Canoe and swimming ability

This is a good policy
I paddle on rivers used by livery services. More than once I’ve had to help people who had flipped their rides. And more than once had to deal with panicked adults. I’ve found myself jumping in and swimming a swamped canoe to shore because the adults in the canoe are like a deer in the headlights. Interstingly, usually these people can swim. They simply are afraid and don’t know what to do.

The Boy Scouts and other youth organizations should also conduct swamping practice. It would be fun and would completely remove the fear if it should happen on an outing. I did this wihh my kids and they not only do they not fear flipping or swamping, they learned the limits of the canoes and kayaks we paddle.

they do

– Last Updated: Mar-10-09 6:55 PM EST –

the Canoeing merit badge is a pretty comprehensive introduction to paddling and rescue techniques:

on certain trips boys might not be allowed to paddle without an adult in the same boat unless they've already earned the Canoeing merit badge.

also, adult leaders must have a doctor's physical every year certifying they are fit to participate in various types of outdoor and potentially strenuous physical activities. not to mention all the training requirements for safety afloat / safe swim, youth protection, first aid, etc. etc.

I took a refresher swim class, got in better shape and lost some weight before we took our boys to Maine. There was paddling in swift river currents, fog and rain, rough chop a mile or more offshore in big lakes, and dark chilly waters, all in very remote areas. I would not want to put other parents' children at risk if I wasn't reasonably confident in my own abilities.

There is no BSA requirement
that boys have the Canoeing merit badge to be in a canoe without an adult.

In the Safety Afloat guidelines, there is a requirement that they have been appropriately trained for their canoeing activity – for whitewater canoeing it must be by a “qualified whitewater specialist”. For other (non white water) canoe activities, 3 hours training or passing a handling test is considered sufficient.

If a person is not a swimmer (i.e., has not passed the 100 yard BSA swimming test), they are only permitted to ride in a canoe as a non-paddling passenger, and there must be an adult in the canoe who is certified as a life guard.

Correcting myself
I was wrong on my initial post – the BSA requirement states that all “persons” paddling canoes must have passed the BSA swimmers test – not all “scouts” as I stated above.

Sorry for any confusion I may have caused or disinformation I may have propogated. Mea culpa. I learned something new today.

(Out of curiosity, I’m new at this – is it a sign of insanity if you respond to your own post?)

Yeah, we see some of that on our
busier whitewater rivers such as the Nantahala. I went to help a woman spilled out of a ducky in Lesser Wesser. She was clearly over 70, and while quite conscious, she acted like a piece of meat, doing nothing to hang on to the boat so I could get her to shore. On another occasion, a couple were perched on large rocks with their ducky semi-pinned against one of the rocks. That was a complicated rescue because I had to get her to clamber to shore while getting the ducky loose. The “livery” as all of them watch a video and sign wavers, but the livery has lost sight of how difficult the river really can be.

Where did you get this info ?

Risk Management
the boy scouts & girls scouts both have very stringent safety requirements. They have to look at the issues from the perspective of liability.

Well, there you go
A handicapped adult could come along, as a passenger only, if accompanied by a lifeguard. Gets crazier, but still makes sense (except that you start loosing room for actual scouts in a scout activity)…

And those who volunteer should do
the same. Handicapped or not, am I likely to be helpful in an emergency or are others going to have to assist me? If the scouts are going rappelling and you weigh 500 lbs and have no skills, maybe the kids will have a more enjoyable day if they aren’t worried about having to figure out a way to rescue you.

The troops that still do serious adventure activities need leadership from people who can at least take care of themselves.


You can find it
on the BSA website. Safety Afloat gives the basic guidelines for boating, including this specific rule.

For more information, consult the Guide to Safe Scouting.

interesting stat
Here’s an interesting stat - from 2006 to date, there have been 4 drownings on BSA outings, one scout and 3 adults.

So maybe this rule wasn’t added for the kids sake as much as to save some of the blundering adults. When you add in the presumably greater number of scouts than adults on these trips, the incidence of death rate must be far higher for the adults.

How do adult BSA rankings work? Two of the adults who died were described as “Scouters” and one as “Venturer” - what does that indicate about their experience level?

Venturing is a component of BSA geared toward older boys and girls. Anyone who volunteers, fills out an application (subject to a basic background check) and goes through some training could be considered a Scouter with a Boy Scout troop, or an Advisor for a Venturing crew. There aren’t ranks per se, only different positions.

By the way, the ages of the adults was 50, 50, and 49. How’s that for clustering? Age of the scout was 11.

Good point about the liability issue! That aspect puts a whole different twist on things.


Canoeing swimming drinking Love it all.

