Canoe and swimming ability

I wanted peoples opinion about this:

My son recently joined a Boys Scout Troop and they do a lot of canoe trips. They require that both boys and adults do a swim test before going on the canoe trips. Their policy is that you must be able to swim four laps without touching the bottom or sides of the pool to be certified as a “swimmer”. Each canoe requires at least one adult “swimmer”. Therefore, as an adult, if you cannot swim the full four laps and be certified as a “swimmer” you must be coupled with another adult. What do you think about this?

I think it is good policy.

good idea
even if a PFD removes most need to swim knowing how makes one more relaxed and so better able to handle problems that arise. Also it’s good to encourage those that don’t swim to learn (a fairly easy task that has a life time of reward).

yup,same as string and jc
comfort in the water opens up a whole new world.

If a canoe flips in a river , a swimmer
can get themselves to the bank. Imagine trying to get a bunch of young non-swimmers, who are panicking, out of the water.

excellent idea!

– Last Updated: Mar-09-09 11:21 PM EST –

for a variety of reasons...

as mentioned, comfort in the water does open up a whole new world....

if sh** hits the fan, the adults are theoretically responsible for the scouts, so they should be strong swimmers, they may need to help the kids out when someone dumps....

depending on the river, there could be sections of rapids/swift current again, the adults may have to help the kids

the trip is primarily for the scouts, the adults are there to provide safety and supervision, if an adult can't swim, how can they help with safety - it is a water activity

an adult who can swim is more likely to be comfortable in the water in case of a spill, this makes it more likely for that adult to remain calm and be able to help the scouts, whether by example alone or by a more active approach... an adult who can't swim may panic when the canoe dumps - this would only make the kids more nervous and apt to panic themselves... not good!!!

it is a canoe trip - at some point, someone (or multiple someones) will end up swimming. Safety should always come first, especially when dealing with minors.

hopefully if they are doing that many canoe trips, they are also having practice days where they deliberately swamp/flip their canoes and practice re-entrys. At the very least everyone should practice the proper way to float down a river - flat on your back, hands and feet up, feet first down stream w/ knees slightly bent to absorb shocks and also re-iterating the point of not trying to stand up in current - safety boats should be in use to retrieve any swimmers, safety boats should only be crewed by skilled paddlers - adults and senior scouts, preferably skilled in rescue techniques

in my experience, scouts seem to like canoe camping trips the best. its a shame that more troops aren't able to do these kind of trips on a regular basis.

it's not a bad idea to have everyone flip their canoe and float, waiting to be picked up by rescue boat - before the trip starts - either the first day or shortly before the trip starts. this way they can experience what it is like and hopefully not panic if/when it happens while on the trip. in most cases a swimmer can get to shore themselves, but in a stronger current they should know how to float and how to properly hang onto another boat to be towed to shore/or closest eddy if in rapids.

most scouts have fun with this practice and it helps give them confidence so they don't panic when it happens

if they are crossing large bodies of water , they of course should also practice re-entry into canoes from deep water and canoe over canoe rescues. Again, in my experience they have lots of fun with this, and gain confidence from practicing it. All it takes is an afternoon with a little instruction and some practice - they have loads of fun doing this too!!!

i just realized it was one adult per canoe - that is too much!!! it is not needed. on scouting canoe trips i've been involved with the kids were paired up in the canoes, with adults paired up in other canoes. Kids weigh pretty much the same, adults weigh more - it is much easier to keep a canoe in trim with only kids in it, or only adults in it. And, the kids feel like they accomplish more by themselves. Having an adult in each canoe really doesn't do much for the safety factor. the kids definitely have more fun this way.

Seems like a reasonable minimum

– Last Updated: Mar-09-09 12:48 PM EST –

The reason for having adults is to take care of the kids. If the adults can't take care of themselves in the water, it just makes any capsize situation worse.

A good swimmer will probably be less worried about capsizing, be more relaxed, and thus less likely to capsize unintentionallly.

I’m a mediocre swimmer, but I can do
4 laps if I can choose my own pace and strokes. In my youth, I could do a lap underwater, but I don’t think they’d count that.

Boy Scout Policy
I can not believe I am in support of a BSA policy, but I think this is a good start. I would not let anyone who could not swim on a river trip, if it were my call.

Same thing when I went to scout
camp years ago. First day, everyone got in the lake and had to swim back and forth a few times, then we had to tread water a few minutes, then float on our back. For this you got a “swimmer” token that let you get out on the canoes and rowboats without an adult.

Seems like common sense and a pretty minimal requirement IMO. If there is no time limit, a sidestroke or backstroke will make it much easier on you. I did a mile swim that way a couple of times – not speedy, but you can go forever.


Adults on canoe trips

– Last Updated: Mar-09-09 2:25 PM EST –

I think it is great that the scout troop works canoeing into many of its outdoor outings. My son's troop has done a little, and I'm hoping to encourage more of it more this summer.

As far as the scouts go, it is a Boy Scout requirement that they have passed their swimmer's test (the one you describe) to go on any type of canoe trip. There is no national BSA requirement that adults be swimmers, but that doesn't prevent individual troops, councils, or camps from making it a requirement.

