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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    • My son was the same way. It took two years of instructional swim at camp and time with some older scouts as mentors, plus a face mask. Regular swim goggles didn’t work, but a “snorkeling” face mask did the trick.

  1. We had a scout on the Autism spectrum who simply could NOT put his face/head into/under the water as part of his issues. He languished at Tenderfoot for a couple of years. Not long after we joined the troop and becoming aware of the issue, my husband (and ADC) and I worked with his parent to contact our coucil. They instructed the parent to work with his doctor to write up that this was part of his disability. The doctor suggested an alternate physical fitness requirement, which was accepted by council. The scout went on and was able to reach his First Class rank.

    • If he was on the Autism spectrum, someone should have been pushing for an alternate requirement before it languished for a couple of years.

      • We had a similar situation in my district. The parents were not informed by their unit leaders that alternatives to requirements for medical reasons were available to them. Through the district advancement committee’s effort to provide advancement education available from the national Advancement Team (promoted at roundtables as well as unit visits by the district committee members), the unit leaders were informed about these alternatives and were able to work with the parents, medical professionals and council advancement committee to work out the alternatives. In our case, we took a page from the Application for Alternative Eagle Scout Rank Merit Badges (http://www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/512-730.pdf) and had the Scout earn two merit badges (one for Second Class and one for First Class) from the Swimming, Hiking, or Cycling MB list and Emergency Preparedness or Lifesaving MB list. Between the two lists, there were ample alternative MBs to choose from. He chose and earned Wilderness Survival and Archery). The Scout still had to earn one of the Eagle-required MBs from those two (he earned Hiking and Emergency Preparedness for those).

      • The problem is many scouters aren’t aware of the adaptive alternatives for scouts with developmental differences or other disabilities. In fact, I’ve been in councils that have actively discouraged Scouters from talking with parents about adaptions because it means “more hassles” for a supposedly already overworked council staff.

  2. I have had many scouts with this same problem. It took some time but all of them were able to over come this fear. It might also be worth talking to your cub scouts and their parents about this and get them to work with their sons earlier. Don’t look for a work around, this might be the most important part of their whole scouting career. Over-coming our fears and being stretched is why God invented scouting.


      • Hey Twin, I realize it’s been a few months since you’ve posted. If your son is still involved in Scouting and has still not passed the test, don’t give up! If it’s simply him not being able to physically swim the 100 yards, perhaps he can work on training for it as part of the Personal Fitness merit badge if he has not already earned it. Taking him to the pool often and doing laps according to his ability should help him work up to the requirements of the test. Try some floating and breathing exercises so he can master the very basics before doing a lap, if he hasn’t gotten them down yet. Working with some friends might also be beneficial for him. Thanks for your concern in your son’s Scouting experience.

        • My son is about ready to quit too due to not being able to pass the darn swim test. I understand swimming is n important skill, however not every one can become a swimmer! He stayed an extra almost 3 hours at the swim session at summer camp this week since he would NOT jump into the deep end and ended up with sun poisoning due to the person in charge not letting him leave the area until he did it. He even missed lunch that day to to the incompetence of the swim test person.

      • As a certified swim instructor and swimming merit bade counselor, sometimes it takes longer than a few months for swimming skills to take hold in a strong enough manner. Repetition and consistency is the key.

        • Just like not everyone will earn the rank of Eagle. If you’re not able to get the requirement signed by a Dr as a disability, then that Scout may indeed stay at Second Class.

      • As adults if we don’t want to do some activity because we don’t like it we just don’t do it. We choose to do something else that interests us instead. Forcing a child to swim in water they are uncomfortable in or have a strong fear of could prove traumatic for the child and being told they can’t advance till they get over it is demeaning and sends a wrong message. I am certainly not saying they should get a free pass. I feel they should still learn the swimming rules and be able to demonstrate what they can on dry ground and in addition do an alternate activity of equal difficulty. As leaders it is our duty to try to keep these boys engaged, encouraged and supported. Alternatives for swimming and biking should be made. Also if the line rescue could be done in a pool with 8 foot section instead of a pond or lake for areas that are not warm climates all year long or for kids that have medical restrictions due to transplants that can not go in lakes and ponds

        • Swimming is a very important skill that everyone should know how to do. There is water all around us in our everyday life. A boy or girl needs to have at least basic swimming skills should he/she happen to unexpectedly come in contact with a body of water. That way they at least maybe able to not drowned because they have the skill to do something. That is why its a required skill for 1st Class.

          I find it sad that many parents and many leaders want their youth to be able to have an alternative requirement just because a youth refuses to even get into the water. So we just say ok you don’t have to you can do something else. Well I have not been able to find something else that is equal to a youth learning to swim without getting wet.

          This is not about doing something physical it about learning an important skill in life that just may safe a life.

          Michele Mackenzie, ” Also if the line rescue could be done in a pool with 8 foot section instead of a pond or lake for areas that are not warm climates all year long or for kids that have medical restrictions due to transplants that can not go in lakes and ponds”

          There is no requirement that any of the swimming skill have to be done in a lake or a pond. A Swimming pool is just fine for all swimming requirements and skill evaluations.

          There are also guidelines in the Guide to Advancement on youth with medical restrictions where Swimming may not be possible.

        • Michele MacKenzie, “As adults if we don’t want to do some activity because we don’t like it we just don’t do it. We choose to do something else that interests us instead.”

          Your right as adult we make choices. However, If we want to be an Engineer we must full fill the requirements put up on us by the accrediting program, in this case a University, in order to be a Engineer. Some of the requirement may very well be something we don’t want to do but we do it anyway because we want to be a Engineer.

          Its no different in the Scouting. If a Scout wants to be an Eagle Scout or even a 1st Class Scout he must full fill the requirement put up him by the accrediting program, in this case the Boy Scouts Of America. Some of the requirement may very well be something the scout does not want to do but they do it anyway because they want to be an Eagle Scout or even a 1st Class Scout.

          Life is full of choices and all choices come with some type of consequence. Full fill the requirements you obtain the reward. Don’t full fill the requirements you don’t obtain the reward. What we don’t do is rewrite the requirements to an individuals standard just because they don’t like the requirement.

          Michele MacKenzie, “Forcing a child to swim in water they are uncomfortable in or have a strong fear of could prove traumatic for the child and being told they can’t advance till they get over it is demeaning………. ”

          No one is forcing anyone to do anything they are uncomfortable with. However, as I stated above if you want the reward you must full fill the requirement. it really is that simple.

          Michele MacKenzie,”……….and sends a wrong message.”

          But telling a youth that they can still get the reward without doing the requirement is sending the right message. I think that is sending the wrong message.

          Michele MacKenzie, “I am certainly not saying they should get a free pass.”

          Yes you are. Your saying you can have the reward without doing whats required by the accrediting program, in this case the Boy Scouts Of America.

        • Michele is right on target. Why is the swimming a MUST for scouts? Granted they are around water often, but learning water safety is just as important. I am 57 and still cannot swim over 20 yards. I wear a life jacket while in a boat and never wade in water. Forcing a young scout to learn swimming just isn’t right. Should we also force them to take rifle shooting if they are not comfortable being around guns……..or teach them gun safety? The list is endless. Force them to learn Chess even though they have no interest?

      • Try it with a wet suit.. I will provide a little extra buoyancy, this might give him the confidence they need.. Even a thin suit will provide just enough lift to keep him afloat with much less effort.

      • Our family has 3 generations of lifeguards including one who was a rescue swimmer in the Navy.

        First, it is not natural to submerge one’s face in the water. You often see people swim with treIn face out of there water. It is something which needs to be overcome. How do you do it? In phases. First, I recommend doing these exercises in clear water like a pool, clear lake or ocean like the Bahamas. Start in water which is about waist to chest deep. With another person hold hands and take turns first putting your face in the water and blowing bubbles. Next, do the same thing with your whole head into the water and blowing bubbles. When they have half of air left, stand up and continue to blow. This does three things. It gives them a natural understanding of coming to the surface after their head is submerged. Second, holding hands gives the confidence that someone else is there and nothing will go wrong. Finally, it gives them the feeling of having their face submerged in the water.

        The next step is to hang on the side of the pool or dock in water over their head and repeat the same process of blowing bubbles and coming to the surface. If someone has to be next to them and hold their hand, it is OK. Takes turns of going up and down.

        Finally, have them jump in water first at a water lever just above their height, then over their head always with someone next to them. This will provide the steps to getting to jump in, level off and swim. I hope this helps.

  3. That was my son. There was an incident at a water park when he was very young and because of that he was deadly afraid of his head going under water. We had several sets of swim lessons at the Y and they all said he was a string swimmer BUT…
    His first year at camp I spoke to the director to spoke to the aquatics director who got a cute lifeguard to work with him during instructional swim. She knew just what to say and 20 minutes later he was jumping in the deep end and passing his test.
    The odds are better with the “right” instructor.

  4. We had the same issue a few years back with one boy. No matter what, he would not get into the water over his head. Finally on a winter weekend camping, where swimming was involved, we were able to coax him into the water. Starting at the shallow end and with 2 adult leaders by his side the entire way, he slowly started to work his way down. Other boys were also in the lanes next to us encouraging him. Well, needless to say, by the end of the day he was a new person. We could not get him out of the pool. His own confidence kept building up, and he was actually a decent swimmer once he got over his fear, By the end of the day he was jumping off the diving board and had a new outlook on swimming, and a new rank to go with it 🙂

  5. This one requirement is virtually my only point of disagreement with BSA. In a program that stresses inclusion and recognizes that not all youth are the same, we insist that all overcome fear of water in order to reach rank and move upward. In the overall scheme of things, is it really THAT important? When I meet an adult Eagle Scout, the first thing that comes to mind is not : “Wow, this guy can swim, so he must be an exceptional person”. We as a movement must recognize that not all boys can and will be able to meet this requirement, but are not ‘disabled’ in any way. Yes, part of Scouting and maturity is overcoming your fears, but not necessarily all of them; every ‘normal’ person has fears and anxieties they manage every day.

    Sorry, but today’s question hit my ‘pet peeve’ about advancement.

    • Yes, they manage them, but to succeed they overcome them. A scout is “brave.” Bravery isn’t the lack of fear, it is not letting that fear define you and prevent you from moving forward.

      • i was visiting with a scoutmaster a couple years ago and he was so frustrated over this issue. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to deal with it, it was because he couldn’t get his parents to see how important this skill is!

        I live in Alaska where we don’t have backyard pools, ponds and canals that we can let our boys go play in all summer. The lakes we do have are covered in Ice more than they are open and I can attest that swimming in the lake at summer camp is certainly a test of bravery!

        Alaska unfortunately has a very high rate of drownings however due to the fact that most everybody likes to fish but without a basic ability to swim and stay afloat, children end up drowning each summer due to accidents.

        There are alternates to the swimming merit badge which develops a strong and more advanced swimmer. All hte first class rank is looking for is to make sure the boys have enough competency to save their lives if needed.

        I totally agree with some of the comments above where the boys get so excited when they actually can achieve something that was so difficult. My two older sons were not good swimmers and afraid of the water. I go them into swim lessons after my oldest missed participating at the waterfront during camp due to his fear. After 2 years of lessons, both of them went to camp and earned their mile swim.

