Scout-age children to the special skills, equipment, and safety precautions associated with snorkeling; to encourage the development of aquatics skills that promote fitness and recreation; and to provide a solid foundation of skills and knowledge for those who later will participate in more advanced underwater activity.

Any trained BSA Aquatics Instructor may serve as a counselor. A person recognized and certified as a snorkeling instructor by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), or the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) also qualifies as a Snorkeling, BSA, counselor.

Instructions must be conducted in clear, confined water with a maximum depth of 12 feet. A swimming pool is recommended. All requirements must be completed as stated on the application form. The counselor may not omit, vary, or add requirements. The requirements are presented in the order in which they should be taught to the Scout. The completed application should be submitted to the local council service center by the counselor or unit leader.


Safe waterskiing starts with safe equipment; a thorough knowledge of techniques; competent instruction; an efficient, careful towboat operator; and a conscientious observer. A life jacket is a must for all water-skiers. Skis should be in good shape and free from sharp or protruding edges. The boat operator should be driving solely for the benefit, satisfaction, and safety of the skier. The boat and skier should stay away from docks, swimmers, boaters, people who are fishing, and other objects.

The Water-Skier's Safety Code and Boat Driver's Safety Code are found in the Waterskiing merit badge pamphlet. These are guidelines to be followed by all those involved in the sport of waterskiing.

Reference: Waterskiing merit badge pamphlet


The BSA boardsailing program has been developed to introduce Scout-age children to basic boardsailing skills, equipment, and safety precautions, to encourage development of skills that promote fitness and safe aquatics recreation, and to lay a skill and knowledge foundation for those who will later participate in more advanced and demanding activities on the water.

Any person recognized and certified as an instructor by Windsurfer International or the U.S. Board Sailing Association may serve as a counselor for the Boardsailing Award with the approval of the local council service center. Any person trained and experienced in boardsailing skills and safety may serve as a counselor for this award in a Scout summer camp program under the direction and supervision of a currently trained BSA Aquatics Instructor.

Instruction in recreational activity must be conducted according to the BSA guidelines for boardsailing. The Boardsailing Award is now available for inclusion in Scouting programs.

Reference: Boardsailing BSA Award Application, No. 19-935

Whitewater Safety Code

The American Whitewater Affiliation (AWA) Safety Code includes ten recommendations for river safety:


  1. Be a competent swimmer.

  2. Wear a PFD.

  3. Keep your canoe or raft under control, always!

  4. Be aware of river hazards and avoid them.

  5. Boating alone is not recommended; preferred minimum is three to a craft.

  6. Be suitably equipped.
    1. Wear shoes (tennis shoes or special canoeing shoes are best).
    2. Tie your glasses on.
    3. Carry a knife and waterproof matches (also compass and map).
    4. Don't wear bulky clothing that will waterlog.
    5. Wear a crash helmet where upsets are likely.
    6. Carry an extra paddle and canoe-repair tape.
    7. Open canoes should have bow and stern lines (painters) securely attached. Use at least 15 feet of 1/4- or 3/8-inh rope. Secure them to the canoe so that they are readily available but will not entangle feet and legs in case of a spill.

  7. Swim on your back in fast water, keeping your feet and legs downstream and high. Keep watching ahead.

  8. When you start to spill, keep the upstream gunwale high.

  9. If you do spill, hang on to your canoe and get to the upstream end. (Note: If you are heading into rough rapids and quick rescue is not expected, or if water is numbing cold, then swim for shore or a rock where you can climb out of the water.)

  10. When you are with a group:
    1. Organize the group to even out canoeing ability
    2. Keep the group compact for mutual support.
    3. Don't crowd rapids! Let each canoe complete the run before the next canoe enters.
    4. Each canoe is responsible for the canoe immediately behind it.

III. Camping

Age Guidelines

The Boy Scouts of America has established the following guidelines for its members' participation in camping activities:

  • Overnight camping by second- and third-grade Cub Scout dens or Cub Scout packs (other than at an approved local council resident camping facility) is not approved, and certificates of liability insurance will not be provided by the Boy Scouts of America.

  • Cub Scouts (second- and third-graders) and Webelos Scouts (fourth- and fifth-graders) may participate in a resident overnight camping program covering at least two nights and operating under certified leadership in an established Scout camp operated by the council during the normal camping season.

