Health & Safety


This site provides a variety of materials, from quick references to complete courses, all designed to help our members improve leadership skills and deliver a quality program.

Go to  Create a free account, login, and get credit for online training.  Every Scout leader should participate and receive this online free training.

Learn CPR

(Please try to attend a CPR training course)
1. CALLCheck the victim for unresponsiveness. If there is no response, Call 911 and return to the victim. In most locations the emergency dispatcher can assist you with CPR instructions.
2. BLOWTilt the head back and listen for breathing.  If not breathing normally, pinch nose and cover the mouth with yours and blow until you see the chest rise. Give 2 breaths.  Each breath should take 1 second.

If the victim is still not breathing normally, coughing or moving, begin chest compressions.  Push down on the chest 1½ to 2 inches 30 times right between the nipples.  Pump at the rate of 100/minute, faster than once per second.

NOTE: This ratio is the same for one-person & two-person CPR.  In two-person CPR the person pumping the chest stops while the other gives mouth-to-mouth breathing.


Aquatics Safety

II. Aquatics Safety

Resource Material

Aquatics Supervision, No 34346, is the primary resource for aquatics at the unit level. Section V of Camp Program and Property Management, No 20-920, contains additional information for aquatics activities conducted on council property. Aquatics activities at district and council day and resident camps must also abide by the current-year national standards.

Aquatics Leadership Training Programs

Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat training programs are available online at and may be offered locally by instructors approved by the council aquatics committee or other council authority.

Aquatics Supervision: Swimming and Water Rescue and Aquatics Supervision: Paddle Craft Safety cover skills needed to meet Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat policies applied at the unit level. These training courses are provided locally by qualified instructors who are authorized by the local council.

BSA Lifeguard provides professional-level training for lifeguards at unit or summer camp swimming activities and is provided locally by qualified instructors who are authorized by the local council.

Cub Scout Aquatics Supervisor training prepares adults for leadership at Cub Scout day and resident camps where basic swimming is conducted. Cub Scout Aquatics Supervisor training is offered at a National Camping School conducted by the regions or by a BSA Aquatics Instructor with region approval.

BSA Aquatics Instructor prepares adults for leadership roles in year-round aquatics programs and is recommended for a least one member of the council aquatics committee. Those with BSA Aquatics Instructor training may serve as aquatics directors at Boy Scout or Cub Scout summer camps. The training is available at National Camping Schools conducted by the regions.

Responsibilities of Supervisory Personnel

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 above help provide the skills, experience, and guidance for making such a determination.

Safe Swim Defense

Safe Swim DefenseBSA groups shall use Safe Swim Defense for all swimming activities. Adult leaders supervising a swimming activity must have completed Safe Swim Defense training within the previous two years. Safe Swim Defense standards apply at backyard, hotel, apartment, and public pools; at established waterfront swim areas such as beaches at state parks and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes; and at all temporary swimming areas such as a lake, river, or ocean. Safe Swim Defense does not apply to boating or water activities such as waterskiing or swamped boat drills that are covered by Safety Afloat guidelines. Safe Swim Defense applies to other nonswimming activities whenever participants enter water over knee deep or when submersion is likely, for example, when fording a stream, seining for bait, or constructing a bridge as a pioneering project. Snorkeling in open water requires each participant to have demonstrated knowledge and skills equivalent to those for Snorkeling BSA in addition to following Safe Swim Defense. Scuba activities must be conducted in accordance with the BSA Scuba policy found in the Guide to Safe Scouting.

Safe Swim Defense training may be obtained from the BSA Online Learning Center at, at council summer camps, and at other council and district training events. Confirmation of training is required on local and national tour permits for trips that involve swimming. Additional information on various swimming venues is provided in the Aquatics Supervision guide available from council service centers.

