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Signs, Signals and Codes merit badge requirements

For decades, teens have used their own language — one of emojis, shorthand and coded messages passed in school hallways — to communicate without words.

And now, for the first time, those skills could translate into a merit badge. Today the Boy Scouts of America officially releases Signs, Signals and Codes merit badge, the BSA’s 135th current merit badge. (You can see the complete list here.) Look for the merit badge pamphlet now at your local Scout Shop and at

Requirement 9c is one straight out of 2015. It asks Scouts to discuss text-message symbols, also known as emoticons or emojis, and share their 10 favorites. Then comes the fun part: “see if your counselor or parent can identify the meaning or usage of each symbol.”

Think you know what all those symbols mean, mom or dad? Get ready to prove it to your Scouts.

Signs, Signals and Codes merit badge isn’t just about emojis.

The badge covers a number of nonverbal ways we communicate: emergency signaling, Morse code, American Sign Language, braille, trail signs, sports officiating hand signals, traffic signs, secret codes and more.

Some of the coolest requirements: Write a six-word braille message. Use trail signs and markers to create a one-mile trail for fellow Scouts to follow. Invent a secret code and send a 25-word message to a friend or fellow Scout for him to decode.

Sounds pretty awesome. I see just one thing to complain about: Why wasn’t this around when I was a Scout? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Signs, Signals and Codes merit badge requirements

1. Discuss with your counselor the importance of signs, signals, and codes, and why people need these different methods of communication. Briefly discuss the history and development of signs, signals, and codes.

2. Explain the importance of signaling in emergency communications. Discuss with your counselor the types of emergency or distress signals one might use to attract airborne search-and-rescue personnel if lost in the outdoors or trying to summon assistance during a disaster. Illustrate these signaling examples by the use of photos or drawings.

3. Do the following:

a. Describe what Morse code is and the various means by which it can be sent. Spell your first name using Morse code. Send or receive a message of six to 10 words using Morse code.

b. Describe what American Sign Language (ASL) is and how it is used today. Spell your first name using American Sign Language. Send or receive a message of six to 10 words using ASL.

4. Give your counselor a brief explanation about semaphore, why it is used, how it is used, and where it is used. Explain the difference between semaphore flags and nautical flags. Then do the following:

a. Spell your first name using semaphore. Send or receive a message of six to 10 words using semaphore.

b. Using illustrations or photographs, identify 10 examples of nautical flags and discuss their importance.

5. Explain the braille reading technique and how it helps individuals with sight impairment to communicate. Then do the following:

a. Either by sight or by touch, identify the letters of the braille alphabet that spell your name. By sight or touch, decode a braille message at least six words long.

b. Create a message in braille at least six words long, and share this with your counselor.

6. Do the following:

a. Describe to your counselor six sound-only signals that are in use today. Discuss the pros and cons of using sound signals versus other types of signals.

b. Demonstrate to your counselor six different silent Scout signals. Use these Scout signals to direct the movements and actions of your patrol or troop.

7. On a Scout outing, lay out a trail for your patrol or troop to follow. Cover at least one mile in distance and use at least six different trail signs and markers. After the Scouts have completed the trail, follow no-trace principles by replacing or returning trail markers to their original locations.

8. For THREE of the following activities, demonstrate five signals each. Tell what the signals mean and why they are used:

a. Sports official’s hand signs/signals

b. Heavy-equipment operator’s hand signals

c. Aircraft carrier catapult crew signals

d. Cyclist’s hand signals

e. An activity selected by you and your counselor

9. Share with your counselor 10 examples of symbols used in everyday life. Design your own symbol. Share it with your counselor and explain what it means. Then do the following:

a. Show examples of 10 traffic signs and explain their meaning.

b. Using a topographical map, explain what a map legend is and discuss its importance. Point out 10 map symbols and explain the meaning of each.

c. Discuss text-message symbols and why they are commonly used. Give examples of your favorite 10 text symbols or emoticons. Then see if your counselor or parent can identify the meaning or usage of each symbol.

10. Briefly discuss the history of secret code writing (cryptography). Make up your own secret code and write a message of up to 25 words using this code. Share the message with a friend or fellow Scout. Then share the message and code key with your counselor and discuss the effectiveness of your code.

Full-size versions of the pamphlet and badge

Feel free to use these images in your unit or council marketing materials to promote this new merit badge.