    A Webelos Scout may participate in overnight den camping when supervised by his mother or father. If a parent cannot attend, arrangements must be made by the boy's family for another youth's parent (but not the Webelos leader) or another adult relative or friend to be a substitute at the campout. No parent should be responsible for more than one boy other than his or her own.

    It is essential that each Webelos Scout be under the supervision of an adult. Joint Webelos den-troop campouts are encouraged for dens of fifth-grade Webelos Scouts with their parents to strengthen ties between the pack and troop. Den leaders, pack leaders, and parents are expected to accompany the boys on approved trips.

    Tiger Cubs are limited to boy-parent excursions or program-managed family camping designed for the entire family.

Family Camping

Family camping: an outdoor camping experience, other than resident camping, that involves Cub Scouting, Boy Scouting, or Venturing program elements in overnight settings with two or more family members, including at least one BSA member of that family. Parents are responsible for the supervision of their children, and Youth Protection guidelines apply.

Recreational family camping
Recreational family camping: when Scouting families camp as a family unit outside of an organized program. It is a nonstructured camping experience, but is conducted within a Scouting framework on local council-owned or -managed property. Local councils may have family camping grounds available for rental at reasonable rates. Other resources may include equipment, information, and training.
Program-managed family camping
The local council or unit provides all of the elements of the outdoor experience on one or more days, with major program areas staffed. Many times this includes food service, housing, and complete program schedule. Cub Scout unit family programs must have local council approval. These events must be held on council-owned or -managed property or, at the local council's option, in council-approved city, county, state, or federal parks.

Model A: typically a weekend experience for the Scout member and an adult member of his family. Examples: dad-and-lad, mom-and-me, and parent-and-pal.

Model B: an outdoor experience of one or more days at a set BSA-owned or -managed camping location where the Scout's entire family is encouraged to participate.

  • All Scouts registered in Boy Scout troops are eligible to participate in troop or patrol overnight campouts, camporees, and resident camps.
  • Boy Scouts and Varsity Scouts 12 through 17 are eligible to participate in national jamborees. Boy Scouts and Varsity Scouts 13 through 17 are also eligible to participate in world jamborees and high-adventure programs.
  • All youth registered in Venturing are eligible to participate in crew, district, council, and national Venturing activities. Venturers are eligible to participate in national high-adventure programs, and on a limited basis, world jamborees. Venturers are eligible to participate in Boy Scout Resident Camp if registered and attending with a troop.

If a well-meaning leader brings along a child who does not meet these age guidelines, disservice is done to the unit because of distractions often caused by younger children. A disservice is done to the child, who is not trained to participate in such an activity and who, as a nonmember of the group, may be ignored by the older campers.

Wilderness Camping

Anything can happen in the wild outdoors, and you should take measures designed to prevent accidents and injuries from occurring. Ask the question: "What would happen if ________ occurred?" Once you have identified possible problems, devise a plan to minimize the risks and to manage a crisis if one occurs. Involve the entire crew in this process so that everyone becomes aware of potential dangers and how to avoid them.

Obviously, the best way to stay safe in the wilderness is to not get into trouble in the first place. This requires planning, leadership, and good judgment. To help be prepared for the challenges of a wilderness trek and camping experience, read Passport to High Adventure, No. 4310.

Trail Safety

Alertness and care in all that is done on the trail and performing within the group's known capabilities are among the best preventive measures against accidents. Most common outdoor injuries are blisters, cuts, sprains, strains, bruises, and fractures. Hikers also may become lost or get caught in storms, and they often panic as a result. Avoidable tragedies may occur if campers and leaders lack the skills and knowledge to deal with the problems encountered. Leaders must alert youth members to the dangers of unusual environment with proper instructions on fire safety, orienteering, and safe travel.

Leaders must instruct those in their groups to stay together on well-established trails, avoid loose rocks (especially on descent), and avoid dangerous ledges, cliffs, and areas where a fall might occur. Accidents can occur when hikers kick and roll boulders down steep hills. Wilderness trails have no caution signs for loose rocks, nor do they have guardrails on cliffs.

It is strongly recommended that at least one person in the group be currently certified in first aid through the American Red Cross or any recognized agency.

Trail safety is a matter of common sense. The response of individual members of a group in doing the right thing is important. When they understand the reason for rules of safety, they obey them more willingly.