  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 those in his or her care, 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 in BSA Swimming and Water Rescue or BSA Lifeguard to assist in planning and conducting all swimming activities.
  2. Personal Health Review
    A complete health history is required of all participants as evidence of fitness for swimming activities. Forms for minors must be signed by a 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 with the parent, guardian, or caregiver for appropriate precautions.
  3. Safe Area:
    All swimming areas must be carefully inspected and prepared for safety prior to each activity. Water depth, quality, temperature, movement, and clarity are important considerations. Hazards must be eliminated or isolated by conspicuous markings and discussed with participants.
    Controlled Access: There must be safe areas for all participating ability groups to enter and leave the water. Swimming areas of appropriate depth must be defined for each ability group. The entire area must be within easy reach of designated rescue personnel. The area must be clear of boat traffic, surfing, or other nonswimming activities.
    Bottom Conditions and Depth: The bottom must be clear of trees and debris. Abrupt changes in depth are not allowed in the nonswimmer area. Isolated underwater hazards should be marked with floats. Rescue personnel must be able to easily reach the bottom. Maximum recommended water depth in clear water is 12 feet. Maximum water depth in turbid water is 8 feet.
    Visibility: Underwater swimming and diving are prohibited in turbid water. Turbid water exists when a swimmer treading water cannot see his feet. Swimming at night is allowed only in areas with water clarity and lighting sufficient for good visibility both above and below the surface.
    Diving and elevated entry: Diving is permitted only into clear, unobstructed water from heights no greater than 40 inches. Water depth must be at least 7 feet. Bottom depth contours below diving boards and elevated surfaces require greater water depths and must conform to state regulations. Persons should not jump into water from heights greater than they are tall, and should jump only into water chest deep or greater with minimal risk from contact with the bottom. No elevated entry is permitted where the person must clear any obstacle, including land.
    Water temperature: Comfortable water temperature for swimming is near 80 degrees. Activity in water at 70 degrees or less should be of limited duration and closely monitored for negative effects of chilling.
    Water quality: Bodies of stagnant, foul water, areas with significant algae or foam, or areas polluted by livestock or waterfowl should be avoided. Comply with any signs posted by local health authorities. Swimming is not allowed in swimming pools with green, murky, or cloudy water.
    Moving water: Participants should be able to easily regain and maintain their footing in currents or waves. Areas with large waves, swiftly flowing currents, or moderate currents that flow toward the open sea or into areas of danger should be avoided.
    Weather: Participants should be moved from the water to a position of safety whenever lightning or thunder threatens. Wait at least 30 minutes after the last lightning flash or thunder before leaving shelter. Take precautions to prevent sunburn, dehydration, and hypothermia.
    Life jacket use: Swimming in clear water over 12 feet deep, in turbid water over 8 feet deep, or in flowing water may be allowed if all participants wear properly fitted, Coast Guard–approved life jackets and the supervisor determines that swimming with life jackets is safe under the circumstances.
  4. Response Personnel (Lifeguards)
    Every swimming activity must be closely and continuously monitored by a trained rescue team on the alert for and ready to respond during emergencies. Professionally trained lifeguards satisfy this need when provided by a regulated facility or tour operator. When lifeguards are not provided by others, the adult supervisor must assign at least two rescue personnel, with additional numbers to maintain a ratio to one rescue personnel to every 10 participants. The supervisor must provide instruction and rescue equipment and assign areas of responsibility as outlined in Aquatics Supervision, No. 34346. The qualified supervisor, the designated response personnel, and the lookout work together as a safety team. An emergency action plan should be formulated and shared with participants as appropriate.
  5. Lookout
    The lookout continuously monitors the conduct of the swim, identifies any departures from Safe Swim Defense guidelines, alerts rescue personnel as needed, and monitors the weather and environment. The lookout should have a clear view of the entire area but be close enough for easy verbal communication. The lookout must have a sound understanding of Safe Swim Defense but is not required to perform rescues. The adult supervisor may serve simultaneously as the lookout but must assign the task to someone else if engaged in activities that preclude focused observation.
  6. Ability Groups
    All youth and adult participants are designated as swimmers, beginners, or nonswimmers based on swimming ability confirmed by standardized BSA swim classification tests. Each group is assigned a specific swimming area with depths consistent with those abilities. The classification tests should be renewed annually, preferably at the beginning of the season.
    Swimmers pass this test: Jump feetfirst 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 completed in one swim without stops and must include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.
    Beginners pass this test: Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth, level off, and swim 25 feet on the surface. Stop, turn sharply, resume swimming and return to the starting place.
    Anyone who has not completed either the beginner or swimmer tests is classified as a nonswimmer.
    The nonswimmer area should be no more than waist to chest deep and should be enclosed by physical boundaries such as the shore, a pier, or lines. The enclosed beginner area should contain water of standing depth and may extend to depths just over the head. The swimmer area may be up to 12 feet in depth in clear water and should be defined by floats or other markers.
  7. Buddy System
    Every participant is paired with another. Buddies stay together, monitor each other, and alert the safety team if either needs assistance or is missing.
    Buddies check into and out of the area together. Buddies are normally in the same ability group and remain in their assigned area. If they are not of the same ability group, then they swim in the area assigned to the buddy with the lesser ability.
    A buddy check reminds participants of their obligation to monitor their buddies and indicates how closely the buddies are keeping track of each other. Roughly every 10 minutes, or as needed to keep the buddies together, the lookout, or other person designated by the supervisor, gives an audible signal, such as a single whistle blast, and a call for “Buddies.” Buddies are expected to raise each other’s hand before completion of a slow, audible count to 10. Buddies that take longer to find each other should be reminded of their responsibility for the other’s safety.
    Once everyone has a buddy, a count is made by area and compared with the total number known to be in the water. After the count is confirmed, a signal is given to resume swimming.
  8. Discipline
    Rules are effective only when followed. All participants should know, understand, and respect the rules and procedures for safe swimming provided by Safe Swim Defense guidelines. Applicable rules should be discussed prior to the outing and reviewed for all participants at the water’s edge just before the swimming activity begins. People are more likely to follow directions when they know the reasons for rules and procedures. Consistent, impartially applied rules supported by skill and good judgment provide stepping-stones to a safe, enjoyable outing.

Classification of Swimming Ability

The swimmer and beginner classification tests defined in Safe Swim Defense may be administered at the unit level following procedures specified in Aquatics Supervision, No 34346.

Swim classification tests for multiunit district and council aquatics activities, such as day or resident camps, are generally conducted on-site by supervisory personnel for those activities. Councils may arrange for swim classification tests conducted by council-approved aquatics resource people prior to camp as outlined in section V of Camp Program and Property Management, No 20-290. When swim tests are conducted off-site prior to the camp session, the camp aquatics director retains the right to review or retest any or all participants.

Distance and Competitive Swimming in Open Water

The following policies apply when distance swimming is conducted outside the confines of a normal Safe Swim Defense area.