Especialy paddlers, we claim to love the water and we practice hard and learned to paddle boats. Why not practice hard and learn to swim also.

As far as scouts, leaders and their adult supervisors go, damn rights better know how to swim. Be a role model learn to swim just as you expect the scouts to do.

Seems to me the emphasis should be on wearing a PFD. Swimming would be a common sense skill to have but perhaps not as important as insisting on non-swimmers to actually wear their life jacket, not merely have it with them as most of us tend to do when canoeing (and who consider ourselves “swimmers”). Everyone should be using PFDs, non-swimmers coupling with swimmers makes sense, young or old.

why the scouts suck
in my experience the scouts i’ve dealt with have their ineptness only surpassed by the adult scout leaders. there really is a practical reason for having such stringent requirements for them, as the majority i’ve dealt with as a whitewater raft guide are incredibly clueless.

Questions that scout “leaders” have asked me before starting whitewater rafting day (2.5 hrs) trips:

  • “Where should I put our emergency equipment?”, while pointing to tent, sleeping bags, stove, food, and assorted other gear. (On a sunny, 70 deg day, for a 2 hr river trip).

  • “Do we end up right back here”? Yes. This river is like a big donut.

  • “Why did you put those rocks there?”

  • “What do you mean I shouldn’t bring a gun? What about the bears?”

    If I’d started with the scouts, at least the scouts I’ve met, I’d be beginner level with paddling, climbing, camping, wilderness travel, etc…

    I was paddling class V before I could ever swim 4 lengths in a pool comfortably. But, I could safely swim in whitewater to shore after a beating in a hole, which is a completely different skill.

    I understand with a large national organization, it has to be geared to the lowest common denominator, which in this day and age in this country is pretty damn low.

    If you want your kids to experience the outdoors and all it offers, do it yourself, and take their friends along with.

    If you want them to build a little wood car, wear a cute little uniform, and be scared of the woods, put 'em in scouts.

I just checked the requirements for the US Navy 3rd class swim test. 50 yards without PFD! Second class goes to 100 yds demonstrating 4 different strokes for each 25yd.

Check it out for yourself. I think it was


they only have one test?
Not multiple tests for every level of disabled? Shame on them, I think they just wrote those standards from midair.

Seriously - are you in scouts? Do you really care? Then get involved.

BSA Safety Afloat
I liked thebob’s requirements. Makes sense if you’re serious about safety, and good skills to have anyway.


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, floating in an inner tube, or other craft), adult leaders for such activity must complete Safety Afloat Training, No. 34159, have a commitment card, No. 34242, with them, and be dedicated to full compliance with all ninepoints 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 by a complete health history from a physician, parent, or legal guardian. Adjust all supervision, discipline, and protection to anticipate any risks associated with individual health conditions. In the event of any significant health conditions, a medical evaluation by a physician should be required by the adult leader.

  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 who is trained 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 your head. 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 necessitates using the buddy system. Not only must 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. © 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. (d) Motorized personal watercraft, such as the Jet Ski® and SeaDoo®, are not authorized for use in Scouting aquatics, and their use should not be permitted in or near BSA program areas.

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

  7. Planning

    Float Plan Obtain current maps and information about the waterway to be traveled. Know exactly where the unit will “put in” and “pull out” and what course will be followed. Travel time should be estimated generously. Review the plan with others who have traveled the course recently.

    Local Rules Determine which state and local regulations are applicable, and follow them. Get written permission to use or cross private property.

    Notification File the float plan with parents or participants and a member of the unit committee. File the float plan with the local council office when traveling on running water. Check in with all those who should be notified when returning.

    Weather Check the weather forecast just before setting out, and keep an alert weather eye. Bring all craft ashore when rough weather threatens.

    Contingencies Planning must identify possible emergencies and other circumstances that could force a change of plans. Appropriate alternative plans must be developed for each.

    For Cub Scouts:�Cub Scout canoeing, kayaking, rowing, and rafting do not include “trips” or “expeditions” and are 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 water conditions, and to the individual; must be in good repair; and must satisfy all state and federal requirements. Spare equipment or repair materials must be carried. Appropriate rescue equipment must be 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 from being interrupted by tragedy.

    Note: For cruising vessels (excluding rowboats, canoes, kayaks, and rafts, but including sailboats and powerboats greater than 20 feet long) used in adult-supervised unit activities by a chartered Venturing crew/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 sponsorship and control of the National Council, the standards and procedures in the Sea Scout Manual may be substituted for the Safety Afloat standards.

    Reference: Safety Afloat, No. 34368 and in the Online Learning Center

    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.

    Reference: Safety Afloat, No. 34368 and in the Online Learning Center