The Boy Scouts of America has an abundance of literature related to proper procedures and guidelines for a group on a trail.

References: Boy Scout Handbook; Backpacking, Camping, and Hiking merit badge pamphlets; Cub Scout Leader Book; Scoutmaster Handbook; Fieldbook

Beware of Lightning

The summits of mountains, crests of ridges, slopes above timberline, and large meadows are extremely hazardous places to be during lightning storms. If you are caught in such an exposed place, quickly descend to a lower elevation, away from the direction of the approaching storm, and squat down, keeping your head low. A dense forest located in a depression provides the best protection. Avoid taking shelter under isolated trees or trees much taller than adjacent trees. Stay away from water, metal objects, and other substances that will conduct electricity long distances.

By squatting with your feet close together, you have minimal contact with the ground, thus reducing danger from ground currents. If the threat of lightning strikes is great, your group should not huddle together but spread out at least 15 feet apart. If one member of your group is jolted, the rest of you can tend to him. Whenever lightning is nearby, take off backpacks with either external or internal metal frames. In tents, stay at least a few inches from metal tent poles.

Lightning Safety Rules

  • Stay away from open doors and windows, fireplaces, radiators, stoves, metal pipes, sinks, and plug-in electrical appliances.
  • Don't use hair dryers, electric toothbrushes, or electric razors.
  • Don't use the telephone; lightning may strike telephone wires outside.
  • Don't take laundry off the clothesline.
  • Don't work on fences, telephone lines, power lines, pipelines, or structural steel fabrications.
  • Don't handle flammable materials in open containers.
  • Don't use metal objects, such as fishing rods and golf clubs. Golfers wearing cleated shoes are particularly good lightning rods.
  • Stop tractor work, especially when the tractor is pulling metal equipment, and dismount. Tractors and other implements in metallic contact with the ground are often struck by lightning.
  • Get out of the water and off small boats.
  • Stay in the car if you are traveling. Automobiles offer excellent lightning protection.
  • When no shelter is available, avoid the highest object in the area. If only isolated trees are nearby, the best protection is to crouch in the open, keeping twice as far away from isolated trees as the trees are high.
  • Avoid hilltops, open spaces, wire fences, metal clotheslines, exposed sheds, and any electrically conducted elevated objects.

Pure Drinking Water

A constant supply of pure drinking water is essential. Serious illness can result from drinking unpurified water. Protect your health. Don't take a chance on using water that you are not sure of. Thermos jugs, plastic water containers, and canteens are all satisfactory for carrying water. Be sure water is dispensed into each person's own drinking cup.

Treatment of Questionable Water

In addition to having a bad odor or taste, water from questionable sources may be contaminated by microorganisms, such as Giardia, that can cause a variety of diseases. All water of uncertain purity should be purified before use. Don't take a chance on using water that you are not sure of. To purify water, follow these steps:

  1. Filter the water to remove as many solids as possible.
  2. Bring it to a rolling boil and boil it for a full minute.
  3. Let it cool at least 30 minutes.
  4. Add eight drops of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of cool water. (Use common household bleach; 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite should be the only active ingredient; there should not be any added soap or fragrances). Water must be cool or chlorine will dissipate and be rendered useless.
  5. Let the water stand 30 minutes.
  6. If it smells of chlorine, you can use it. If it does not smell of chlorine, add eight more drops of bleach and let it stand another 30 minutes. Smell it again. You can use it if it smells of chlorine. If it doesn't, discard it and find another water source.
  7. The only accepted measurement of chlorine (or water treatment agents) is the drop. A drop is specifically measurable. Other measures such as "capful" or "scant teaspoon" are not uniformly measurable and should not be used.
In addition to common household bleach, several other types of chemical means to disinfect water are available, such as iodine tables, iodide crystals, and halazone tablets. All of these are acceptable, but some people have an allergic reaction to iodine products. Follow the instructions on the package for proper use.

To treat cold water you must lengthen the contact (sitting) time depending on the water temperature to destroy Giardia that may be present. Very cold water may take as long as four times the normal contact time.

Several types of water purification filters are available at camp stores. The Boy Scouts of America recommends that if you use a water filter, you also chemically treat and/or boil the water and carry extra filter cartridges and spare parts. Among the best water filters are PUR, MSR, Katadyn, First Need, and Sweet Water.