  • The environment for an open-water swim must conform to Safe Swim Defense guidelines regarding hazards such as submerged trees, currents, and boat traffic, as well as water quality, depth, and clarity.
  • Each individual swimmer, or at most a buddy pair, may be accompanied by a rowboat with two people onboard, one skilled in controlling the boat and the other trained in basic water rescue, equipped with a reaching device and flotation aid, continuously watching the swimmers.
  • Alternatively, a closed circuit may be established where all swimmers are constantly in reach of safety personnel strategically positioned at fixed points on anchored boats, the shore, or piers. Each participant swims with a buddy, and the number and spacing of the swimmers in the water should not exceed the capacity of the watchers to easily count the swimmers as they move from one zone to another.
  • Some competitive swimming events, such as triathlons, also cover long distances. Long-distance swimming races are not approved for Cub Scouts or Boy Scouts, but Varsity Scouts and Venturers may participate in triathlon training and competitive events. All swimming activities conducted by Varsity Scout teams or Venturing crews must conform to Safe Swim Defense guidelines. Individual Varsity Scouts and Venturers may participate in outside triathlon events sanctioned by USA Triathlon.

Snorkeling in Open Water

All ability groups may use snorkeling equipment within confined areas when following all Safe Swim Defense policies, including visibility for underwater swimming.

Snorkeling is a swimming activity that must abide by Safe Swim Defense policies, but the following additions to Safe Swim Defense apply when snorkeling is conducted in open water. “Open water” denotes a temporary swimming area of flexible extent in a natural body of water that may or may not be close to shore.

Qualified Supervision: In addition to Safe Swim Defense training and the 21-year-old minimum age, the supervisor must be an experienced snorkeler. At a minimum, the supervisor must possess skills and knowledge matching the Snorkeling BSA Award and have experience with environments similar to those of the planned activity.

Participant Ability: All participants in open-water snorkeling must either complete Snorkeling BSA requirements or be a certified scuba diver.

Equipment: All snorkeling equipment must be properly fitted and in good repair. Use of individual flotation devices (inflatable snorkeling vests or life jackets) is required whenever there is a noticeable current or swells, when the bottom is not visible from the surface due to vegetation or limited visibility beyond 8 feet, or when the activity is greater than 50 yards from shore or craft. A dive flag is required in areas shared by boats. Local regulations specifying the size of the flag and how far snorkelers may be from it must be followed. Weight belts may not be worn unless the participant has scuba certification. Dive boats should be equipped with radios and first-aid kits, and should deploy safety lines.

Additional guidance on application of Safe Swim Defense principles to snorkeling may be found in Aquatics Supervision, No 34346, and Snorkeling Safety, No 19-176.

BSA Scuba Policy

The BSA scuba policy recognizes scuba industry standards and implements them by using outside agencies for training and certification.

Training and Supervision

Any person possessing, displaying, or using scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) in connection with any Scouting-related activity must be either currently certified by a recognized agency or enrolled in an instructional scuba program, such as Scuba BSA or Scuba Diving merit badge, which must be conducted by an insured recreational diving instructor in good standing with a recognized agency and approved by the council.

Recreational diving activities by BSA groups must be supervised by a responsible adult currently certified (renewed) as a divemaster, assistant instructor, or higher rating from a recognized agency. Dive environments, equipment, depths, procedures, supervision, and buddy assignments must be consistent with each individual’s certification.

Because dives by recreational divers may be infrequent, the divemaster or instructor supervising a BSA scuba activity should screen participants prior to open-water activities and provide remedial instruction and practice as appropriate. Such remedial instruction and practice should be in accordance with the policies and standards of the divemaster’s or instructor’s agency for Scuba Review, Scuba Refresher, or similar program.

Diving using surface-supplied air systems is not authorized in connection with any BSA activity or facility except when done under contract by commercial divers.

Age-Appropriate Restrictions

Youth members in Cub Scouting, including Webelos Scouts, are not authorized to use scuba in any activity.

Boy Scouts may participate in the introductory Scuba BSA program and may obtain open-water certification as part of Scuba Diving merit badge.

Varsity and Venturing groups may participate in introductory and certification scuba programs conducted by recognized agencies appropriate to their age and current level of certification.

Standards of the recognized scuba agencies require students for open-water certification programs to be at least 15 years of age but allow special certification programs for younger students. Since all instruction for BSA scuba programs must be conducted by professionals certified by a recognized agency, additional agency-specific, age-related restrictions and protocols apply to students under 15 years of age.

Boy Scouts, Varsity Scouts, and Venturers may participate in recreational group dives as unit, district, or council activities, provided such dives are consistent with their certifications and under direct, onsite supervision of a responsible adult currently certified as a divemaster, assistant instructor, or higher rating from a recognized agency.

The divemaster or instructor supervising a recreational dive by a BSA group must implement the following policies for all divers under 15 years of age, as well as any additional junior diver restrictions and protocols adopted by that person’s certifying agency:

  • Depths are limited to 40 feet for divers under 12 years of age and to 60 feet for divers 12 to 14 years of age.
  • Each diver under 15 years of age must have an adult buddy certified as an open-water diver who is either the junior diver’s parent or an adult approved by the parent
  • Additional divemasters or instructors are present to maintain a ratio of one trained supervisor to four buddy pairs (eight divers) containing one to four divers under 15 years of age.