        You have to believe in these boys and don’t allow them to sell themselves short. These young men will amaze you and themselves with what they can accomplish if they set their minds to it and have the support of their family and leaders. They can do it!!!

      • I am in disagreement with the gentleman that said that having this requirement was his pet peeve. Being able to swim is important. When scouts are doing other activities like kayaking or in any way on the water or near the water, it is a matter of safety for them to be able to handle themselves in the water. What if they fell into a river or stream while hiking. It can happen. I almost drown when I was about 5. Saw the sun sparkling off my air bubbles….. My dad jumped in and hauled me up… When I finished choking up the water. And calmed down, my Mom made me go back in the water… So I wouldn’t be frightened of the water, but learn to respect it, so I could safely enjoy the water. If a scout has had a bad water experience and is still fearful, it is probably because the adult did not remain calm.. .
        If a child is fearful, encouragement from his peers can be vital in getting him comfortable in the water…
        He may someday be that Dad that jumps in and saves someone…

    • Am a strong swimmer when I wear nose plugs. Without them I can’t go under water, water goes up my nose. Mabey look into nose plugs if that holds them back.

    • Sorry, but I respectfully disagree. There are way too many people who are afraid of the water. This requirement helps get over that fear.

    • Skiptamke wrote in part: “In the overall scheme of things, is it really THAT important?”

      YES and here’s why.

      First, our Earth is three-quarters liquid (water of some sort). Many of our communities are subjected to flash flooding which can occur in an instant and if one is not prepared to tred or swim to safety, it can ruin a person’s day.

      Second, the idea behind Scouting is that of preparedness. “Be Prepared”, remember? How can one reach, throw, row or GO if one is not used enough to water and how people (including themselves) act around it? One needs to have a core set of skills — and that includes basic swimming (not Mark Spitz swimming….a lot less than that).

      Lastly, it — the First Class Swim — is one of several “personal growth” items which mark that plateau in making a Scout a First Class Scout. So while nobody will ask me to show them my “buddy tag” nor demand a photo or some other evidence that I can swim; there WILL come a time in which those basic skills will be brought to the forefront if not used to save a life — someone else’ or their own.

  6. We have helped boys who had both intense fears and some degrees of physical problems to overcome the swimming requirement, and it is terrific to see the way they feel when they beat this one.

    Some steps we try. First, break down the swimming requirement into all its components and teach them separately, only gradually chaining them together. By components, I don’t mean the jump, strong stroke, resting stroke, float. I mean the breathing required for the jump, the arm strokes, the kicks, etc. Drill the parts and gradually chain one onto the other, in shallow water. If the boy has coordination problems, consider the breast stroke and elementary back stroke for the strong & resting strokes.

    Don’t worry about the deep water until the boy has all the parts chained together, so that he could do the requirement if it were all in shallow. Then have him swim from shallow to water just over his head, with people in the water every few feet, roll over and float, swim back. Drill that until confidence is increased. At that point, plan the route of the swim so that it starts with the jump into water over the head, and then stays in shallower water the rest of the way.

    What you are doing is a combination of very slow systematic desensitization to combat fear and chaining components to learn a complex skill. It takes a lot more patience than with a typical boy, but it can be done.

  7. When I have a scout who is afraid if the water I have them start off in a lifevest. It teaches them to not be afraid of the water. They can pratice treating water, putting their face in the water, and also some basic strokes can be done in a vest. Once they trust the vest they will jump off into the deadend knowing the vest will take them to the top. Then we work on swimming techniques and slowly work them out of the vest.

  8. For Scouts in this situation, jumping into water over their head s not the place to start. Without knowing where you are or what resources are available it is hard to provide a specific solution. When I was trained as a Red Cross Water Safety Instructor (long long ago) one of the specific skills we worked on was getting students over fear of the water. This is not something that is done in one session. I would suggest that you contact a YMCA, Red Cross, or other organization that teaches swimming. They could help you find an instructor to work with these Scouts. The summer camp aquatics staff may be able to help, but with severe problems it might be better to find someone to work with these Scouts individually or as a small group.

  9. It took my son two years before he could pass his swim test. When he was young due to tubes in his ears, it was drilled into him not to put his head underwater and he would not put his head underwater period. The aquatics director worked with him starting with him in a life jacket walking hand in hand with the director into the water. As was said above the right instructor makes a world of difference.

  10. Our District Special Needs Coordinator pointed out that the First Class Swimming Requirement doesn’t prohibit the use of a PFD for the test. This is a loophole in the current requirement but probably could be used for scouts with or without a disability.

    • It also doesn’t say that he can’t have his parent holding his head up the whole time, or that he can’t hold onto the edge of the pool the whole way, but I think we all know that the spirit of the requirement is that he doesn’t use a PFD. We shouldn’t be looking for loopholes in the requirements. This requirement may save his life some day.

      • This issue has generated a lot of post. Maybe this is a wake up call to look at moving this to a requirement of First Class. This would allow a Troop to discover the fear of water and use the Red, White, and Blue requirements for camping to get the scout over his fears slowly so that he won’t get held back a year or more.

        Most parents in our Troop don’t have the money to hire swim instructors or doctors to help the scout get through this.

        I also don’t believe that Troops have the training to properly get a pre-teen over such deep seated fears. We don’t know how many young men dropped out of scouting because some well meaning adult tried to force him to swim.

        Just saying.

        • If the troop doesn’t have the skills to adquately teach the boy to swim, PLEASE DON’T TRY. You can mess him up even more. this is one area of the BSA that I disagree with. We allow anyone who is a leader to teach swimming skills even though they have no experience of basis to teaching the skill.

    • I think we need to teach the boys to face their challenges and over come them through hard work and perseverance, they can accomplish anything, not how to look for way to get out of things they don’t like.

      If they truly have have a disability then you can discuss with the council for a solution that may include a PFD but other than that, spend your weekends having the other boys working with him, find a teacher (or cute lifeguard) that can help. The whole purpose of scouting is to build character not excuses.

  11. 2 points. #1. This is important! It’s a huge issue in central cities, so important that there are special programs to combat the lack of swimming skills. Unfortunately these usually start after a child drowns. Don’t think it’s important go ask a parent who’s child has drowned. #2. This is one of the problems we as a society face. Being inclusive doesn’t mean no requirements, do what you want. If there are true medical issues there are methods for alternative requirements.

    Doing things that are difficult, sticking with things, working through obstacles, that’s a lot of what an Eagle is.

  12. I am the mom of a boy who (after a near-drown experience) had a debilitating fear of the water. No alternative requirements were permitted. I enrolled my son in swim classes with a group of pre-screened instructors who were versed in dealing with water fears. After several months, my Scout, who had completed every requirement for Second and First class EXCEPT the swim requirements, jumped into water above his head and began to swim. Now First Class, he asks to go swimming and enjoys his time in the water. While he admits that he’s still scared (he says it’s the first jump that gets him) he’s also very proud of his accomplishment. He never expects to be an amazing swimmer, but he knows now that he is capable of enjoying the water and water activities with his Troop and doesn’t have to be afraid. I’m thankful that my sons’ Troop upheld the requirements. He’s learned not only the skill of swimming, but the value of persistence, and the honor of facing his fear. It’s also another way he lives the Scout Law…my Scout is brave, after all.

    • I agree completely. I spent 3 years as a second class scout as I tried to overcome my fear of water. Finally I decided it was more important to go to Northern Tier than be scared of the water and finally passed my test and earned my swimming merit badge. I can now say I have went thru the same experience with my son. We tried for several years to get him over his fear of the water. Finally found the right swim instructor at the YMCA. He went from being a non-swimmer to being able to do I length of the pool in a couple of months of lessons. He then went from doing 1 length of the pool to passing his test and earning his swimming merit badge in a matter of two weeks. This was just two weeks ago and he is already talking about practicing v more so he can earn life saving badge next year at camp. Though it is very tough for some kids, I do believe the requirement is there for a good reason and should not be allowed to be gone around for any but he most extreme of reasons such as a physical or mental issue beyond fear. I say this as an Eagle Scout who may would not have earned it without overcoming my fear. I also would not have expected any thing less from my son.

    • My son is currently working hard on overcoming his fear of the water and jumping in over his head. When I started talking to him about starting private lessons to help him, though he had been very hesitant to do more lessons, he suddenly lit up! I asked him what he was thinking, and he said, “it will be so great to be able to go swimming with all my friends and not sit on the side because I’m afraid. That’ll be so great!”
      This fear has persisted for many years, he is making great strides. I know that his sense of pride and accomplishment will be amazing when he passes the test, and surpasses his fear. The harder we have to work and the more we have to overcome, the greater the sense of accomplishment that comes. How will proving to himself that he can overcome this affect all those obstacles that he will face in the future? I imagine he will be able to look back and say, if I can work hard and overcome that, I can also overcome this.
      My scout is brave too!

  13. Having a huge fear of water my self for many years there is nothing quite like a victory over the fear. While my son was taking swimming lessons at the Y so he could pass his first class requirements and swimming merit badge, I spent time in the shallow pool working past my “I can’t touch the bottom with my face out of the water fear”. It took us both many months to reach our goals. We are now avid swimmers. Point is that earning merit badges to learn a skill to pass the rank advancement is a great system. Swimming, being comfortable, and safe in deep water is a skill. Let them learn and overcome. They will be grateful in years to come.

  14. Our son struggled with the swim test as well. We signed him up for lessons at our local pool (I think he took the class 3 times), but he just couldn’t pass the test. Finally, in a fit of desperation, we scraped together the money and sprung for private lessons. We hit the jackpot and were blessed with a young man who was a swim instructor, a former Boy Scout, AND an Eagle Scout!! We told Josh our son needed to pass the BSA swim test and he understood immediately. He threw his regular swim curriculum out the window and focused solely on what our son needed to pass the test. Josh was amazing! In addition to addressing our Alex’s fears and skills and recommending strength building exercises, Josh worked with Alex to make his strokes as efficient as possible so he could go the distance. In the end, our son was able to pass the test!! Our Scoutmaster kindly allowed Josh to be the one to sign off on our son’s accomplishment and that was a special moment for our son. He was so proud of himself. HE DID IT! And, he will always remember Josh. Whenever Alex is struggling to learn something new we remind him of his swim test success and how his perseverance paid off. I encourage you to keep working with your scout. Like our son, maybe he just needs a swim coach who truly understands and who can connect with him. See if you can duplicate our experience. You won’t regret it and neither will your scout.

  15. My son has autism. We thought he would never obtain Eagle because of physical limitations and fear of water. We hired a swim instructor who was a dear friend that he trusted. She worked with him 3 summers, it took a long time and much patience. He was finally able to do the bare minimum to pass. Long story short, next week he will be going to his Eagle final board of review.

  16. Seriously? I’m a rule follower but even I’m disgusted with your response. Challenging boys, even helping them to overcome a fear, is one thing but to ask a healthcare professional to label a fear a disability is absolutely ridiculous! Not to mention the pressure and stigma of being labeled for your fear. Forcing someone to overcome a fear or be labeled as a failure, disabled or being refused advancement is unfair and unhealthy. Not all children swim. And some harbor real fears. Time to get with this century on how to deal with children appropriately. I am so disappointed in the BSA right now.

    • I have a son with a disability. When he was working on his swim test for rank he did fine. Even now that he is 18, he can most likely do the swim MB, but we have an alternate MB in place.

