Resource Material

Aquatics Supervision, No. 34737, 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.

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 on-site 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

BSA 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 non-swimming 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.

For more information regarding Safe Swim Defense, Click Here

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 Scouts, BSA, but Venturers may participate in triathlon training and competitive events. All swimming activities conducted by Venturing crews must conform to Safe Swim Defense guidelines. Individual 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 in which one 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.

For more information on Snorkeling with the BSA, click HERE.

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.

For more informaiton about Scuba and the BSA click HERE.

Safety Afloat

BSA 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.

For additional information on Safety Afloat, Click Here

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.