What if my Scout can’t complete the First Class swim test?

Ask the Expert: What happened to Bugling merit badge?Forget about cooking, lashing or orienteering. For three Scouts in Jeff’s troop, the toughest of any of the 14 requirements for First Class is 9B: the swim test.

The three boys have a fear of jumping into water over their heads, and the Scoutmaster from Kentucky is worried it will prevent them from advancing past Second Class.

He wrote me last week looking for guidance:


I have a question on the swimming requirement for First Class. I have at least three boys who are unable to complete the BSA swimmer test as one of the First Class requirements. They have a fear of jumping into the water over their heads. It is not just at the lake during summer camp but also at a swimming pool. I’ve reviewed the Guide to Advancement but don’t really see anything about this. Since they really don’t have a disability, there are no alternate requirements that fit the situation. Are they doomed to remain a Second Class Scout?

Thanks, Jeff. Here’s what the subject-matter expert, National Advancement Team leader Chris Hunt, had to say:

Best to answer this one based on info on alternate requirements in Section 10 of the Guide to Advancement. The Scouts would either need to have a health-care professional document the fear as a disability, or the Scouts — as many others have done — will need to overcome the fear.

As Chris suggests, the Guide to Advancement is pretty clear in saying the First Class rank is meant to challenge these young men: “It is important to remember that the advancement program is meant to challenge our members; however, not all of them can achieve everything they might want to — with or without a disability. It is for this reason all Scouts are required to meet the requirements as they are written, with no exceptions.” (, Guide to Advancement)

How to overcome fears and pass the swim test

So there’s no alternate requirement for Jeff’s Scouts, but there are ways to help these boys pass First Class Requirement 9B.

In his March-April 2011 Scouting magazine cover story, “Dreading Water,” author Jeff Csatari explores this very topic. If you’re having similar issues in your troop, give it a read. He also discusses the summer camp swim check, another source of anxiety for Scouts that you may be dealing with in a few months.

What does your troop do?

Have any ideas to share with Jeff on helping his Scouts past this hurdle? Please share in the comments section.

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About Bryan Wendell 3282 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.