      But I wanted to comment on your post about ” to ask a healthcare professional to label a fear a disability is absolutely ridiculous!” You would not be asking that the actual “fear” is the disability. Most likely in these cases, the youth has a disability that might include fear of water. Some people are sensitive to different textures and don’t like to touch certain things. Water on the face can be one of them. Therefore, a youth with autism (for example) might not like water on his face. Autism would be the disability, not the fear.

      I know so may people hate to “label” their child with anything, but there are times with a label, it allows them more rights……such as alternate MBs and/or extended time to complete the requirements. I will always advocate for people with disabilities…..they have the right to live a life also.

  17. They’re not “unable,” they’re unwilling.
    One of BSA’s earliest campaigns/slogans was “every boy a swimmer” because of the danger faced by a public unable to handle themselves in water. The population may not be as prone to drowning as it once was, but that doesn’t not diminish the importance to individuals that they be capable of swimming.
    Jeff has already done his homework and knows that (in the absence of an actual disability) there is no alternative for his 3 scouts, but it seems like he is asking us for one, anyway when he asks if they are doomed to Second Class forever. This is a change in the attitudes of our society. Compare it to the mentality from Scouting’s early days: “Swimming is the only stumbling block which keeps many scouts from becoming first class let’s remove the stumbling block. . . ” With workarounds? No, with work: “. . . By use of a swimming record card, which is punched for each lesson the boy gets in any phase of swimming, some idea can be obtained of the amount of work and expense necessary to make a boy an expert swimmer and life saver.” (Scouting, April 1919 http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth283045/m1/6/)

    Advancement is a method, not an aim. The aim is to grow boys, and in this case these boys need to grow beyond their fear of water, and in doing so to learn the pride and sense of accomplishment. As Richard Becker said above: Start slow, and work from there. If they’re willing to work, they can do it.

    • Lighting lanterns, by the way, fills me with dread as I (irrationally) imagine the thing exploding and sending shards of the glass globe into my face.
      I don’t sit in the dark, though. I take a deep breath and light the darn thing.

      • I have a question for you– how did they become 2nd class if they are too afraid to jump in the water over their head?
        Second class requirement #8b starts with jump into water over your head. If they completed that requirement then they can complete the requirement for First Class.

  18. I can understand both sides of the argument on this issue. Fear of deep water is similar to a fear of height and it does seem that it is tough to not make advancement over a fear. I do understand the importance of the requirement, however. The difficulty in helping a scout overcome his fear can be difficult in the rural areas and northern climates.(which are many). The climate shortens the time available for lake swimming (many areas do not have pools) and few rural areas seem to offer swimming lessons anymore.

  19. That would be nice if there was such an item as the, “First Class Swim Test.” In actuality, the test is called the “BSA Swim Classification Test” which has three possible outcomes/classifications. The BSA Swim Classification Test is just as the name indicates, a classification test, vice an achievement test. Consequently, any of the three classifications is “successful” completion of the test. Some serious review of the language in the First and Second Class advancement requirements is needed.

    • This is what scouting.org says are the requirements for First Class

      9b.Successfully complete the BSA swimmer test.*
      *See the Swimming merit badge requirements later in this publication for details about the BSA swimmer test.

      and swimming merit badge

      (9b) Before doing the following requirement, successfully complete the BSA swimmer test: Jump feetfirst into water over your head in depth, 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.

      To me, this doesn’t seem to allow non-swimmer or beginning swimmer outcomes as a completion of the requirement.

      I agree that many requirements need a review of the language.

      • I am looking for the source again, but last summer we found on the National site where it clarified/stated that the Beginner and Swimmer ratings counted as “passing” the BSA swim test. We had a hand full of Scouts that simply didn’t have the strength to reach the 100 yds and they were being held up as a result. We understand the need for the Swim requirement for First Class, but didn’t understand the need to have Second Class scouts be rated as “Swimmers” just for rank advancement.

        I’ll report back when I find the notification that we saw.

        • I found it. Aquatics Safety (http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/HealthandSafety/GSS/gss02.aspx) section 6 Ability Groups:

          “Swimmers pass this test: …”
          “Beginners pass this test: …”

          “Anyone who has not completed either the beginner or swimmer tests is classified as a nonswimmer.”

          If the First Class requirement is to pass the BSA Swimmer “Level” Test, then the requirement does not support the progression of ability. I would make sense for First Class to requirement a Beginner Level ability with the Swimming Merit Badge requiring the Swimmer Level. Otherwise the Beginner Level Test should be present in the Tenderfoot / Second Class requirements to identify issues passing the Swimmer Level.

    • Actually the wording is fine. It says “BSA Swimmer test” and is referenced to the actual BSA Swimmer Test on pages 190-191. There is only 1 possibility, not three. And I know when summer camp swim tests were done last summer, my nephew was worried about being able to complete the BSA Swimmer test. When he did, he was jumping with joy. It was a BIG accomplishment for him.

  20. So much of Scouting is a matter of expanding the Scout’s comfort zone and teaching the Scout that fears can be overcome. Fear of the water needs to be placed in the same category as fear of sleeping in the woods, fear of spending the night away from parents, fear of heights, fear of riding a bicycle, fear of eating something unfamiliar, etc.
    I don’t usually insist that a Scout conquer a particular fear in one big step. But I do ask that each time he faces the fear, that he takes at least a small step beyond his comfort zone. Then afterward, we talk about the experience, focusing on whether his worst expectations actually happened. Eventually, they learn that facing fears or discomforts can have big rewards. Then I know I have given that Scout something even more valuable than a First Class rank.

  21. Gone are the days when parents would throw their kids in the deep end and tell them to swim. Now, they have to be coaxed and conjolled into just getting in the water. The parents are afraid of upsetting their child or they just don’t want to “make” their child do anything that the child doesn’t think he can do or even doesn’t want to do. Kids today are afraid to TRY anything they haven’t done before so they either say they CAN’T do it or they don’t WANT to do it to which parents capitulate — “that’s ok baby, you don’t have to do that”. These parents expect little of their kids.
    There are some things in the scouting program that EVERY able-bodied scout has to do, finding a way to let the scout out of doing the requirement is the wrong precident to set this early in your scout’s life. “I’m afraid”, and “I don’t want to do it” and “I can’t do it” becomes his mantra that he carries throughout his life.
    A scout is Brave, Obedient, and Cheerful come to mind.

    • Kenneth, I think you are off base here. Having been a lifeguard for 20 plus years and having rescued many youth and adults during that time, learning to swim is a process and not something we are born knowing how to do. Yes, it make take some encouraging, but that is a far sight better than hoping someone is there to perform a rescue. Give today’s parents some credit.

  22. I wish there was a little more focus on preparatory swimming skills in Webelos. Many parents are taken by surprise by the First Class swimming requirement. If they had more notice, they may have gotten their scout swimming lessons sooner.

    • That’s what the Aquanaut pin and the swimmer belt loop and the swimmer pin are for. How much more preparation do you need?

  23. BSA’s Aquatics Supervision (No. 34346) has a section, starting on page 82, on non-swimmer instruction. That section culminates with the skill of “jump entry into deep water”. It is an excellent resource for teaching your Scouts how to swim. Making the scouts comfortable in the water is the key to helping them overcome their fears. You don’t start off by jumping in the water, you start by getting them comfortable with just standing in the water and then move on to other skills that increase their proficiency in the water.

  24. One note – it looks like the requirement says jump feet first into water over your head IN DEPTH, but does not say that your head has to go underwater?

    Seems there is a technique (maybe in Lifesaving) that is taught using your arms to slow your entry so that your head remains above water – that might help some who are solely worried about their head being underwater (like one of the posters above mentioned with the waterpark)?

    • Actually I can tell you the 3 things that the lifeguard did that helped my son.
      1. She told him it didn’t matter how deep the water is because you’re going to be on top. They had a little discussion about that . 2. They floated on their backs in shallow water so he could see they were on top. 3. She had him start getting in at the shallow end and keep working his way deeper and deeper. Like I said it took about 20 minutes and he was fine. As I mentioned there was another factor that could have been helpful; he was 12 and wanted to look good in front of a “cute girl”. So hormones may have played a small role.

  25. Jeff…these scouts are “doomed” to be Tenderfoot as the 2nd class swimming requirement also requires them to jump into water over their heads. Some things you just have to work a little harder at and our job as leaders is to help those scouts succeed not waive requirements.

    Swimming history lesson:

    Swimming was a 1st class requirement only and required only 50 yards. There is a statement in a pamphlet from the 1930s that says “no scout can be excused from this”

    In the Skill award days (72-89) no swimming was required by any scout as the Swimming skill award was not required. Swimming MB also became an “Required Optional” MB with Personal Fitness or Sports

    1989 Swimming Requirements for 2nd Class (50 yards) and 1st Class (100 yards) were introduced. No requirement to jump in over your head.

    1999 Pass the BSA Swimmer Test was required for 1st class. Test is essentially the same today. Starts with jumping in over your head. A survival skills requirement was also in 1st class which required the scout to jump in and remove his clothing. This was a requirement from 1999-2001

    1999 Swimming remained a Required optional MB but now with Hiking and Cycling

    In the 1999-2000 Boy Scout Requirements books a statement in the footnotes says the BSA Swimmer Test “May be waived by the Troop Committee for medical or safety reasons”

    And lastly (one I wish they had not changed) in 2001 Swimming was removed as a requirement for Lifesaving MB and replaced with completing the rank requirements.

    Use advancement.team@scouting.org and merit.badge@scouting.org to send in your concerns.

  26. I think this is an elephant in the room. This topic came up for discussion a few months ago at one of our roundtables and a number of Scoutmasters said they have had boys drop out rather than complete the requirements. A few said they had boys drop out a few meetings after joining, after they started reading the advancement requirements and realized what they would have to do.

    Is it important to know how to swim? Absolutely. It may even save your life. But this is a real issue, I think, for many. But whether the boys can do it, or will, it seems like a big thing to overcome.

    And it wasn’t always like this. Even in the days of skill awards (when I was a Scout), the Swimming Skill Award was optional. Even Swimming Merit Badge, while required for Eagle, is technically optional-required, as you can earn something else instead.

    I wonder how many people would have earned Eagle if this swimming requirement would have been there back when they were in Scouts.

    • Your experience is the outlier. Swimming was only optional in the 70s and 80s and that was fixed when most of the rest of the “improved program” mistakes were tossed out in 1989.

  27. Here’s another idea for breaking swimming up into smaller steps than jumping into water over your head. Start out in the shallow water, knee or waist high. Grab onto something, bend forward, put your face in the water and bubble out your air. Work on bubbling it out slowly. If you need to breath in air, you can just life your face out of the water and breath it in. This works on getting kids used to holding their breath for an extra second so that they aren’t breathing in water streaming down their face. Then gradually work up to getting your whole head underwater, crouch with your knees, submerge your body, and slowly bubble your air out. When you want to breath, just stand up. Then work on swimming back and forth across the shallow end — don’t go out into the deep end until you’re much more confident in your swimming. Then swim back and forth across the pool without ever jumping into the deep end. When someone is decent at swimming, then you can work on jumping into the deep end, and they’ll be confident that they can handle it because they’ve already been swimming there. Most people who are afraid of the water were just rushed too quickly or otherwise weren’t brought along slowly and gradually.