Medical Contraindications

Each scuba training agency recognized by the BSA requires a specific health history form prior to enrollment in a certification program. The BSA requires review and approval of the completed form by a physician even if the scuba agency itself does not require physician approval. Various risk factors identified on the forms may exclude a person from scuba training, either temporarily or permanently. Risk factors include but are not limited to ear and sinus problems, recent surgery, spontaneous pneumothorax, asthma or reactive airway disease (RAD), seizure disorders, diabetes, leukemia, sickle-cell disorder, pregnancy, panic disorders, and active psychosis.

The divemaster or instructor supervising a BSA recreational scuba activity must review the health information for each participant that is required annually of all BSA members and evaluate risk conditions using medical standards consistent with those used by his or her certifying agency. Additional tests or physician consultations may be required to confirm fitness for diving. Consultation with medical specialists knowledgeable about diving medicine also may be needed for participants taking psychotropic drugs for treatment of attention deficit disorder, depression, or other conditions.

Scuba diving is prohibited for the following conditions.

  • Use of medication to control seizures or seizure occurrence within the past five years
  • Use of insulin to control diabetes
  • History of asthma or RAD unless resolution confirmed by methacholine testing

The scuba agencies recognized by the BSA may allow exceptions to general medical prohibitions based on individual diving fitness evaluations by a medical specialist who is knowledgeable about diving medicine. Scouts, parents, dive supervisors, and physicians with questions or concerns about diving with specific medical conditions should consult the Recreational Scuba Training Council (RSTC) Guidelines for Recreational Scuba Diver’s Physical Examination and the Divers Alert Network (DAN) at . DAN medical professionals are available for nonemergency consultation by telephone at 919-684-2948 during business hours or via email.

Council Programs

When scuba diving is taught in connection with any local council program, instructors should provide the training on a contract basis. Such instructors should have dive store or other commercial affiliation that provides liability coverage. Direct employment of scuba instructors is not recommended.

Local council programs may not compress or sell air for scuba use, or sell, rent, or loan scuba equipment (scuba cylinders, regulators, gauges, dive computers, weights, or BCDs). All air and equipment for local council program use must be obtained from professional sources (dive stores, resorts, dive boats, etc.) affiliated with a scuba agency recognized by the BSA.

Scuba equipment may be used by certified summer camp aquatics program personnel for installation and maintenance of waterfront equipment, or for search and recovery operations. Search and recovery could include lost equipment, as well as rescue efforts.

Recognized Agencies

Recognized agencies are:

  • PADI: Professional Association of Diving Instructors
  • NAUI: National Association of Underwater Instructors
  • SSI: Scuba Schools International
  • IDEA: International Diving Educators Association
  • PDIC: Professional Diving Instructors Corporation
  • SDI: Scuba Diving International
  • YMCA Scuba Program (discontinued in 2008, but certification cards are still recognized)
  • NASDS: National Association of Scuba Diving Schools (merged with SSI but certification cards are still recognized)

In addition to the agencies listed by name, any current member of the World Recreational Scuba Training Council (WRSTC), which includes all RSTC members, is also recognized.

Other agencies wishing to be recognized by the BSA may contact the Outdoor Programs Team of the national office. Recognition by a certifying body such as the RSTC or EUF that the agency adheres to ANSI/CEN/ISO standards would be expected.

Safety Afloat

Safety AfloatBSA groups shall use Safety Afloat for all boating activities. Adult leaders supervising activities afloat must have completed Safety Afloat training within the previous two years. Cub Scout activities afloat are limited to council or district events that do not include moving water or float trips (expeditions). Safety Afloat standards apply to the use of canoes, kayaks, rowboats, rafts, floating tubes, sailboats, motorboats (including waterskiing), and other small craft, but do not apply to transportation on large commercial vessels such as ferries and cruise ships. Parasailing (being towed airborne behind a boat using a parachute), kitesurfing (using a wakeboard towed by a kite), and recreational use of personal watercraft (small sit-on-top motorboats propelled by water jets) are not authorized BSA activities.

Safety Afloat training may be obtained from the BSA Online Learning Center at , at council summer camps, and at other council and district training events. Confirmation of training is required on local and national tour permits for trips that involve boating. Additional guidance on appropriate skill levels and training resources is provided in the Aquatics Supervision guide available from council service centers.

  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 those in his or her care and who is trained in and committed to compliance with the nine points of BSA Safety Afloat. That supervisor must be skilled in the safe operation of the craft for the specific activity, knowledgeable in accident prevention, and prepared for emergency situations. If the adult with Safety Afloat training lacks the necessary boat operating and safety skills, then he or she may serve as the supervisor only if assisted by other adults, camp staff personnel, or professional tour guides who have the appropriate skills. Additional leadership is provided in ratios of one trained adult, staff member, or guide per 10 participants. For Cub Scouts, the leadership ratio is one trained adult, staff member, or guide per five participants. At least one leader must be trained in first aid including CPR. Any swimming done in conjunction with the activity afloat must be supervised in accordance with BSA Safe Swim Defense standards. It is strongly recommended that all units have at least one adult or older youth member currently trained in BSA Paddle Craft Safety to assist in the planning and conduct of all activities afloat.
  2. Personal Health Review
    A complete health history is required of all participants as evidence of fitness for boating activities. Forms for minors must be signed by a 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 with parent, guardian, or caregiver for appropriate precautions.
  3. Swimming Ability
    Operation of any boat on a float trip is limited to youth and adults who have completed the BSA swimmer classification test. Swimmers must complete the following test, which should be administered annually.

