Cubs can canoe! New aquatics rules now in effect

When you think about Scouting, you think about doing things in the great outdoors. Fishing, archery and hiking all come to mind. So do aquatics like swimming and boating. But certain activities have traditionally been off limits or restricted for various age groups because of safety, training, or other considerations. You’re probably aware that Cub Scouts weren’t supposed to go canoeing, kayaking or rowing unless it’s at a camp or program operated by the Boy Scouts of America or your local council – but not as an activity conducted by your pack.

In April of this year, however, the rules for Cub Scout aquatics changed to allow a range of activities permitted at the unit level. And while most water activities – the more rigorous and risky ones – are still restricted to Boy Scouts and older, Cub Scouts of all ages can now go canoeing, rowboating and paddle boating – the very things they’ve been doing with their families all along. (And yes, I know some of you have been boating as a purportedly unaffiliated “family” activity to get around the BSA’s safety rules.)

There’s always a catch, though, but it’s not a big deal and isn’t anything you wouldn’t expect. While we no longer have tour permits or tour plans, the requirements for adult leaders to be appropriately trained are still in force. There are two primary unit volunteer training courses for aquatics, and they’re both available online: Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat.

At least two adults are required to supervise any swimming activity – at backyard, public and hotel pools, beaches, lakes, rivers and oceans, whether or not a lifeguard is present. Safe Swim Defense training, completed within the last two years, is required of at least one adult supervising swimming activities, or even non-swimming activities where the water is over knee-deep or there is a risk of submersion. Common sense, though, dictates that as many adults as possible should complete Safe Swim Defense training – and it should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that they complete Youth Protection Training as well. All boating activities likewise must be supervised by at least two adults, one (and preferably all) with current Safety Afloat training.

Now that you’re trained, what can Cub Scouts actually do on the water? Here’s a summary of allowable activities for Cub Scout packs:

  • Learn to Swim programs for all ages.
  • Recreational swimming for all ages, divided by ability groups, with only those who are able to swim (who have passed the BSA 100-yard swim test) allowed in deep water.
  • Snorkeling in confined areas for all ages, divided by ability groups. Only swimmers are allowed in deep water.
  • Riding in large boats including commercial marine transport such as excursion boats and ferries, as well as larger (capacity of four or more passengers) privately-owned craft on calm waters where all operation is done by adults.
  • Stable, fixed-seat rowboats and paddle boats on calm, flat water. If a non-swimmer or beginning swimmer is on board, he must be buddied with a swimmer in the same boat.
  • Canoes on calm, flat water. A non-swimmer or beginning swimmer must be buddied with an adult swimmer in the same boat.
  • Single-person kayaks and stand-up paddleboards on calm, flat water for swimmers only (non-swimmers or beginning swimmers are not allowed to kayak or SUP).
  • Tubing on gently-flowing water for Swimmers only.

Don’t forget about the rule requiring that Coast Guard-approved life jackets are to be worn by persons when engaged in boating activities (rowing, canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding) and in some cases aboard larger vessels as well.

For Cub Scouts, the following are still not permitted: Open-water snorkeling, distance swimming, any form of SCUBA diving, triathlons and surfing. Also not permitted are rowing shells, sailboats and sailboards (Windsurfers), wakeboarding, water skiing and other towed activities including towed tubing, power boating, personal watercraft (Jet Skiing), and rough-water boating (whitewater), whether commercial tour or youth operated. High-diving, such as from a platform or cliff, and aerial aquatics such as kitesurfing or parasailing are not permitted for any Scout regardless of program or age.

For many more details on the changes to the aquatics program, including information on Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat guidelines, see this document (a 4.7MB PDF) that was recently published by the national aquatics committee. Changes are also reflected in the Age-Appropriate Guidelines section of the Guide to Safe Scouting.

Please keep in mind that the first reason for the BSA’s rules is the safety of the children in our care. Unit leaders are cautioned not to conduct unapproved activities under the guise of “we’re calling it a family outing”, because that will not shield you from liability – or worse – should something tragic happen during your activity. And don’t let anyone else try to convince you otherwise – just do it by the book, for your own peace of mind and the safety of your Scouts.

Contact your local council’s risk management people if you have any questions – and always be safe!

Thanks to fellow Bobwhite Connie Knie for help with this article.


This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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