  28. I had a den chief that was afraid of water. He attended a pack open swim and showed up with a PDF. He wanted to do his water rescues for scout advancement. I was in the water at the time and saw the PFD. I asked to look at it and the scout gave it to me. I said it was a nice one and proceeded to toss it in the deep end of the pool. The scout freeked out and then I decided it was time for me to drown and go underwater. The scout jumped in to rescue me. He pulled me from the water and I stated this, “I thought you were scared of the water!” He started to laugh and we went on to do the rest of the rescues. He overcame his fears! Now he has confidence in his swimming abilities. He was a non-swimmer at camp the 1st year. The second year he took swim lessons (B swimmer)and then the third year an A swimmer. This kid has autism issues as well. I am not sure if this would work with other boys, but it worked with him. I think it comes down to instructors and working with the boy. I am not one for excuses and more for finding a solution. There may be a few boys with a disability, but most will raise to the occasion if properly coached.
    I agree with Kenneth Tillman. We have a generation of “I can’ts” instead of facing a challenge and being an overcomer that is an “I did it!”

    • I love Zig Ziglar’s way of talking about CAN’T. He asks people to describe a CAN. There are all shapes of cans that folks mention. Then he asks then to describe a CAN’T. It’s a simplistic approach but it can really help overcome fear (FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real). There are real issues but so much of what we encounter is just a fear than can be overcome.

  29. I had a scout that couldn’t pass the test, but he really wanted to go on our Tall Ship sailing trip. He needed to be first class to go on the trip, in addition to having the Swimming merit badge (Troop requirement). I have been coaching swimming for years, so I wasn’t about to let him just skate by on this. I worked with him extensively, but when it couldn’t be done in the 1.5 hours of a troop swim once every 4-5 months, I suggested to the parent the enroll the boy in swim lessons, and I gave them a name of an excellent instructor.

    the boy took the lessons. Not only did the boy pass the test for first class, he also got the swimming merit badge (which from a real swimmers standpoint is pretty whimpy) AND he went on the tall ship sailing trip, and had a blast. IN ADDITION, he became interested enough in swimming that he joined a summer league swim team.

    PLEASE whatever you do, don’t just sign these boys off. Strictly follow the rule, these are not that tough in the world of swimming. You’re not doing them any favors by letting them skate by. In addition, eventually you’ll help them get over the fear of the water and feel comfortable in it which is what the goal is.

    A boy who reaches the rank of Eagle should not have a fear of jumping into the water.

  30. If we are trying to prevent possible death! Why not require every scout learn Firearms safety? How to Climb and Rappel?………Being totally fearless is “Dangerous”, learning to appreciate and work with your fears is where we need to be!

    I started out in Scouts able to get in the water, as long as I held on to side of pool, eventually learned to swim, Earned Swimming, Lifesaving, Lifeguard BSA, Several Mile Swims, back when it was not required for Eagle (1980). I am quite proud of the accomplishment) and I am now a certified SAR Diver.
    I have also worked with many on fear of climbing and almost every one has managed to climb, but it takes experienced instructors.
    For the person who talks “A Scout is BRAVE” Should we require them to work through a fear? Maybe they are great with water, but afraid of heights, should we require them to earn Climbing?

    • Fact is, a fella needs nothing but himself at water’s edge on a hot day (or maybe a boat on a cold day) to be needing to swim 100 yards in a strong manner.

      There world we live in has that much more water than lead or granite!

    • my suggestions is swimming classes in a pool. Practice swimming in water that is not over their heads. Get them really comfortable in the water then try the swim test. Mine is not the best swimmer but this is what we did and it worked.

  31. Taking Swimming merit badge at summer camp has successfully helped every Scout who could not already pass the BSA swimmer test for First Class rank. Swimming was the second most popular merit badge in 2013.

  32. After thinking about this more and reading everyone’s post. There is a focus specifically on Swimming for First Class requirement. The issue I see is that this the last requirement a Scout could see for Swimming that is “required”. A Scout could pass the Swimmer level swim test, one time, and never need it again throughout their Scouting career. Swimming MB can be substituted with Hiking or Cycling for Eagle. Based on their ability level they are restricted to which aquatics functions they can do. Some Scouts do not like the water and will accept that.

    One of the “life lessons” of Scouting is overcoming obstacles, however, having a “make it or break it” requirement like this at the mid mark of advancement could be the crutch that would make a youth that is younger than 13 to decide it isn’t worth it. I can see requiring a “overcome your fear” requirement for Life or even Eagle, but to tell a Second Class Scout, “You’ve done everything except pass the swim test”, is a recipe for a Scout that does not have the mental maturity to overcome a fear or physical ability to swim 100 yards, to quit out of frustration.

    My son was caught up in this same issue. He is very active and his body fat was/is extremely low and he had the hardest time to pass the “floating” requirement of the Swimmer level test. He was Second class for two years. During those two years he took swim lessons and was/is a strong swimmer, but was labeled as “beginner” just because of the floating requirement. As a leadership team, it took us a lot work to keep him motivated while he saw his peers advance.

    I’m not suggesting to get rid of the requirement. I am suggesting to make it a progression with the beginner swimmer at first class and swimmer level at life or eagle.

    • Problem is, James, I don’t want to wait until all my boys are Eagle until I know they have the discipline for a challenging aquatic activity (e.g. boating or snorkeling).

      I’d rather have all boys be tested early in their scouting career and know which the one or two boys I’d have to make an adjustment for (like flotation for your son).

  33. “Every day, about ten people die from unintentional drowning. Of these, two are children aged 14 or younger. Drowning ranks fifth among the leading causes of unintentional injury death in the United States.

    Who is most at risk?
    Males: Nearly 80% of people who die from drowning are male.”

    I understand the level of fear that some kids have but swimming is a life-saving skill. If your scout learns nothing more than how to swim after going to summer camp, it should be considered successful.

  34. I have worked with a few boys that either feared water, didn’t know how to swim, or had physical limitations.

    The boy that had the fear was my own son who nearly drowned when he was about 3. All through the years he went to swim lessons and worked and worked on over-coming his fear. He would never go past where he could touch the bottom without some sort of floatation aid. That was until he went to summer camp as a Webelos. I talked to him about the tests and each levels requirements. I talked to him about the lifeguards and what they were there for. I talked to the actual lifeguard and got permission to stay by the pool as he attempted the beginners test because he agreed that he wanted to try it even though he was scared but reassured him that if he didn’t come up after jumping in that both the lifeguard and myself would jump in and bring him up. Did he pass the test? Nope, but did he jump in and come up? Yep. And from that point on he knew he could do that and from then on just worked on his stroke to make the distance. It took him 2 years as a boy scout before he could pass the swim test and yes eventually even completed the swimming merit badge.

    The boy who didn’t swim I simply took him to the Y a couple times a week and worked with him while my own son (mentioned above) worked on improving his distance. While this boy didn’t have any fears of the water, his parents just didn’t have the money to pay for swimming lessons. So I taught him the required strokes one at a time and how to float on his back. And after a winter and spring of work by summer camp he passed and the next summer camp completed the swimming merit badge.

    The physical limitations was for one boy who did receive another option. Due to illness just couldn’t pass the distance required needed for rank. He went on to complete the hiking merit badge and is currently a life scout planning his eagle project. But each year still attempts to pass the swim test as required in hopes of taking a lake front merit badge.

    Another person I worked with was actually an adult needing to pass for a northern tier trip. No fear just a poor swimmer.

    With poor swimmers and really to stress with everyone. Find a stroke that is comfortable and doesn’t wear them out completely and take your time. This is a distance test, not a timed test. They just want to know that if you end up in water can you get back to shore or the edge – they don’t care how long it takes you to do it just that you can.

    I’d suggest small steps with the boys the person is talking about and making it fun. Jump into shallow water and go right to standing. Jump into shallow water but in a different way to try and splash more. Get family involved – make them stand near pool in clothes and see if can splash enough to get parent wet (let parent know ahead of time about this but it’s funner if kid thinks they don’t want to get wet so play it up a bit) As they start to get parent wet they move further from edge, move a little deeper in water, soon splashes will splash their face. Soon they will find it more fun than scarey. For the strokes head isn’t required to stay in the water so don’t worry about that. Also for first test with someone with fear it doesn’t say while alone in the pool just a continuous swim so have a good strong swimmer stay along side. Also practice the distance all in shallow water first – they know they can swim the distance helps. Also for those with fears I have found that pools are a lot less scarier than lake front.

    • “have a good strong swimmer stay along side” – I think this is a very important concept! My son had been through swim lessons but was not a very confident swimmer. His first time taking the Boy Scout test, one of the older (Eagle) Scouts, who my son admired greatly, swam with and encouraged my son during the test. It gave him a lot of confidence and encouraged him to keep going when he probably would have given up otherwise. He still didn’t pass the test that time but it made it a much better experience.

      Being allowed to pick his stroke did allow him to pass his test at camp that summer. For him (and for me) the side stroke is the easiest of the ‘strength’ strokes and elementary backstroke is definitely our preferred resting stroke.

    • Excellent approach Kathy. Find a comfortable stroke and a buddy swimmer. Too often the summer camp starts out with a race-type environment.

      Temperature Shock and Tactile Experience : Recommend that some boys be allowed to get wet in the pool first, before taking the actual test. For some boys the shock of jumping into cold water after a hot summer day’s march to the swimming pool is too much shock. For some boys with learning disabilies, the feeling of the water around their armpits and groin and neck is a huge exposuer experience. Let them get wet first.

      Simply having them take a cold shower first (which the boys hate) than entering the shallow end to do supervised play in the non-swimmer section FIRST before taking the test allows a more successful event, instead of starting Scout camp week with a big F Failure, and the lable of “NON-swimmer.” OK, all you “NON-swimmers” line up over here….

      ps- I used to hate to swim as a boy. I’d never be acutally in the pool, but nearby. Later, after Scout Camp, I became a Red-Cross lifeguard primarily to keep a summer job. Secondarily to know how to not get dunked, and thirdly for the first-aid part of it. I still hate any sort of swim test, but now I do open-water swimming as a hobby. It’s all about how the total swim test experience.

  35. As adult leaders, we MUST endeavor to learn how to challenge our Scouts and their perceptions about their own limitations in a safe, productive, and encouraging manner. The advancement method provides a framework for this.

    All too often, leaders and parents seek to adapt the framework to the limitation and not the other way around. Unfortunately, this is just not a valid approach to adulthood and we are crippling our Scouts by not teaching them that sooner.

    Viva la swimming requirement.

  36. It is possible for these aquaphobic young men to complete the requirement as written; first it must be established they are capable of at least treading water and can stay afloat in shallow depths. Once they are confident this is possible, have a competent adult swimmer, preferably a lifeguard, accompany them to deep water and allow them to go down far enough to touch bottom and push themselves back up. If they can assure themselves escape is possible, and they can stay afloat once they surface, have them try the jump with the assurance the adult swimmer will be right there if needed. Soon they should be confident enough to jump in unaided.

    When I was about seven, my brother, a boy Scout at the time, took me to the lake near our house. How did I learn to swim? He threw me in. If i came up, I was swimming. It sounds cruel these days, but that’s how many of us learned.