    Jump feetfirst 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 completed in one swim without stops and must include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.

    For activity afloat, those not classified as a swimmer are limited to multiperson craft during outings or float trips on calm water with little likelihood of capsizing or falling overboard. They may operate a fixed-seat rowboat or pedal boat accompanied by a buddy who is a swimmer. They may ride in a canoe or other paddle craft with an adult swimmer skilled in that craft as a buddy. They may ride as part of a group on a motorboat or sailboat operated by a skilled adult.

  4. Life Jackets
    Properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jackets must be worn by all persons engaged in boating activity (rowing, canoeing, sailing, boardsailing, motorboating, waterskiing, rafting, tubing, and kayaking). Type III life jackets are recommended for general recreational use.
    For vessels over 20 feet in length, life jackets need not be worn when participants are below deck or on deck when the qualified supervisor aboard the vessel determines that it is prudent to abide by less-restrictive state and federal regulations concerning the use and storage of life jackets, for example, when a cruising vessel with safety rails is at anchor. All participants not classified as swimmers must wear a life jacket when on deck underway.
    Life jackets need not be worn when an activity falls under Safe Swim Defense guidelines—for example, when an inflated raft is used in a pool or when snorkeling from an anchored craft.
  5. Buddy System
    All participants in an activity afloat are paired as buddies who are always aware of each other’s situation and prepared to sound an alarm and lend assistance immediately when needed. When several craft are used on a float trip, each boat on the water should have a “buddy boat.” All buddy pairs must be accounted for at regular intervals during the activity and checked off the water by the qualified supervisor at the conclusion of the activity. Buddies either ride in the same boat or stay near each other in single-person craft.
  6. Skill Proficiency
    Everyone in an activity afloat must have sufficient knowledge and skill to participate safely. Passengers should know how their movement affects boat stability and have a basic understanding of self-rescue. Boat operators must meet government requirements, be able to maintain control of their craft, know how changes in the environment influence that control, and undertake activities only that are within their personal and group capabilities.

    Content of training exercises should be appropriate for the age, size, and experience of the participants, and should cover basic skills on calm water of limited extent before proceeding to advanced skills involving current, waves, high winds, or extended distance. At a minimum, instructors for canoes and kayaks should be able to demonstrate the handling and rescue skills required for BSA Paddle Craft Safety. All instructors must have a least one assistant who can recognize and respond appropriately if the instructor’s safety is compromised.

    Anyone engaged in recreational boating using human-powered craft on flatwater ponds or controlled lake areas free of conflicting activities should be instructed in basic safety procedures prior to launch, and allowed to proceed after they have demonstrated the ability to control the boat adequately to return to shore at will.

    For recreational sailing, at least one person aboard should be able to demonstrate basic sailing proficiency (tacking, reaching, and running) sufficient to return the boat to the launch point. Extended cruising on a large sailboat requires either a professional captain or an adult with sufficient experience to qualify as a bareboat skipper.

    Motorboats may be operated by youth, subject to state requirements, only when accompanied in the boat by an experienced leader or camp staff member who meets state requirements for motorboat operation. Extended cruising on a large power boat requires either a professional captain or an adult with similar qualifications.

    Before a unit using human-powered craft controlled by youth embarks on a float trip or excursion that covers an extended distance or lasts longer than four hours, each participant should receive either a minimum of three hours training and supervised practice, or demonstrate proficiency in maneuvering the craft effectively over a 100-yard course and recovering from a capsize.

    Unit trips on whitewater above Class II must be done with either a professional guide in each craft or after all participants have received American Canoe Association or equivalent training for the class of water and type of craft involved.

  7. Planning
    Proper planning is necessary to ensure a safe, enjoyable exercise afloat. All plans should include a scheduled itinerary, notification of appropriate parties, communication arrangements, contingencies in case of foul weather or equipment failure, and emergency response options.

    Preparation. Any boating activity requires access to the proper equipment and transportation of gear and participants to the site. Determine what state and local regulations are applicable. Get permission to use or cross private property. Determine whether personal resources will be used or whether outfitters will supply equipment, food, and shuttle services. Lists of group and personal equipment and supplies must be compiled and checked. Even short trips require selecting a route, checking water levels, and determining alternative pull-out locations. Changes in water level, especially on moving water, may pose significant, variable safety concerns. Obtain current charts and information about the waterway and consult those who have traveled the route recently.

    Float Plan. Complete the preparation by writing a detailed itinerary, or float plan, noting put-in and pull-out locations and waypoints, along with the approximate time the group should arrive at each. Travel time should be estimated generously.

    Notification. File the float plan with parents, the local council office if traveling on running water, and local authorities if appropriate. Assign a member of the unit committee to alert authorities if prearranged check-ins are overdue. Make sure everyone is promptly notified when the trip is concluded.

    Weather. Check the weather forecast just before setting out, and keep an alert weather eye. Anticipate changes and bring all craft ashore when rough weather threatens. Wait at least 30 minutes before resuming activities after the last incidence of thunder or lightning.