BSA Property Smart

Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Venturers are often privileged to use the land and property of others for hiking, camping, and other activities. This privilege carries important responsibilities regarding care, courtesy and cleanliness.

Carelessness is regrettable and must be avoided at all times. On the other hand, deliberate vandalism is a criminal act and is forbidden. Every Scout and Scouter has an obligation to do his or her best to care for and protect every property that he or she visits.

All youth and leaders should follow these guidelines:

  1. Every group that plans to use a site must obtain permission from the owner before entering the land. The best plan is for one or two of the leaders to visit the owner several weeks before the trip to get permission; if this is not possible, the owner should be contacted by letter or telephone.

    If there is any uncertainty about permission (for instance, permission has been granted in the past, but you received no response to your recent request), check in when you arrive for the trip. In this case, one or two members of the group should find the owner while other members wait. Don't assume that permission is automatic and begin unloading equipment. If you find that the owner is not available and you don't have prior permission, you must go elsewhere.

  2. Many camp and activity sites, such as those found in state parks, national forests, and national parks, are owned by government entities or municipalities. Many of these have strict access policies and/or permits that need to be secured in advance. Be sure to follow the rules, which can be explained by a property official or ranger.

  3. Ask where it will be convenient to park cars. Don't block traffic lanes and driveways.

  4. Never write, mark, or paint on walls, ceilings, rocks, or structures. Occasionally, it may be necessary to mark a confusing trail or road. For this purpose, carry small signs with arrows drawn on them. Place the markers in suitable locations as the group enters, and collect them on the way out. Don't cut live branches or trees.

  5. You might need to cross someone's property to reach a campsite or activity area. Obtain permission to do so, and remember that a landowner's income might depend on his or her crops and livestock. Don't climb fences that might break under your weight. Always leave gates exactly as you found them. Open gates can result in extensive loss to the owner.

  6. Don't tease or chase livestock. Take special care not to startle flocks of poultry. Disregard for the owner's animals can result in injury to you and/or the animals.

  7. Be conscious of any actions that will disturb or inconvenience the owner. Keep noise to a minimum, especially late at night. Pick up trash, even that left by previous visitors. Don't build a fire except in cleared fire sites and with the owner's permission. It's best to use a backpacking stove. Fires must be completely out before you leave the area. 

  8. Don't leave behind any trace of your visit. Leave every natural thing and manmade structure exactly as it was before you entered, and remove everything you brought to the site. Put trash in suitable containers, such as plastic bags, and then take all trash home; never dump it on the ground.

  9. If it is not too late at night, stop as you leave to tell the owner that you are leaving. If it is late, write a note. Remember that the owner's schedule might not be the same as yours. If the home is dark, regardless of the hour, don't disturb the owner. In either case, thank the owner when you leave. Send a follow-up letter that includes, if possible, pictures taken in the area.

  10. When obtaining permission to enter a property, never underestimate the length of time you might spend there. If you specify an exit time to the owner, leave at that time. You can plan longer trips for the future. Missing an exit time could cause unnecessary concern or inconvenience for the owner.

  11. When planning camps and activities, don't frequent the same well-known sites. Heavy traffic causes damage and puts a strain on owner relations (commercial or public sites excepted). In the backcountry, limit camping at one location to no more than three days to help preserve the natural environment.

  12. All Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturers, and leaders should demonstrate their interest in the property of others and their appreciation by participating in or organizing an occasional cleanup to remove trash and repair damage left by thoughtless visitors, as well as to remove writing on walls and rocks. With the owner's permission, you might even carry out conservation projects such as erosion control or wildlife habitat improvement. This makes an excellent group project and teaches conservation of and respect for the natural environment and property of others.

    Often, people forget that camps, trails, and activity sites belong to the landowner and that they must depend on his or her goodwill. In recent years, use of natural areas has increased tremendously. Owners of popular sites are besieged by people seeking entrance, and the result has been that many owners are becoming alienated. The rudeness and thoughtlessness of a few people can cause property owners to exclude everyone from a site.

    The above rules boil down to a simple statement: Use common sense and treat the owner as you would like to be treated. If outdoor activity is to continue in this country, everyone must do all they can to make themselves welcome at each site they visit.