48 Comments on Signs, Signals and Codes merit badge requirements

  1. Nice to see that Signaling has returned

  2. I’m impressed with the requirements. I think that it is a good mix of old and new and I particularly like that the emoticons were included as well. I think that it is a great opportunity for discussion between scouts and the adults around them. The only thing that I think that would have been good to add would be slang. Slang in itself could be considered code and in my opinion would have been a nice addition as well. But all around, I think that this was a job well done.

    • Matt Culbertson // February 26, 2015 at 6:49 pm // Reply

      Brian G…all the requirements for this badge deal with non-verbal communications so slang doesn’t fit.

  3. If a Scout selects the 3A requirement and learns Morse code to a proficiency of up to 10 words, he could easily practice a bit more and achieve the Morse code interpreter strip if they can, at 5 words a minute: carry on a 5 minute conversation, copy a 2 minute message, and send a 25 word written document.

    • Bryan Wendell // February 26, 2015 at 8:39 am // Reply

      Good point.

    • The could also roll right into the ASL interpreter strip.

    • Anthony Stortz // February 26, 2015 at 10:32 am // Reply

      A good tie into a Varsity program pin would be ‘On Target” where they send signals from elevated positions.

  4. Yes! Some good stuff here. “Scouting is both the new and the old, the modern and the traditional, the innovative and the timeless!”

  5. Nelson Block // February 26, 2015 at 8:51 am // Reply

    Back to the future. Seton, Beard and B-P all used codes and symbols in their books for youth. Looks like a fun and creative merit badge.

  6. For the Quartermaster rank in Sea Scouts, (5-c) Draw the International Code flags and pennants from memory and give the single-letter meanings. (Alpha= Have diver down, keep clear) of the flags. Show how to use the book International Code of Signals. All of the youth that have achieved the QM rank are proficient in this skill. We “make hoists” and our scouts see who can read it first.

  7. This is not an easy merit badge! My troop earned the Signaling merit badge in2010. It was not easy. The Morse code requirements were more difficult than the morse code requirements for an amateur radio license. Good merit badge!

    • Stephen W5SMD // February 26, 2015 at 9:27 am // Reply

      Of course it’s more difficult; there is no longer a Morse code requirement to get an amateur radio license. LOL

      This Merit Badge does look like quite a bit of study and work. Not something that can easily be done in an afternoon.

  8. Isn’t this the 136th merit badge? I checked the link that Bryan gave and it shows 135 but doesn’t include Signs, Signals, & Codes so that should make it 136.

    • The link now has Signs, Signals & Codes listed and there are 136 badges listed in total.

      However, it still lists the Computers Merit Badge which I believe has been discontinued / replaced by Digital Technology (also listed).

  9. I might sign up to counsel this one … just for the chance to (re-)learn the material!!!

  10. One problem with the requirements is that it says “send or receive” instead of “send and receive”.

    As someone whom is wearing the Morse interpreter strip, I can tell you that you can learn to send in any code system in a day or so, but learning to receive, since you don’t know the text, takes much longer.

    And without being able to receive, your skill isn’t really of much use in communicating.

    • Honestly, I don’t think that’s the point of this merit badge. Seems to be an introduction and try them a little. Not become proficient in communicating in 4 additional languages. Not to be snarky, but as someone who is wearing Morse interpreter strip, you probably also realize being able to copy at 5 WPM is much use communicating in the real world when most CW is done at at least 20 WPM.

  11. i’d love to counsel this one but i myself would need some training in some of the areas! any ideas on how to get more up to speed to offer this one to the boys? not sure how many scouters are proficient in this many forms of communication.

  12. I like this MB. Four things: When will the requirements for “Animation” be released? Secondly – the design of this badge will also leave some heads scratching as it took me a moment to realize those were 3 sticks arranged as an arrow. Three: if the scout doesn’t know what _… … ._ is, do we have to do the final sign off of the MB? (just kidding) And finally – we had a discussion of the merit badge designs that left us puzzled: how about one on designs that are outstanding?

    • H. David Pendleton // February 26, 2015 at 10:58 am // Reply

      No where in the requirements does it say that the Scout has to learn the alphabet in all the formats: Morse Code, Semaphore, ASL, Braille, etc. It says to demonstrate how to spell their name and then send or receive a 6-10 word message. I believe that Braille is the only one that requires the Scout to both send & receive a message in that method.