    Contingencies. Planning must identify possible emergencies and other circumstances that could force a change of plans. Develop alternative plans for each situation. Identify local emergency resources such as EMS systems, sheriffs departments, or ranger stations. Check your primary communication system, and identify backups, such as the nearest residence to a campsite. Cell phones and radios may lose coverage, run out of power, or suffer water damage.

  8. Equipment
    All craft must be suitable for the activity, be seaworthy, and float if capsized. All craft and equipment must meet regulatory standards, be properly sized, and be in good repair. Spares, repair materials, and emergency gear must be carried as appropriate. Life jackets and paddles must be sized to the participants. Properly designed and fitted helmets must be worn when running rapids rated above Class II. Emergency equipment such as throw bags, signal devices, flashlights, heat sources, first-aid kits, radios, and maps must be ready for use. Spare equipment, repair materials, extra food and water, and dry clothes should be appropriate for the activity. All gear should be stowed to prevent loss and water damage. For float trips with multiple craft, the number of craft should be sufficient to carry the party if a boat is disabled, and critical supplies should be divided among the craft.
  9. Discipline
    Rules are effective only when followed. All participants should know, understand, and respect the rules and procedures for safe boating activities provided by Safety Afloat guidelines. Applicable rules should be discussed prior to the outing and reviewed for all participants near the boarding area just before the activity afloat begins. People are more likely to follow directions when they know the reasons for rules and procedures. Consistent, impartially applied rules supported by skill and good judgment provide stepping-stones to a safe, enjoyable outing.

Tow Sports

All participants in towed activity afloat (waterskiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding, tubing, etc.) must have successfully completed the BSA swimmer classification test and must wear a life jacket with an impact rating consistent with the activity. Supervision must include both a skilled boat driver currently trained in Safety Afloat and a separate observer. Participants should observe the Water-skiers Safety Code and the Boat Drivers Safety Code found in Aquatics Supervision, No 34346. Use only floats specifically designed for towing that provide secure handholds for each rider.

Trail First Aid – The Basics

Basic First Responder Aid While Hiking, Backpacking or Camping

Jun 10, 2007 Jeff Wetherington

Read more at Suite101: Trail First Aid – The Basics: Basic First Responder Aid While Hiking, Backpacking or Camping

Nothing will ruin a backpacking, hiking or camping trip faster than an injury, illness or emergency situation for which you are not prepared. Now, that’s not to say that you must be an EMT, nurse or doctor before venturing into the great outdoors, but a knowledge of basic first aid could mean the difference between a situation that can be recovered from and one which may not have such a positive outcome.

If you’re a solitary hiker, camper or backpacker it is imperative that you have basic first aid knowledge because your well-being on the trail is entirely in your own hands. Most likely a hospital, clinic or first aid station will not be near enough to help you, so, as with your camping, hiking and backpacking skills, you will need to rely on your own first aid skills to treat an injury, illness or emergency situation. If you enjoy the above activities in groups, then at least one person in the party (but preferably two or more) should be familiar with basic first responder skills.

But before we explore basic first aid skills, let’s make note of the basic principles of first aid:

1. Preserve life – your own first, others second (A lot of people balk at this, but the bottom line is you can’t help anyone if you yourself are incapacitated, unconscious or dead).

2. Prevent deterioration – stop the injury, illness or emergency situation from getting worse.

3. Promote recovery – help the injured or ill person(s) get better.

Now, let’s look at the basics of first aid:

Be Prepared – This begins when the hiking, backpacking or camping trip is being planned. Know where you are going, when you are going and what it is like ahead of time. If you’re going to an area you’ve never hiked, backpacked or camped in before, research as much as you can about it prior to leaving. Books from the library or websites about a particular area, forest or park can provide a wealth of information. Contact local groups or rangers about any specific hazards such as poisonous snakes or plants you may come into contact with on the trail. Then, with this information in hand, prepare your first aid kit accordingly.

Being prepared also means having a basic knowledge of first aid aspects such as knowing CPR (courses are available from Red Cross organizations across the country), treating burns, breaks and other injuries.

Now that you’ve done your best to prepare, let’s move on to what to do when you find yourself or others in your party in a situation where there has been an injury, illness or emergency situation on the trail.

Assess the Situation – Did something dangerous cause the situation? If so, has the danger passed? This could be anything from an avalanche to losing your footing on a slope to a dangerous animal. Whatever it is, you have to determine if the cause of the situation has stabilized or been eliminated. This is also where the first principle of first aid (above) comes into play. You cannot put yourself in danger and risk becoming a victim yourself.

Check for Response – Once you’ve determined that the danger or situation has stabilized, check the injured party(ies) for response. The simplest and most direct way, if the person is conscious or semi-conscious, is to ask them how they are. If they, in turn, can respond to your question then you now know that the victim is conscious, cognizant, breathing and that the heart is working.

If the victim is unable to respond to your question, either because they are unconscious or cannot speak, it is time to move to The ABC’s of First Aid:

A – Airway: Check to make sure that the victim has an open airway. If not, tilting the head back with the chin facing up will clear an airway many times. If this does not restore an open airway, check for obstructions and remove any you find.

B – Breathing: Once you are sure the airway is clear, make sure that the victim is breathing by looking for breathing signs such as listening to exhaling breath, watching the chest rise and fall and feeling air coming out of the mouth or nose.

Lack of breathing will necessitate that you begin CPR to continue the flow of oxygen to the brain.