    • The coaching is good, but won’t complete the requirement which states:
      “Jump into water over your head.”
      “Swim in a strong manner.”

      “Strong” implies not counting on an adult to climb on if your in a jam. (Which by they way, could be fatal for both boy and adult.)

  37. As one of those second class scouts that never made first class because of swimming I understand where the boys fear. As a young scout getting shoved in he deep end of a pool on a patrol outing still brings back bad memories. Although I barely passed the navy 1/2 pool swim check and retired from the navy I still am not comfortable in water w/out scuba gear (PADI certs). On water – life vest!!!!!! I’ve had camp staff work with me to no avail. So I just mark swim check as non-swimmer go about camp.

  38. Most boys are swimmers before they join Scouting. When I joined Scouting as a youth I couldn’t swim. I took Red Cross swimming classes with other very young youth. Eventually I overcame my obstacle and learned to swim. This was back when Lifesaving Merit Badge was required and I built up my strength and courage to pass Swimming and Lifesaving, a few years after my buddies completed these required merit badges. In the Requirements Pamphlet, required means required. Being an Eagle Scout is not for everyone, just like Little League isn’t for everybody.

  39. First, the best scout I ever knew never had Second Class. Why was he the best? He recruited me into our troop! 🙂 If boys were more obsessed about connecting their friends with a troop or crew, and less bothered about advancement, we’d have much more vibrant units.

    Second, fear is usually a maturity issue. Most boys by the time they are 15 or 16 can rationally face and overcome any of the fears they had at age 11. In my son’s troop we don’t believe “First Class First Year”. One of the dads tried … it didn’t give us any more boys graduating with Eagle. Never say “doomed.” Contrary to contemporary advancement heresy, IT IS PERFECTLY FINE AND REASONABLE TO TAKE FOUR YEARS TO EARN FIRST CLASS. In the mean time, boys can earn lots of merit badges, so that when they actually deserve First Class, earning the upper ranks will involve mostly responsibility and service.

    Thirdly, DO NOT CUT CORNERS ON THE TEST. Being sure of your boys’ swimming abilities serves one purpose: forestalling death.

    • I totally agree with you.

      That said, I experienced this several times in my 20 plus years of adult leader tenure. The most recent (2014) actually took a boy 4 years to get over his phobia of water. Yes, his phobia. He was extremely afraid of water. The first year he would not go near water, the second he was 4 inches taller than the pool and the Scoutmaster and I encouraged him to just put his feet in, and to our surprise after the feet he went waist high at the shallow end. Awesome achievement to witness and yes we celebrated his success. The third year we encouraged him to try the swim test and he attempted the swim test but stopped 1/2 way through the first length worn out. Guess what, we celebrated his success.

      With another year down and he grew in physical size and personal confidence increasing along with some swim lessons he attempted the swim test. So year four he made it well… 1/2 way through the test and wound up talking himself out of it because he had never swam that far before. Guess what? We celebrated his success but this time we gave him an opportunity to rest and he and I had a small chat about his fear, his confidence, and not living in fear. I knew he was physically capable and I promised if he would try again, I would swim it side by side with him the whole way. So there we were side stroke to side stroke we began talking about his favorite movie, his most recent movie seen, school, life, etc.. and 3 lengths went down without a hitch. He went to elementary backstroke as I kept the side stroke encouraging him to keep going. At this point his father, the troop, 30-40 fellow Scouts and Parents were also cheering him on along because they knew that after 4 years he would actually accomplish what he thought was impossible at 11. When he passed he gave me a high five, got out of the pool a few minutes later and walked over to me and told me, “thank you” for believing in him, encouraging him for four years, and that day actually swimming with him. Now a 6 foot tall 15 year old boy gave me a hug. His Dad was so incredibly proud of him as was his Scoutmaster, his friends, and the whole Troop. Guess what? He made 1st Class, he was elected into the OA, and all is well.

      We have to be less consumed with boys making 1st class at 11 and be more consumed with providing opportunities, helping them grow, encouraging them to succeed, encouraging them to overcome obstacles, providing them with resources to overcome those obstacles, and even getting down to their level (in the water in this case) and leading by example.

      Many boys have struggled with this requirement over the years. Guess what, that is an awesome opportunity for the entire Troop to grow. When 35-40 boys are standing at the waters edge cheering one of their friends along who didn’t quit after 4 years of trying and over came his fear of water that is worth so much more than you can imagine. All there that day won’t forget it. Maybe one day when they are struggling it will encourage them not to give up. When we lawyer the requirements and look for ways around them we miss these great opportunities to plant lifelong seeds. I’ve been given or presented many honors in 30 years of this game with a purpose but none will ever mean more to me than when a child sincerely says,”thank you.”

  40. I am a swim instructor as well as an adult leader in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. I have learned in my 10 yrs of teaching kids how to swim that no one swims the same. Be it from a fear or a skill, we are all different in the water. I offer my knowledge to scouts off the clock so that they can simply pay the swimming facility fee and not the full swim lesson price. This tends to fix the cost problems. Then I asses each kid to determine what is causing him problems. Is it floating, swimming, swimming a distance/stroke? Then I will meet with him on a schedule that gets him to the point of passing the test. I have, at times, told the Scoutmaster that the boy has passed the test and can save himself if ever put into a situation of need, but that I would not fully trust that he could save ME and himself. I feel that is what the Lifesaving MB is for. As with all my lessons (scout or otherwise) I want the student ready to start learning the next level even if they are not ever going to that level. It does not have to be competition worthy style swimming, but it should have to allow them to meet the minn standards set. As a side note: I know a boy that aged out of Scouting as a Tenderfoot cause he would not take the swim test. He went to many hikes, camps, etc and had a blast. Scouting, to me, is not always the rank. It is what the boys develops into because of the good values and experiences he had while a member.

  41. before I was even a Cub Scout, I drowned and had a fear of the water. No problems during Cubs, but when I became a Boy Scout, my mom saw all the water activities my troop did and water opportunities and gave me an ultimatum:learn to swim or quit Scouting. That gave me the motivation to learn to swim.

    Since that ultimatum, I’ve earned Swimming Skill Award, Swimming, Canoeing, and Lifesaving MBs, done two 50 milers afloat, earned BSA Lifeguard, and made to many rescues to remember.

    Swimming IS a life skill.

  42. Nothing says a leader cannot swim next to the boy to give support and give them a sense of security. IT WORKS try it

  43. When I was in college there was a boy who was deathly afraid of the water. He had a desire to learn to swim to survive. By spring he was able to swim 1/4 mile. Every stroke was for survival. He never was able to enjoy swimming but he could survive. With this approach I have been able to get a few scouts through the swim test anf the 1ST Class test. I told them I was going to teach them to survive in water. I did not expect them to enjoy it. All of them learned to pass the Jump in over your head and swim 25 feet. Then turn around and swim back. Once they were able to survive this they wnt on to pass the summer camp. I have had 2 that could not float. Their molecular build was too dense. With lungs full of air the went down.

  44. I was stuck at Tenderfoot for a year because I was afraid of the water. At one point, the fear was overridden by motivation to be promoted. It took three cycles of swimming lessons at the YMCA, but I made it and I regard this accomplishment more than I do my high school diploma.

    I’m now both an Eagle Scout and a Silver Award Venturer.

  45. I was critical above of swimming along during testing. I want to be clear that this could be a safety issue if a kid is really afraid, if you all feel pressure to pass the test, you are in deep water, and guards are some distance away. (E.g., you are testing in a private pool with minimal supervision.)

    It’s okay to do that during instruction, with plenty of supervision, practicing in shallow water, or deep water if the aquatic staff approve. You really want the boy to be confident of this test in himself. Sometimes the problem is more stage fright because on day one of camp the entire troop is watching. (And you notice all those folks the most right before you’re about to jump!) It’s often better to say, “Hey, let’s come down tomorrow and practice in the beginners area when there aren’t so many people. Then when you’re ready, you can ask the aquatics director to let you try. No rush. No worries.”

    Again, this process may take YEARS. That’s okay.

  46. if a Scout has a true fear, Scouting may give him the inspiration to overcome it himself (with help of course) or he can see someone who can perhaps diagnose it as a true phobia, giving him the eligibility for an alternate, but even more so, perhaps he can see someone who can help him overcome (or at least lessen) the phobia. Either way, the scout is getting some help and support instead of maybe hiding his fear until too late and something happens…

  47. Swimming is not only a lifelong activity, but a lifesaving skill. Our school district has swimming 100 yards non-stop as a graduation requirement. Although we’re at least 80 miles from the coast, the requirement has been in place for over 25 yrs. Likewise, my high school had swimming as a requirement. As a swimming MB counselor, sport diver, and ocean operator, I see it as a life skill. Aren’t we supposed to be “Prepared for Life”?

    As for a lack of body fat being a hinderance to floating…not so much. My youngest, who will be crossing over next month, literally has <2% body fat, and swims competetively, plays olympic development water polo, sport dives and can handle himself in a 6 foot breaking surf, all 70 pounds of him. The oldest (13) does the same and will earn the aquatics outdoor badge this summer. (It's technique, body fat helps, but a lack of it doesn't hinder)

    That being said, both boys did not take to the water naturally, and required significant coaching to get a basic crawl down. I advise patience, fortitude and when able, professional instruction. Incentivising the skill was successful for both of them. Watching mom, dad and their friends have a blast at a water park did the trick.

    Strong swimmers have two things in common, a lack of fear in the water, and the ultimate repect for it. Overcoming fear IS a life skill and being able to swim 100 yards, float for 10 minutes and understand how to get out of a bad aquatic situation, might just prolong that life.

  48. I’m enjoying all the advice. I am involved with two Troops and their associated Packs. On Troop/Pack I am COR, the other Troop ASM and Cubmaster of its Pack. We are in Hawaii. I’ve never come across this issue, but someday I might. The biggest problem that we have is getting people to do the sign offs. In the Troop where I am COR, and where my son is, we have 17 ASMs so that is not a problem, in the other Troop where we have 5 ASMs and only two are really active, including me. But the majority are now 1st Class and above. Both Troops are in the same neighborhood and there is a public pool equidistant between the two Troops. The next biggest problem is getting the boys out of the water.

  49. Our Troop had a young man that had a problem with the swimming mb. We had the ASM work with him, no luck. We has a brother-scout help him, he was still struggling. The whole Troop came over and cheered him on! He did it! He went on to Eagle. If a boy is struggling, don’t jus try once. Keep trying different things to help until you find one that works. The boys should know that they can work through an issue.

  50. I have helped several scouts over come their fear of the water – I do this by asking them what is their fear – justify the fear and coach them in over coming the fear. If they are afraid of water over their head we work in an area where they can’t touch the bottom but can hang onto the edge. I show them what to do when they start to panic – lay on their back and relax – I closely monitor them and talk them through the fear. I also let them know that I wouldn’t let anything happen to them. I also tell them I will work with them to pass the test and set three goals for them.
    1 Pass the swim test
    2 Become comfortable in the water
    3 Be able to go down the slide at the local pool (it has about a 4 foot drop)

    All of the scouts I have worked with has been able to do all three and now love to swim.

  51. The swimming requirement was my last requirement for First Class, way back in 1973. My problem wasn’t fear. My problem was that I was so skinny I sank to the bottom. I finally passed, then went on to make Eagle.