As far as my personal opinion (since you ask).... First, I agree completely that all of the scouts should be swimmers -- as an adult leader I'm responsible for them and they need to be comfortable in the water. I don't see a need to require an adult in each canoe -- there is no reason scouts can't canoe together as long as there is sufficient adult supervision. I believe the BSA requirement is 1 adult for every 10 scouts (minimum 2 adults overall). However, I don't necessarily agree with the fact that all of the adults also need to pass the swimmers test. Should they be comfortable in the water with their life jacket on, absolutely. I'm just not too sure how important it is to be able to swim 100 yards without a life jacket when you're out there canoeing.

Boy Scouts

– Last Updated: Mar-09-09 4:21 PM EST –

I worked with a local scout troop for nearly 3 years at the request of several fathers (one father was the Scoutmaster)who were friends of mine. All of them had sons in the troop. The father & the scouts wanted to do lots of outings. We agreed on rules, and training, which were non negotiable.

On canoeing outings:

All participants(including adults)wore pfds anytime they were in the canoes, and on the water.
Non swimmers(including adults) either became swimmers, or they did not go on canoeing outings.
All participants(including adults)going on canoeing outings must pass First Aid, CPR, Basic Water Safety , and Introduction to Canoeing courses.

I got friends who were Instructors to teach Red Cross CPR, and First Aid. Being a Canoeing Instructor, Advanced Swiftwater Rescue Instructor, Lifeguard Instructor, and Water Safety Instructor; I taught the remaining course.

When we did Backpacking, Caving, Rock Climbing/Rappeling outings there was similiar rules, and training required. Again, not negotiable.

Never had a real problem with complaints about the rules/training from the scouts, or the fathers.
My experience is that those who complain the loudest are often those who need the rules & training most.
As a matter of fact, the troop grew in size, and more fathers wanted to participate in outings as time passed. Quite a few of the scouts became Eagle scouts. I accompanied the troop(at their request)on their Philmont expedition.

During those 3 years; no injury requiring anything more than first aid ever occured to any outing participant. I think there was more than luck involved in that........


Good Policy

– Last Updated: Mar-09-09 8:48 PM EST –

When dealing with a recognized organization like this, I think it pays to play it "reasonably" safe, and this certainly seems reasonable to me.

I would modify this that one adult per canoe is more conservative than what is normally required in the Boy Scouts. Somehow I didn't catch that the first time around. However, times are changing, as far as liability issues go, so maybe it has come to this.

I didn't learn to swim well enough to meet the requirement of your Boy Scout troop (unless the backstroke counts) until I was an adult, but I made up my mind that as much time as I was spending fishing from small boats, it would have been stupid to go on being a very poor swimmer. Once I made up my mind to do it, I took a couple of classes and became pretty good, and it completely changed my "comfort level" when boating in less-than-perfect conditions or when swimming in places that require maintaining a clear head. Since taking those classes I have "practiced" regularly (the result of using swimming as a means of exercise), and have continued to get better. Making the decision to become a good swimmer (in spite of being quite afraid of deep, rough, or swift water prior to that) turned out to be one of the smartest things I've done.

besides the swim test
you should take the Safety Afloat training and do everything that’s required for the Canoeing merit badge, which includes practicing rescue techniques. it’s fun to learn along with the boys, and makes you a well-rounded paddler.

I think it’s overkill to require an adult in every canoe though. older boys can safely paddle on their own (especially since buddy boats are required) and they enjoy the independence.

Have your troop look into Maine High Adventure and Northern Tier!

Doesn’t sound quite fair to the people with physical limits on their swimming ability. I have had 4 shoulder surgeries and do not have a complete shoulder. I ALWAYS wear my PFD and can swim without but not for 4 laps of a pool. I guess that means that I, and people with limitations would be left out. Not good.


I am fat
and with bad feet I can not run a marathon. That is too bad for me, so I paddle.

Why not?
BSA has a great many good policies.

  • Big D

I was a lifeguard for 7 years. People
who can not swim should not be in the water. PERIOD.

People DO drown every year.

KIDS are more likely to drow early in the season than adults.

GOOD SWIMMERS drown in rivers.

People die later from NEAR DROWNING incidents even if they make it out okay.

I quit lifeguarding when the ARC insisted that people with disabilities had to be hired as lifeguards. Some people just should not be in, on or around the water.

…these days…

– Last Updated: Mar-10-09 12:00 PM EST –

It's a good idea even though I wasn't the greatest distance swimmer back when I was around 8, but had learned how to float and tread water..and kick. Especially today, organizations need to have degrees of certification whereby the lawyers won't flock in the post-tragedy feeding frenzy.


swimming vs rescue
It is always a good idea to be a swimmer if you are participating in water sports. However having one “good” swimmer in each canoe is not safe. If you have one good swimmer with out rescue experiance he is more likely to die helping those out who can not swim. Without lifesaving instruction he would feel obligated to save those in his boat who could not swim- often times they get drug down by the poor swimmer and die along with them.