C – Circulation: After making sure that the victim is breathing, make sure that the victim has blood circulation. Check for a pulse and visual signs such as complexion and blinking of the eyes.

The above represents perhaps the most extreme situation you may find yourself in; the odds are most likely that your basic first aid knowledge will only be needed to treat minimal injuries such as cuts, bruises, scratches or an occasional intestinal reaction to bad water. However, no matter how large or small the situation, a knowledge of basic first aid will serve you well when hiking, camping or backpacking on the trail.

This article is part of the series First Aid on the Trail, with general guidelines for First Aid for hikers, backpackers and campers on the trail. The series articles also include:

First Aid on the Trail-Treatment

First Aid on the Trail-Wound Care

First Aid on the Trail – The Kit


Lightning in the Desert Sky (Photo)

[Photograph by: Tom Polakis, used with permission]

Edited by: Bill Nelson, Unit Commissioner, Tempe District,
Grand Canyon Council, Boy Scouts of America

As the Summer and Monsoon seasons approach, all of us who love the outdoors need to be reminded that lightning injuries are the most common of weather-related accidents. This was brought home to me in a special way just last Summer. My 17 year old, J.B., used his training as an Eagle Scout to probably save his own life. He was working at a grocery store when a storm was blowing up. He went out to roll up his truck windows, and as he closed his truck door he caught a view of his reflection in the window of the truck. At that instant, what he saw was his hair standing on end, waving about. He recognized that this meant that he was statically charged and could be struck by lightning at any time. He immediately crouched down by the front tire of his truck, and immediately there was a loud crash of thunder and a blinding flash, as a lightning bolt hit less than 50 yards away. He could hardly hear anything for several minutes, but was not injured. Hearing his story made my own hair stand on end!

Contributed by: Don E. Robinson M.D.; Assistant Scoutmaster Troop 10 Cherokee Area Council, (TN-GA), Cleveland, TN.

Lightning Safety Rules and Tips

Before Lightning Strikes…

  • Keep an eye on the sky. Look for darkening skies, flashes of light, or increasing wind. Listen for the sound of thunder.
  • If you can hear thunder, you are close enough to the storm to be struck by lightning. Go to safe shelter immediately.
  • Listen to NOAA Weather Radio, commercial radio, or television for the latest weather forecasts.
  • An AM radio will pick up static from lightning strikes in your vicinity before you see or hear them.

When a Storm Approaches…

  • Lighting storms are often announced by a sudden drop in temperature and increase in wind. The temperature drop and breeze are usually the result of a downburst of cold air. Once the air hits the ground, it has no place to go but outward in all directions. In the process, the cold air mixes with the warmer air at ground level, becoming a breeze and a temperature drop. Temperature will also drop from the air moving toward you through all of that cold water, in the storm, that is approaching. This can happen several minutes before it actually begins to rain.
  • Find shelter in a building or car. Keep car windows closed and avoid convertibles.
  • Telephone lines and metal pipes can conduct electricity. Unplug appliances. Avoid using the telephone or any electrical appliances.
  • Stay away from open doors and windows. fireplaces, radiators, stoves, metal pipes. sinks, and plug-in electrical appliances.
  • Avoid taking a bath or shower, or running water for any other purpose.
  • Turn off the air conditioner. Power surges from lightning can overload the compressor, resulting in a costly repair job!
  • Draw blinds and shades over windows. If windows break due to objects blow by the wind the shades will prevent glass from shattering into your home.

If Caught Outside…

  • 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.
  • Stay in the car if you are traveling. Automobiles offer excellent lightning protection.
  • If you are in the woods, take shelter under the shorter trees.
  • If you are boating or swimming, get to land and find shelter immediately!

Protecting Yourself Outside…

  • Don’t take laundry off the clothesline.
  • Keep away from fences, metal clotheslines, telephone lines, power lines, pipelines, and any electrically conductive elevated objects.
  • Avoid hilltops, open spaces, isolated buildings, exposed sheds or other metal structures. Descend from ridges and mountains on the leeward side.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • When you are setting up a campsite in the summer-time, keep thunderstorms in mind. Don’t pitch your tent close to the larger trees in the area, since these are the ones sought afterby lighting. Be especially careful to avoid trees that have long vertical notches in their trunks, or have long, narrow strips of bark peeled from the trunk. When lighting hits a tree, most of its force travels down the moist area between the bark and the wood of the trunk. The bark gets stripped off when the resulting stream forces its escape, and the narrow vertical notches come about as the tree heals over the following years.
  • Go to a low-lying, open place away from trees, poles, or metal objects.
  • Make sure the place you pick is not subject to flooding
  • Stop tractor work, especially when the tractor is pulling metal equipment, and dismount. Tractors (including lawn tractors) and other implements in metallic contact with the ground are often struck by lightning.
  • Get out of the water and off small boats. If you cannot get out of the small boat (i.e., too far from land) you should position yourself as low as possible in the boat, preferably with your entire body below the line of the boat. Do not try to out race the storm to land. Also when getting out of the water go at least 100 yards away from the shore.

Be a Very Small Target!