  52. Some history may be of benefit. Early is BSA’s history – 1920s and 1930s – the BSA teamed up with the Red Cross and launched a campaign “Every Scout a Swimmer”. It was a hugely successful recruiting tool. Why? Because at the time, learning to swim was not a widely held skill. And kids were drowning.

    Really, that is the reason (IMO) this remains a requirement.

    Today, swimming is one of three tangible skills I expect most scouts to have (cooking and first aid being the other two).

    I was a lifeguard as a scout and re-certified as an adult. To date, I have only had one scout who could not complete the swimming test and that was due to a rather severe medical situation (and we filed the paperwork for alternative requirements).

    I echo the sentiment of many here – find the right instructor. Water activities make scouting much more interesting and a lot more fun.

    And please… Find those cub scout packs and encourage parents to teach their kids to swim. it is so much easier to teach scouts when they are younger.

    Also, encourage your older scouts to pursue Lifeguard BSA or American Red Cross (or other) certification. You’ll appreciate having them around. And it is one of those perfect ‘post Eagle’ hooks.

  53. My experience is a little different from most others. I am the mom of an autistic boy. I started him in adaptive swim classes when he was a Webelo. Based on his experiences then, I was truly afraid he would never ever pass the swim test. It wasn’t just a typical fear of the water; due to low proprioceptive input, he freaked out as soon as he couldn’t touch the floor because he no longer knew where he was. However, he soldiered on. After a year or so, something in his brain just clicked, and he was able to cope with not touching the floor of the pool. He still had a long ways to go, but after three years of adaptive swim classes, he was finally able to pass the swim test. But what if that had never happened? Would he ever have been able to pass the swim test. I don’t think so. My take on the whole issue is: if the child has not got a disability and has a devastating fear, the fear should be addressed. A life could be at stake, and that is a way bigger issue than 1st class rank. Several of the posts above give success stories of boys overcoming their fear. It might be advisable to have the names of instructors in the area who are especially good at dealing with fear of the water. If the child has a documented disability that affects his ability to swim but doesn’t make it impossible, don’t give up. Give it the good ol’ college try. (You might gently advise the family to start work on this before he becomes a boy scout. If there is an adaptive recreation program in the area, you might point that out as a resource to the boy’s family.) He may surprise everyone, including his family. If his disability, whether orthopedic or neurological or whatever, truly prevents his passing the swim test, then go for the alternate requirement. However, you shouldn’t try too quickly for the alternate requirement even for a disabled scout unless it is obviously impossible. I am proud that my son has learned to swim well enough to pass the swim test and, more importantly, can swim well enough to save his own life.

  54. An interesting question and one which we struggled with for our son. He is on the autistic spectrum and has a big fear of the water. We’ve had him in swimming lessons through a group called STRIDE as well as the local high school, the Y and Boy Scouts (our District runs a swimming program every fall / winter). Couple these with an anxiety disorder and you’ve got a monumental challenge.

    We started him in swim lesson when he was 7 and at first he struggled. This was through the local high school. We did some research and came across STRIDE and he excelled in their programs (he learned to ride a bike and small boat sailing through them), but still have difficulty with passing the First Class test. During his second year of swimming with out local District he finally passed his Second Class test.

    I should point out that this was in a pool. His attempts at swimming at camp were unproductive. Not because he was more afraid of the water at camp, but he was distracted too much by the small fish in the swimming area. He wouldn’t pay attention to the person trying to help him. We tried to use the fish as tools to help him learn, but it was a disaster.

    His mother and I (I am his Scoutmaster by the way) were discussing the issue often with his various doctors / therapists, most of which we more than willing to provide the documentation to allow him to get alternative requirements. We had a hard time with this since he did pass the Second Class test and we’ve had several people tell us he’s a good swimmer (he was recruited by a Special Olympics swim team – but competition is not really a great thing for him).

    We continued working with him at the Y, first once a week then moving to virtually every day at the pool. Many times we just played games in the water without any swimming. We were just trying to get him more comfortable in the water and have him see it could be fun. We talked to him endlessly about his fears and they mostly revolved around the jumping in piece and his thoughts that he couldn’t swim that far. Many months of just practicing the different parts of the test, but not all together.

    Finally, one day he said he wanted to try the test, to “get it over with” were his exact words. He did very well and passed! He was beyond excited. We’re actually very glad we didn’t go the alternative requirement route, but every Scout is different.

    It’s important that the Scout’s adult leaders and parents communicate about the issue. The same can be said about camping and homesickness or a fear of the dark. We need to accept the fact that these Scouts have real fears and no amount of telling them “over come them” is going to really help them.

    Some may be able to accomplish this and some may not. These Scouts are not going to pass the test just because they want to be First Class Scouts. My son actually wanted to quit Scouting because of the swimming! Yes, it’s an important skill to know, but every Scout has to have their own motivation to want to do it.

    I wish I could say passing the test has shown my son that swimming isn’t bad and can open the door to many other things he enjoys (sailing and kayaking), but it hasn’t. He refuses to even look at those merit badges because of the swimming requirement in each, yet he actively participates in these programs through STRIDE.

  55. My son will not even jump into the water so he is going to be stuck and not be able to advance? He never goes on ANY of the water related activities so its not like he would be putting himself into dangerous situations as a non swimming scout. It’s terrible that they can force a child to “overcome” their fear??? Haven’t you ever heard of “peer pressure” forcing someone to do something against their will??? What is this teaching my son if I pressure him to be “llike everyone else”…I just don’t understand it. Are there any ways around this?? HE LOVES SCOUTS and all his friends are starting to advance and he can’t!!

  56. My son is almost 14 and stuck at 2nd class, partly due to missing camp the first summer and thus being behind on rank requirements and partly due to swimming. He had 1 1/2 years at the Y when younger making NO progress. Then we did 7 half hours of private lessons at age 12 and he passed the swim test at camp but wasn’t signed off on it (which I still don’t understand). The SM finally signed him on the 2nd class requirements that winter but made us feel like we were trying to get away with something. Technically he should have been signed off on both 2nd and 1st class requirements. He apparently didn’t get caught up on rank requirements because he spent all his time kayaking with a friend! Well, the following year we did another round of private lessons since he really hadn’t been in water all year but that year the water at camp was very cold and he didn’t pass. So he is still 2nd class and we are now in round 3 of private lessons. All together we have easily spent close to $800. on swim lessons and we’re not done. I understand the importance, we all want him to conquer this and we understand the persistence issue. However, I agree that scout standards wouldn’t be compromised by perhaps requiring it for Life or Eagle instead of 1st class. There are badges he can’t work on until first class–and not necessarily water related ones (Emergency Prep/nuclear science, Mining in Society and Pottery just as a few examples!). And he is our only child and we willing drive 1/2 hour to get to a 1/2 hour swimming lesson. However, I would assume there are many scouts who can’t afford this luxury. He has earned both the hiking and cycling badges which require an enormously bigger time/effort commitment than does the swimming badge for the average boy who can knock it off in one week at camp! We aren’t trying to get him out of anything–we want him to conquer this. BUT…there could be adjustments to the current rules. Also, not every SM is willing to help struggling scouts meet their swim requirements.

    • It is not an issue of not taking lessons,,he has severe anxiety and I cannot get him to the lessons or even discuss it. He wades in water at a lake, that it is. He did the no swim test at camp and just stood in the water knee deep and splashed and then had to sit in the water. Thats it and he was happy. He doesn’t care if he never goes into the water, I don’t understand why they can’t make an exception for an anxious child. He would never attend a water event or work on a water related badge. It makes no sense that he is being forced to swim, none at all. Technically he is being forced to go into the water and I’m sorry NO ONE should ever force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do. As he grows I have taught him to be comfortable in his own skin and don’t be influenced to do things you don’t want to, this is one of them and he constantly uses it against me to say, “but I don’t want to, and its not fair, I don’t need to swim and swimming is not going to make me a better Eagle than one that can.” Love my son, it hurts to watch him suffer as a scout when he loves and enjoys it so much. Our Scoutmaster almost broke down to tears when Jonathan asked to quit because what is the point when its too painful for him to not advance and becocme an Eagle. That was his goal and he was shot down already from achieving it.

  57. I was a “born swimmer” – not always strong, but competent and confident. So I have not experienced the problems many have with the water. I have known people who were uncomfortable in water, took a long time to learn to swim, feared swimming as others fear an IRS audit (a vague dread), and some who avoided swimming because they feared for their life. And all of those fears can be overcome with time and counseling and work. But I have seen the sheer, mindless terror rising in the eyes of some in this situation. This is not overcome by simply facing your fear.
    When we discuss this topic, we cannot act as though all boys are the same, or that our experience is universal. And there are times when you can tell someone, “man up, cupcake!” But there are situations beyond the 10th Law – and just being brave won’t cut it.
    Every success story above has been the result of caring adults working with, and encouraging, kids struggling to reach the goal. This is what we should do. They are capable of more than anyone (even they themselves) can imagine.
    [As a COPE instructor (in a previous life) I saw a group take a wheelchair-bound team mate through both the lower and upper course. I would never have bet that would happen.]
    And many of us have seen kids with debilitating fear overcome it as champions of life. But please do not assume that all fear is the same or that all they need to do is “man up, buttercup”, ’cause they may be experiencing something you’ve never seen.
    Sorry to ramble on so. Got my hackles up a bit.

  58. I practice psychology in TN and recently was contacted by the parent of a scout who in two years had been unable to pass swimming requirement. Upon interview scout was given a specific anxiety diagnosis. There are successful behavioral treatments for fears related to water. This possibility should be considered in scouts with chronic difficulty.

  59. I do not agree with the swimming requirement for first class or the swimming merit badge for eagle requirement. This is why I think that they should be removed setting aside all the overcoming fear of water issues.

    The scouting program is about teaching tbe tools to become propped adults and giving them the tools and experiences they need to be sucessful in life.
    The swimming requirement is teaching that if you are not sucessful at learning this athletic feet then you are not worthy of advancement beyond second class or ever being eagle.
    The alternative program just substitutes one athletic challenge with another. A 50 mile cycling feet.
    In this the scouting program has chosen to leave kids behind because of the athletic abilities and not on the personal merit which is where they should be focused instead. I believe the national council should be ashamed of itself!

  60. Here is our issue, and hopefully someone can help with it. My son can swim. He’s not an excellent swimmer, but he won’t drown right away either either. He doesn’t have any fear of the water, getting his face wet, jumping in deep water, etc. he has no buoyancy at all.

    Even after semi private swim lessons his instructor (an Eagle, and local resource for water trips) he has to work to float. And because he spends so much energy of staying afloat, he doesn’t have enough left for the forward portion of the whole test. He makes it about halfway and is exhausted.

    So no fear holding him back. No disability holding him back. He meets the spirit of the requirements; being able to swim and rescue himself were he to fall into water, but he can’t meet the letter of the requirements by passing the test. So what would you suggest?

    • So long ago you probably won’t get this, however the floating is supposed to occur at the END of the swim test, not the start.

  61. My son has sensitivity issues and was horrified on water on his head since he was tiny. As a tiger scout we learned of the swimming requirement for Boy Scouts. We enrolled him first in group and then in private lessons at the local YMCA. We even invested in a pool for our yard. It took years but by Webelos we made beginner at camp.