      A Scout could have a laminated sheet of the Morse Code, Semaphore, ASL, Braille beside them & then show/send their name & 6-10 word message. Some could even prepare what they are going to send such as their name/message in Morse Code on a piece of paper & then hit the keypad.

      _ . . _ _ _

      _ . _ _ _ _ _ . . _

      _ _ . . _

      _ _ _ . _ _

      _ . . . _ . . . . . _ . _

      . . . _ . _ . _ _ _ . . _ _

      _ . . . _ . . . _ . . _ . .

      • Reread the requirements… It’s not LEARN Morse Code ( or ASL), it says send and receive a message… All a scout needs to do if record and decode the message. I actually think this is fine and in the spirit of a merit badge. The boy is getting exposure to some thing, not an advanced degree…

        I was concerned about how this one would play out, but I think it’s reasonable and a good merit badge.

        • H. David Pendleton // February 26, 2015 at 11:58 am //

          Concur. But some MB Counselors will interpret it differently. I was making the point that the counselor could have each Scout write down his Morse Code message on paper. Then go to the key & send it.

      • Good “signal” David! All I got was the first _ _..(D) / _ _ _ (O) and the next to last line … (S) / _._. (C) / _ _ _ (O) / .._ (U) / _ (T)! A space / between letters would be a help for us non-hams.

        • H. David Pendleton // February 26, 2015 at 12:00 pm //

          Bill: The message was suppose to be “Do you get my drift, Scout” & my name so I could show to write down the requirement before the Scout hitting the keys.

          I’m not a ham so don’t really know the format.

    • Matt Culbertson // February 26, 2015 at 6:46 pm // Reply

      Dave B..Animation MB requirements are contained in the 2015 Boy Scout Requirements Book recently released. There is no “Earn date” yet but it is anticipated in a month or so.

    • I found the best way to learn what is needed to teach a merit badge, is to do just that, teach it. You will find yourself motivated to get the information and understand it, just to stay on top of the boys.

  13. Thanks Bryan. We just added this merit badge to Scoutbook. Units can start tracking progress on this badge right away. We think it will be a great addition!

  14. VA Scoutmaster // February 26, 2015 at 10:36 am // Reply

    At first glance it seemed like codes and cryptography were included as an afterthought, but then I took a closer look at req. 10. And I love how req. 7 gets the boys outside. The folks who put the requirements together for this badge deserve a “Well Done!”

    • After your comment and returning to look over the requirements, it looks like cryptography got short changed. It would have been nice to include a discussion on different types of encryption. It would be nice to discuss modern applications of encryption. It would have been nice to have them send or receive a message in more than one type of code or encryption.

  15. Venturing Karen // February 26, 2015 at 10:43 am // Reply

    Clever scouts will decode the badge itself.

  16. I have seen a lot of these requirements in various Cub Scout rank requirements or electives, such as Wolf Elective 1:IT’S A SECRET (Page 110)
    Use a secret code.
    Write to a friend in invisible “ink”
    “Write” your name using American Sign Language. People who are deaf use this language.
    Use 12 American Indian signs to tell a story.

    I hope that MB counselors will make this more rigorous than a review of what was done in Cubs.

    • H. David Pendleton // February 26, 2015 at 11:01 am // Reply

      MB Counselors can only require the Scouts to do the requirement as written, nothing more or less. Some interpretation is available, however, on whether the MB Counselor makes the Scout do the encoding & decoding from memory (that is learning 4 different alphabets) or whether the MB Counselor has a laminated sheet with the alphabet for the Scout to look at during the encoding & decoding process.

  17. I’m curious as to why there are no requirements to learn phonetic spelling which is far more useful than nautical signs in the real world. Whether it’s military or police, learning the difference between spelling B-S-A or Boy-Sam-Adam or Bravo-Sierra-Alpha it might be something cool for the boys to learn.

    • Bravo Zulu Fantabula Castle!

  18. Requirement 9c is that the Scout ask, not for the Counselor to have the answer. (^___^)

  19. Yesterday's Scout // February 26, 2015 at 4:47 pm // Reply

    Signaling used to be required for First Class. It is good to see some kind of signaling returning to Scouting, but the emoji stuff borders on the ridiculous. Dare I write more? Or do I fear the troll label …. ?

    • Why should it border ridiculous? It is the here and now that makes scouts relevant in the real world. Allowing scouts to pursue current communication patterns allows for them to connect to their followers when they become a leader. Forcing a team to do something your way can harm your team in more ways than one. On the other hand if the leader can communicate with them on their level they are more likely to form to the leader.