  • Lightning takes the path of least resistance to the ground. Since air is a very poor conductor, lighting seeks anything better – and an upright human being is far better for its purpose than air! Stick up above the grass and trees while hiking, and you become a prime target.
  • Squat low to the ground. Place your hands on your knees with your head between them. Make yourself the smallest target possible. 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.
  • If you can’t get out of the open, put your pack, walking stick, whatever, about 30 feet away from you, propped up high, and huddle on the ground.
  • Don’t sit down, you make a larger target. Crouch down (between two boulders if possible) on your feet on top of your rolled sleeping bag, a foam pad, coiled rope or whatever supplementary insulation you have and ride out the storm.
  • Do not lie flat on the ground—this will make you a larger target!

After the Storm Passes…

  • Stay away from storm-damaged areas.
  • Listen to the radio for information and instructions.

If Someone is Struck by Lightning…

  • People struck by lightning carry no electrical charge and can be handled safely.
  • Call for help. Get some one to dial 9-1-1 or your local Emergency Medical Services (EMS) number.
  • The injured person has received an electrical shock and may be burned, both where they were struck and where the electricity left their body. Check for burns in both places.
  • Give first aid. If breathing has stopped, begin rescue breathing. If the heart has stopped beating, a trained person should give CPR.

Common Questions and Answers

Q: If you see lightning in the sky flashing all over the place, but hear no thunder does this mean it is too far away? or is there lighting that is close that never has thunder?

A: All lightning produces thunder. If you don’t hear it, it’s far off, depending on what other noise there is (strong winds between you and the lightning will disperse the thunder pretty well).

Q: Can you really count between thunder and lightning and see how far it is and how does that work?

A: Yes, count the number of seconds between lightning flash and sound of thunder, and then divide by 5. This works if you assume an average speed of the sound to be .2 miles per second.. Light travels at about 186,000 miles/second. Sound travels considerably more slowly. The distance to a lightning stroke is the time it takes for the sound to reach you after you’ve seen the lightning divided by the speed of sound.

Q: Is a travel trailer safe in lighting?

A: Yes, provided it is earthed (metal legs, not on wood or on rubber tires).


Few youth organizations encompass the breadth, volume and diversity of physical activity common to Scouting, and none enjoy a better safety record. The key to maintaining and improving this exemplary record is the conscientious and trained adult leader who is attentive to safety concerns.

As an aid in the continuing effort to protect participants in Scout activity, the BSA National Health & Safety Committee and the Council Services Division of the BSA National Council have developed the “Sweet Sixteen” of BSA safety procedures for physical activity. These 16 points, which embody good judgement and common sense, are applicable to all activities.


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/her ability to lead and to 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.


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 activity (e.g., scuba) may require professional evaluation in addition to 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 activity for which they are unfit. To do so would place both the individual and others at risk.


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 as to your circumstances and what you are doing in any outdoor or strenuous activity.


A key part of the supervisor’s responsibility is to know the area or course for the activity and to determine that it is well-suited and free of hazards.


Most activity requires some specialized equipment. The equipment should be selected to suit the participant and the activity and to include appropriate safety and program features. The supervisor should also check equipment to determine that it is in good condition for the activity and is properly maintained while in use.


The supervisor must ensure that every participant has and uses the appropriate personal safety equipment. For example, activity afloat requires a PFD properly worn by each participant; bikers, horseback riders, and whitewater kayakers need helmets for certain activity; skaters may need protective gear; and all need to be dressed for warmth and utility depending on the circumstances.


For most activities there are common sense procedures and standards that can greatly reduce the risk. These should be known and appreciated by all participants, and the supervisor must ensure compliance.


There is a minimum skill level requirement for every activity, and the supervisor must identify and recognize this minimum skill level and be sure that none are put at risk by attempting activity beyond their ability. A good example of skill levels in Scouting is the venerable “swim test” which defines conditions for safe swimming based on individual ability.


The risk factors in many outdoor activities vary substantially with weather conditions. These variables and the appropriate response should be understood and anticipated.


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 emergency response or a change of plan.


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.


BSA tour permits, 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.


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 the local community. Whatever is determined to be needed should be available.


BSA safety policies generally parallel or go beyond legal mandates, but the supervisor should confirm and ensure compliance with all applicable regulations or statutes.


Any strenuous activity or remote trek could present a cardiac emergency. Aquatic programs may involve cardiopulmonary emergencies. The BSA strongly recommends that a CPR-trained person (preferably an adult) be part of the leadership for any BSA program. Such a resource should be available for strenuous outdoor activity.


No supervisor is effective if he or she cannot control the activity and the individual participants. Youth must respect their leader and follow his or her direction.

In addition to these general rules, safety concerns in certain BSA activities, including most of the aquatics programs, have been specifically addressed in more detailed guidelines. All leaders should review and comply with such guidelines in the respective activities.

These include:

  • Swimming (all in-the-water activity) – Safe Swim Defense, No. 34370
  • Boating (all activity afloat) – BSA Safety Afloat, No. 34368
  • Boardsailing BSA Award Application, No. 20-935
  • Winter Sports – Health & Safety Guide, No. 34409, Guide to Safe Scouting, No. 34416
  • Cycling – Bike Safe, Health & Safety Guide, No. 34409
  • Skating – Health & Safety Guide, No. 34409
  • Snorkeling – Safe Swim Defense, Snorkeling Award application, No. 19-176
  • Guide to Safe Scouting, No. 34416
  • Camp Health & Safety, No. 19-308
  • Venturing Reference Guide, No. 25-202
  • Watersking – Safe Swim Defense, BSA Safety Afloat, Camp Program and Property Management, No. 20-920, Section IV
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