    This week is my son’s first time at resident camp as a Boy Scout. He just crossed over this year. He signed up for the swimming merit badge. I worried that he would get discouraged when all his friends completed it easily and he struggled. Just the opposite is happening. I had to take snacks to camp yesterday. Everyone was so proud of him. He was completing the merit badge. He even dove down and brought up the brick. It was tutoring time and he was at the pool getting one on one help from the aquatics instructor. I waited to see him. He was beaming. He still has not made swimmer. He can do two laps without stopping, but he’s determined to make it by Friday and to complete the merit badge.

    My son has shared with everyone that swimming will be his greatest challenge on the trail to Eagle. I am glad bsa requires it. It has taught him to work hard and keep trying.

    My best advise is to start early. It took us years, but it looks like we are going to make it. Parental, leader and fellow scouter encouragement along the way is needed. To be honest the boys for his patrol and the patrol a year older than him are just as excited and proud. I cannot wait to add swimming to his sash.

    • I wanted to post that my son not only passed the swim test but earned the merit badge. I have never seen him more proud. He now knows that with hard work you can accomplish your goals.

  62. My son, autism spectrum (aspergers) managed to pass the test at summer camp. After one of the waterfront people was informed by a chance encounter at dinner at the dining hall of his condition, he said bring him by the waterfront the next day. Together with three waterfront people they explained in detail to him what he needed to do and that if he any trouble that they were all there to keep him safe…one would have a pole ready so if he called for it there would be no delay. So once he was all comfortable with what he needed to do and what they would be doing he did the test without any problems. The key was keeping him informed and at ease. The waterfront people , too, having gone the extra work, were a big hel.

  63. I am a merit badge counselor for Swimming and I offer a merit badge prep class for the boys who can’t swim well enough to pass. Sometimes it takes them all year coming once or twice a week to learn the skills needed. I have never had to adapt the program for a boy who did not have a special need……they all learned how to swim and be safe in the deep end of the pool!

  64. One of my nephews had this issue. As a scout who had trouble with 1st class swimming myself, and is now a Scuba diver, let me suggest a trick. Find a pool with a ladder, where the water is at least 3 or 4 feet deep. Show him he can stand in the water first. Then, do this in front of him – get on the ladder, and take a deep breath – show him that you can fall back into the water and you will pop back up. Now get him to do it.
    For me, I was at swim lessons stand on the side at the 9ft end. It was my turn, I was petrified until final my sister came up in the other line. I finally jumped in.

  65. I just wish all parents would start early in acclimating their children to the water. I took swim lessons at 9…but I had my kids in the pool by 3 months old. I saw teaching them to swim as a critical life skill that I felt the responsibility of teaching them. Many others in my family are afraid of the water so I recognized that I needed to start with them young…just like most other Life Lessons, it is much easier if you start from the beginning and it “normal” to them. Swimming is a life saver!!

  66. Not all lessons are equal. I’ve taught too many 40 something year old men how to swim because something in their childhood traumatized them towards the water, or it wasn’t a priority to learn how to swim in their family, and they were missing out on swimming related activities with their own kids. The relief and confidence people feel when they overcome this fear is worth the struggle. I just partnered with my swim team and offered a low cost (covered our costs only) swim clinic focusing on the 100 yards requirement, all of the boys were able to pass (and 4 had been water traumatized, 1 had Aspbergers). I have watched Paralympic Swimmers a lot-i truly believe that everyone can learn to swim. So much of it is taking the pressure off and letting physics take over, and letting people feel how fun the water really is.

  67. We had a scout that was an avid fisherman but for some reason the swim test was out of reach, He was afraid to jump into water. I had one of the older scouts ( camp school certified) work one on one with him and explain the importance of this since he was a fisherman.. He was also told if he proved that he could do this he would never have to do it again, it worked and now he knows he could save himself if he falls in

  68. Boys who can’t swim or otherwise deal with water need to be taught by someone who knows what they’re doing, such as a Red Cross Water Safety instructor. These don’t have to be highly paid professionals but can be older Scouts or recent alumni for that matter. EVERYONE should be “drownproofed,” A WSI-trained person–check through your local Y or other such facility–should be used to properly teach a youth to swim.

    And that’s for First Class Scout requirement or not…

  69. I have found that parents typically think their sons are very good swimmers and it is a wake up call when their sons cannot pass the BSA Swim Test. This is an important opportunity to get the scout and parents on board with swim lessons. It could save their lives and someone else’s someday.

  70. I find it odd our council is in Kentucky. We have lost scouts to this req. But at the same time I have witnessed and been on Eagle Boards where the scout does not know any knots or basic scout knowledge. Earlier this year this same council gave a scout Eagle who completed Eagle at 18 and 3 months. He was missing merit badges before 18 bday but procrastinated.

    This req. Needs an alternative. We have two boys who are on year 3 not advancing due to this one swimtest.

    • We do not need to make alternative requirements for every advancement just because something is hard. What we need are leaders to stick to the requirements and stop babying the scouts. If the scouts really want it they will step up to the task and complete it. Will some quit yes, but that is their choose. We really do not do scouts any good when we change requirements just because they don’t want to do it.

    • You’re implying a Scout completed Eagle requirements AFTER his 18th birthday (not just submitted paperwork) and he’s NOT a “special needs” Scout? I find it very hard to believe that National would let that fly.

      Also… HOW would you know an Eagle can’t tie knots? What kind of Eagle BOR is it where you’re “re-testing” basic scout skills???

      Sorry Russell, but if ANYTHING in this post is true…. it sounds like “the whole lot” of you need serious re-training.

  71. Passing the swim test builds confidence in boys. It is one of the oldest requirements in the boy scouts. We must not lose site that the Boy Scouts is not about advancement but building men. Somethings are hard for some and not so hard for others. The one thing we should never do is change a requirement because a boy is afraid or just does not want to do it.

    • AMEN. We are building MEN, not making sure “everyone gets a trophy”.

      People need to stop thinking their son or their situation is “special”. MILLIONS of boys have been through Boy Scouting. The Program doesn’t ask anything of a boy that he isn’t capable of doing. If he chooses not to… or chooses not to overcome a fear… then he will not advance, and that could be every bit as much of an important “life lesson” as anything else we try to impart on them.

  72. Each scout is different as each scout with a fear of the water is. Parents know their children and as scout leaders we have interacted with these scouts. With that said I would think that depending on the scout: possibly working with another scout who has the same issue and take a series of swim lessos for those with the fear of water (the YMCA near me and the community college have classes for this) or working with a scout who is a good swimmer (high level swim team member or Lifeguard) to work the scout/s. It could also be a lack of opportunity to work on skills and if a scout family has a pool or access offer it and assist the scout/s to acquire the skill set. It will take time, but with steady effort these scouts should be able to pass the requirement. They may never be able to pass the summer camp swim test for a number of reasons: the water is too cold, the fact that it is a river or lake, etc. and that is OK if the troop is following the Safe Swim Defence practices. YIS

  73. I would like to say that the comments I have read so far have all been very good advice. I personally spent 2+ years as a 2nd Class Scout because I was unable to swim (I had two water incidents when I was younger and was deathly afraid of the water). I went to every Webfoot Day our district ran, practiced at the lake, local pool. I wanted to try snorkeling and did that. I would jump in with the goggles and fins and then eventually ditched the fins and then the goggles. After my Scoutmaster Carl Yoder (who has since passed away) worked endlessly with me, I was able to pass my swimming requirement. I went on to earn my Eagle rank, I applied to the US Coast Guard Academy (did not get in, but scored very high). I ran our district Webfoot Day for several years. I have since become a police officer where I run two crime prevention pool parties annually and am also a part time firefighter where I have completed Water Rescue Operations training. Though I still do not like the water, I no longer have a fear of it, but a respect for the water. I am not a strong swimmer, but have learned how to save someone who is having difficulty in the water (this was the first thing I learned because this is very important). I would like to thank all the leaders and scouts who have helped another with their fear of the water, especially those that helped me.

  74. As a den leader, I made sure we all did the Aquanaut pin (which is similar in the adventures now too). As part of the Aquanaut pin, I also went over parts of the swimming merit badge and the 2nd and 1st class rank requirements (unbeknownst to them).

    One of my scouts was deathly afraid of all of this, so I asked his den to encourage him to jump in and that we had flotation devices near by, etc… This scout finally did jump in, and did his best to earn the aquanaut pin. Now, a year later, we can hardly keep in out of a swimming pool.

    I think its a hard requirement to accomplish for some, but the rewards are far greater for the scout who feels the fear and does it anyway. Overcoming fear is an important part of growing up.

    • One issue I haven’t seen addressed here is the floating component. My son is soon to be first class because he DID pass the swim test at one summer camp 2 years ago but has failed the past two summers. Luckily, they are going on a bike trip this summer and nothing swim related as he wouldn’t be able to go. We have invested great amounts of time and money in swim lessons. He’s not a great, strong swimmer but he’s OK and not at all afraid and I wouldn’t worry about him in a water activity. His most recent private instructor said that she wouldn’t have any qualms about him on a water related activity. He can swim, he can tread water almost indefinitely–but he cannot float well and not at all if the requirement is body straight on top of water and NO movement of hands or arms. SHE didn’t think that was an issue BUT they would not pass him at camp. So as much as he’d enjoy canoeing or kayaking–forget it. Interestingly, I had a lengthy conversation with a gentleman that turned out to have been the former aquatics director of said camp. He was saddened that such a strict interpretation was being adhered to and that the spirit of the requirement–safety–was ignored in favor of straight body, no movement (obviously the person that passed him at a different camp 2 years ago had a looser interpretation–and he safely spent most of that camp kayaking with a friend. I also spoke with another mother of a life scout from another troop who couldn’t pass this year either–due to floating). I completely understand standards (I’m not thrilled when troops/MB counselors count more than one summer camp toward the 20 nights required as a prereq for the Camping MB) but there is a wide variation in how 9b is interpreted and it’s not always fair and it’s not always about safety. Perhaps they could clarify what is acceptable floating. BTW, this former scout camp aquatics director and scuba diver said that HE was never able to float according to that guideline either!!! Hmm….

  75. I had the same problem and it was the patience of Mr. Andrews who got me over the problem. Mr. Andrews had a pool and he was also very obese and used the pool to exercise. He paid me to do yard work for him on Saturdays, we’d eat Arby’s (it was his fav) and then we’d get to swim. It was his patience that helped me over come my fear of water, taught me to swim, and jumping into the pool. (Also taught me about hard work and thorough work). The parents or the scoutmaster or one of the boys should just work with the kids in question, they’ll get it.