      • Yesterday's Scout // February 26, 2015 at 11:27 pm // Reply

        Please. They’ve cobbled up a requirement based on a fad, in order to appear “hip” and “with it” and relevant to pop culture. Pathetic.

    • H. David Pendleton // February 27, 2015 at 8:32 am // Reply

      Emoji is here & we cannot avoid it forever. I don’t know what most of them mean or how to make them because I don’t text. Just because I am one of the few American adults w/o a cell phone (currently is is over 80% in the US) that does not mean that I should make fun of those that do because it is a “fad.”

      After WWI, General John J. Pershing in his memoirs wrote something to the effect that “machine guns and airplanes are unimportant weapons.” This demonstrates even an expert in their field can be wrong sometimes about the future.

      In the Wood Badge course I took, we learned that as Scouters we are to be “change agents” and to do that we must embrace the future while providing a link to the past. I believe that this Merit Badge does both as it causes the Scout to learn about the past (Morse Code, Trail Markers, & Semaphore) while embracing the current and future (braille, ASL, & Emoji).

  20. I am so glad to see that signaling has returned. This is very helpful if the boys join our military.

  21. Jack Beckerley // February 26, 2015 at 8:15 pm // Reply

    Communication is leadership. Anything that can help Scouts learn better communication skills (everyone can improve on one area) it can make them better leaders.

    • I totally agree! Giving scouts current communication skills allows them to connect with their followers who might not have the same communication tools.

  22. I agree with Brian. Where was this Merit Badge when I was a Scout? I love this new badge! The part about following a marked trail was either a Second Class, or First Class requirement back in my day. ( Late 60’s, early 70’s ) It came in handy at Northern Tier. I could find some of the portages before the rest of the Crew with GPS units. My Father, who was my Assistant Scoutmaster taught us Morse Code, and some Semaphore. It’s so much fun! Scouts are going to have a lot of fun with this new badge.

  23. Joe westfield // February 27, 2015 at 9:07 am // Reply

    This Merit badge seems to be the best of the old and the new. Well done team.
    But, still trying to figure out ” Bravo Zulu Fantabula castle” this an acronym or a secret code?…LOL

  24. Bravo Zulu is military (Navy) for Well Done. Fantabula Castle is the name on the post just before the Bravo Zulu.

  25. Thanks Bob! It could also be “Good Job Babe” (Duck Dynasty)

  26. Seem to be a VERY EASY Merit Badge {IMHO},
    if all that is required for most of the Requirements is that the Scout copy code/sign characters out of the book for a simple message. They can elect to encode (easier) _or_ decode (here being matching to items on the page of an open book – not very difficult).
    No memorization or timed skill level.
    Am I missing something??
    Call me a traditionalist, but I would have voted for the “crossed flags” of the old and one-year revived Signaling MB. But I do see their idea of the graphic covering the broader scope of the new MB (even if not the depth of skill required for the old Signaling MB).

  27. As I look at this a little more closely in hopes of working with Scouts on this one thing that I note is that unlike other elective merit badges, there are very few “choices” that boys can make. More typical to a merit badge of this type would be to give Scouts a choice of 8 different areas (Morse, Braille, Semaphore, ASL…) and ask them to choose 4 or 5 to work on, with one in depth.

    The authors of this pamphlet have largely dictated that personal interest portion out of the badge.

    Additionally, I thought this would be a good MB to tackle on an overnight outing to a railroad museum. An activity regarding signaling and track management, Morse code and the Telegraph Road, even the distribution of US Mail and the postal code system – all awesome ways to enter into the realm of Signs, Signals and Codes.

    I imagined a whole activity following the post-Civil War where the soldiers were Homeward Bound (HoBo’s) and a campfire cooked meal in a can to make HoBo stew and an activity working on HoBo Signs.

    Another activity might take place on the Orient Express, with a detective looking for clues of a spy trying to get a message out.

    But other than doing them for fun (a great pursuit) we can’t apply any of those activities to this Merit Badge because the requirements are so rigid. Even 8E which seems to be the most flexible, seems to be more about hand signals than applicable to the above ideas.

    While this merit badge content seems “OK” I hope that it is revisited and rewritten before too long to be more in the spirit of Boy Scouting and Exploration – and less in the spirit of trying to teach a specific school-type curriculum.

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