Hantavirus is a deadly virus that was first recognized as a unique health hazard in 1993. Outbreaks have been principally limited to the Four Corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. There are four different strains of hantavirus, and cases have been reported in 26 different states. The virus is most active when the temperature is between 45 and 72 degrees (F).

Hantavirus is spread through the urine and feces of infected rodents. It is an airborne virus. A person is infected by breathing in particles released into the air when infected rodents, their nests, or their droppings are disturbed. This can happen when a person is handling rodents, disturbing rodent nests or burrows, cleaning buildings where rodents have made a home, or working outdoors. The virus will die quickly when exposed to sunlight.

Symptoms of hantavirus include fever, chills, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and a dry, nonproductive cough. If you suspect that someone has been infected, consult a physician immediately.

Rabies Prevention

Rabies has become increasingly prevalent in the United States in recent years, with more than 7,000 animals, most of which are wild, found to have the disease each year, according to statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This viral infection is often found in bats, foxes, raccoons, and skunks. Rabies can be transmitted by warm-blooded animals, including domestic dogs and cats.

Although rabies in humans is rare in the United States, the CDC reports that more than 22,000 people in this country require vaccination each year after being exposed to rabid or potentially rabid animals. States with the highest number of reported cases include New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Mexico, Texas, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Maryland, and parts of northern California.

Scout leaders can help prevent exposures by reminding Scouts to steer clear of wild animals and domestic animals that they don't know. If someone is scratched or bitten by a potentially rabid animal, Scout leaders should

  • Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water
  • Call a doctor or a hospital emergency room
  • Get a description of the animal
Notify local animal control office, police department, or board of health.

IV. Drug, Alcohol, and Tobacco Use and Abuse

The Boy Scouts of America prohibits the use of alcoholic beverages and controlled substances at encampments or activities on property owned and/or operated by the Boy Scouts of America, or at any activity involving participation of youth members.

Adult leaders should support the attitude that young adults are better off without tobacco and may not allow the use of tobacco products at any BSA activity involving youth participants.

All Scouting functions, meetings, and activities should be conducted on a smoke-free basis, with smoking areas located away from all participants.

V. Emergency Preparedness

Perhaps the most critical test of your preparedness will be in time of emergency. Developing and rehearsing an emergency action plan will add precious time needed for response to a crisis. This is true on a day hike, overnight or longer troop camp, and all other activities. A plan should include:

  1. The person in charge
  2. Action to be taken
  3. Alternatives
  4. People and agencies to notify
  5. Location of law enforcement
  6. Fire and health facilities
  7. Evacuation procedures
Skilled planners "live" the experience in advance by thinking their way through every detail of an activity or event. This practice helps eliminate surprises. If an emergency occurs, panic is replaced by self-confident quickness.

Whenever an emergency occurs in which a person needs medical care beyond simple first aid (for example, going to a medical clinic or emergency room at a hospital), leaders should immediately notify the parent or next of kin. In case of a missing Scout or a fatality, notify the council Scout executive after notifying local authorities and emergency medical services.

Prepare an emergency phone number list, like the one below, for out-of-town trips. This list and an ample supply of coins should be kept with your first-aid kit.

Reporting Deaths or Serious Injury

Adult leaders are responsible for informing their council Scout executive or designee, as soon as possible, of a death or serious injury or illness. A serious injury or illness is defined as:

  1. Any period of unconsciousness;
  2. Any hospital inpatient admission; or
  3. Any surgical intervention other than suturing of the skin or setting of simple fractures.
Leaders should be prepared to give specific facts of:
Name of subject, age; name and complete address of parent(s) or next of kin.
Date, time of day.
Location and community.
Nature of illness or accident.
If known, e.g., swimming, boating, hiking.
Prompt and accurate reporting to the news media is most important. The local council has a crisis communications plan, and the Scout Executive will designate one spokesperson in order to avoid conflicting reports. Parents or next of kin will be informed by personal contact before any release is made to the public.

Nonserious injuries need not be reported. It is recommended that a report be prepared regarding each such incident and maintained by the unit for future reference.

Emergency Phone Number List

These pages are a volunteer effort to help improve the communications within the Viking Council and Scouts in general. Please EMAIL any suggestions, changes or ideas for making improvements to the Web Committee. Thanks for your input!



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Last Update May 15, 2023