  76. As I approach my 50 year anniversary in Scouting, I frequently reminisce about the successes – and less than successes – that my Scouts had. For several years I led multiple units in the City of Camden, NJ. There were two significant fears that the youth learned in that community: water and heights. Adults would instill in the children the need to stay away from the water and stay away from high places. For those of you that know the geography of Camden you know first that it is across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. In fact, it is a short walk (for a Scout) to walk across the Ben Franklin Bridge to the historic section of Philadelphia, a walk that is rarely taken by anyone who grew up in Camden, as it is a high bridge over the most terrifying body of water! Short answer to the question posed is (taken with the much good advice given by the others above)…have the Scouts challenge one another. Young Scouts are extremely conscious of their peer relationships and can often be swayed by the Scout they wish to emulate, more so than pressure by parents, adults and advancement requirements. My late response here follows much excellent advice, but I would add that because one of my Camden Scouts overcame his fear of the water, he saved the life of a little girl who had swum out beyond her depth and sank to the bottom. Onlookers simply watched as this young girl sank away, doing nothing more than waiting to see what would happen next. My Scout…OUR Scout…swam out to where the girl lay at the bottom, dove down to her, and pulled her to where she could be pulled out by an adult. Learning to overcome the fear of the water is one of the greatest confidence builders that a child can experience…but imagine how much greater the impact on a youth who lives in one of the poorest and most violent cities in America when they know that they can save a life, whether they are ever called to do so or not. That is why we do Scouting.

  77. My son did not pass the swim test this summer. Not due to a fear of water. But due to his vision impairment. He is legally blind and stopped overtime he hit the wall because it was not expected due to his lack of depth perception. He asked to borrow swim goggles and was told he had to swim without them. In bright sunlight he is completely blind. He didn’t tell the lifeguard about his vision, leaders didn’t step up and the test was done as soon as they arrived so medical forms were not read.

    Paralympic swimmers with vision impairments have someone with a tennis ball on a long pole to tap them when they are near the wall. Something like that would e helpful, but also more education on other disabilities.

    • Whoever told your son he couldn’t use swim goggles was wrong. Lots of blind people swim, especially when the swim lanes in a pool are marked by ropes. What should have happened was having additional help at each end of the pool to let your son know he had reached the edge.

  78. I always have this challenge at camp with first year campers. In addition if a boy doesn’t conquer his fear as a first year camper the same demon of fear overshadows the second year campers swim check. Fear is something that can compound itself

    I decided two years ago after eight years of losing this battle, to take a proactive approach

    First we got the troop into a ywca pool while at Gettysburg this summer. No pressure. No tests, just a troop having a blast after a hot ten mile hike. I found that the boys were good swimmers including my second year kids who were afraid

    I spent two hours in the water encouraging them, challenging them, talking to them about what fear was and how to conquer it

    At camp two of my four first year campers failed the checkin swim check

    My second year camper failed too

    We encourage them to go to instructional swim and to re test every day, as avoiding your fear was not a way to overcome it

    We talked about it openly in the troop. The older boys offered encouragement

    Day 2, one of the first year boys and my second year boy took the test, after instructional swim and passed

    They unmediately Doned the required life jackets and swam out to the iceberg challenge. This iceberg requires pfds for all and is challenging. My second year scout told me that they were rewarding themselves for overcoming their fear

    My last scout didn’t pass until Thursday, day 5, but he passed. Big day

    Each scout spoke openly about their experience and told me that fear only exists in the presence of ignorance. You fear what you don’t understand.

    Leaders it isn’t just about the skill set or their self confidence. It is about the unknown

    Talk to the boys and walk them through how to overcome fear

    It will serve them far beyond swimming.

  79. I think my son will be a tenderfoot forever because of the swimming requirement. While I agree that swimming IS a required skill for everyone, I do think the requirements should be tweaked. After 6 years of group swim instruction and 2 years of private instruction, my son is a strong swimmer…once he is in the pool. He cannot pass the swim test because he will not jump in over his head. He has had panic attacks poolside because of this irrational fear…but put him in a life jacket and he will jump in. It is psychological, but apart from seeing a private therapist, this will not change, no matter how much I want it AND he wants it. Here’s my question…why not allow scouts to use a life jacket during the test? Wearing a life jacket is required during ANY water activity, why not give them the option? It is often the joke that my son will be the only tenderfoot with 50 merit badges (he has 13 right now)…lol

  80. Everyone here is assuming that swim lessons are available to all kids. Sometimes it’s not about bravery, some times it’s about money and opportunity. If neither parent can swim, do you think they are going to put their kid in a lake and say, “ok go swim”. No way. Alternatively we lived for 7 years in a place with no swimming pool and no swimable lakes. The other 4 years we could barely afford to live let a lone pay for extras like swimming lessons. The only kids who could pass it were the ones who went on expensive vacations and had swimming lessons In other places. There needs to be an alternative instead of just a disability clause.

  81. My son hasn’t crossed over yet, but will next week, so we’ve been reading into his new handbook.
    While this post talks about boys with fear, what about boys who can’t float (and therefore jumping into water and resurfacing may not be possible either)? My son is in swim lessons – he’s taken summer swim at 4H and is in “year” long program now (three 8-week sessions). He’s nearly 11, and still can’t float. He can’t resurface without pushing off the pool floor, and he’s gaining endurance, so that’s less concerning, but the ability to jump into water over his head is scary if it is in a area too deep for him to kick bottom from (he’s just over 4 feet, so about 5-6 feet at most) or without a life-vest (he already jumps into 13+ feet with a vest). I know we have “time” to worry about it, but I’m already stressed about what may happen

  82. I can’t play ball but I’ve been involved in water safety for fifty years. From my time on a waterfront staff at camp and long summers lifeguarding on the ocean I learned much about non-swimmers. I get involved with scouts in the district who have partials in swimming or lifesaving when they can’t complete a skill such as diving or carrying victims.Some people won’t learn in a group or within a time limit. Sometimes individual slow instruction is needed. We had s 15 yr old Tenderfoot afraid of the water. Our troop swims every six weeks did not help. The scout and his father came to my small pool (4 ft deep) five days a week after school starting with standing in the water for an hour joking about our troop and gradually adding small steps until he could swim the two strokes. We went to camp and I went with the scout to the 6:00 swim, three hours of instructional swim and an hour of recreational swim. The staff would not allow practice of jumping into deep section so he took the test eleven times just to get the feel of jumping into the water and recovering and moving forward. To work on distance an ASM offered the use of the pool at his club. By the end of the summer a second ASM who runs a swim program gave the test. The scout passed. The scout told this story at his Eagle Court of Honor. He said he knows that he can now accomplish anything!

  83. I had two traumatic events when I was young. An incident requiring forceful irrigation of my eyes and a near downing. I was terrified of water and getting anything in my eyes. With the help some very understanding leaders I was able to earn the swimming skill award and overcome my fears. It can be done with patience and understanding. There is no such thing as someone who cannot swim (barring disability), only one who cannot swim yet.

  84. I can speak to this from personal experience. My mom was TOW (terrified of water) and imprinted that on me. I was stuck at 2nd Class (back in the 60’s) for more than a year. It took a summer of private lessons and then continued work in the YMCA pool but I became a swimmer. I’ve never been dry since. One Mile Swim while a Scout…Swimming and Lifesaving merit badges on my way to Eagle, of course. Then Red Cross Senior Lifesaving in high school and Water Safety Instructor (plus re-upping my Senior Lifesaving) in college. SCUBA diver (160+ dives), BSA Lifeguard and somewhere around 10 Mile Swims as an adult. I still swim laps as part of my regular exercise program.

    The keys are patience and finding the right instructor. Being safe around water is an absolutely vital skill and the Swimmer test is just a demonstration of the most basic skills. Barring physical reasons, every Scout should develop those skills and be able to get himself out of deep water.

    My own pet peeve is that there are alternate merit badges for Swimming and Lifesaving. To me, those are every bit as important as First Aid and more important in “Being Prepared” than many other merit badges.

    If you have a community pool or rec center, or a local YMCA, try to find the best instructor they have and have them work with Scouts who are struggling to pass the Swimmer test. Yes, the floating requirement is tough for those zero-body-fat skinny boys but it can be done if they are taught well. (Arching their back, holding hands/arms out above/behind their head and good breath control, quick exhale followed by quick inhale and holding breath, and they ought to be able to make it through the brief “float” as required.)

  85. start out in an above ground pool that is not over the childs head. Water does not have to be deep to learn to swim, Just deep enough to do the requirements. His feet on the groundwhile working will greatly improve his fear. after a while he will forget all about the anxiety and be having a blast. Forcing a child to do something he has a fear off can be tramatizing.

  86. I have been reading this thread with some interest, and the question that comes to my mind is this: Are we really willing to lose boys over this one requirement? Obviously, Scouting is a program that we all believe in. There are so many opportunities to grow boys into young men.

    I have watched my own son overcome severe social anxieties through being involved in Scouts. I have seen him invite classmates to join Cub Scouts. He has learned to interact with the boys in his Troop after he crossed over. He has learned to interact with boys from other Troops in Merit Badge classes, and I have even dropped him off at Merit Badge College when he was the only boy from his Troop there.

    However, he will have a difficult time advancing because he cannot swim. It has nothing to do with fear of the water – in fact, he loves the water. The problem is that he does not have the athletic ability to swim. I have worked with him every summer trying to teach him. He just has no athletic ability. This is the same reason he cannot ride a bike. He wants to learn. We go out every summer and work on it. He just cannot do it.

    Does this mean that he is any less a Scout? He has earned many merit badges. He participates in every Troop activity. He goes camping and hiking. When trips involve water like rafting or canoeing, like all of the other boys, he is wearing a proper life jacket.

    It has been suggested throughout this thread that we, as parents and leaders, are looking for ways around the requirements. That we are looking for some easy way out. But that is simply not true. We are looking ways to help our boys find their own way in life. To find out what they are good at and to develop those skills. This is, in fact, a harder way. It is far easier to say that you must all be the same or you must leave. Then we can work with a group of boys who all have similar interests and skill sets.

    Earlier in the thread, a gentleman suggested that this is not any different than requiring all Scouts to earn the Chess merit badge even if they have no interest or ability in the game. I would take this further. If everyone was able to do everything, then we would all be able to crush a baseball like Hank Aaron. We would all be brilliant scientists like Stephen Hawking. We would all write beautiful poetry like Maya Angelou or moving novels like Ernest Hemingway. To suggest that every boy must be able to swim is unreasonable.

    The purpose of Boy Scouts is to develop responsible and respectable young men. Part of that process is to help boys learn who they are and what they can become and to guide them through that process. That is why there are so many merit badges offered in so many different content areas. There are athletic badges like hiking and swimming. There are academic and science badges like chemistry and game design. There are badges in the trades like welding. And to tell a boy that he is not capable of becoming a responsible and respectable young man because he is not athletic enough to learn to swim is patently unfair and unscoutlike.

  87. Swimming was my nemesis. I was so skinny, I couldn’t float. I sank like a rock. Deep water scared me to death.

    I finally sucked it up and made myself do it. The entire troop stood on the side and cheered me on. Not the prettiest swim, but I did it. And, it boosted my confidence considerably.

    I did the alternate requirements instead of Swimming and Lifesaving MBs, and went on to make Eagle. I tried Swimming MB at camp one summer, but couldn’t pass the swim test. I kept sinking to the bottom.

    When I was on camp staff a few years later, the aquatics staff recruited me as the victim for Lifesaving MB and BSA Lifeguard. I was hard to rescue – because I sank to the bottom, and could hold my breath for a long time.

    I swim just fine, now. I’m much more buoyant now that I’m 50+.

  88. I hate this requirement. I figure that If there are alternatives to Swimming Merit Badge, why would we require people to swim. In scouts one can choose not to do any water merit badges. I think the attempt should justify it. I swim fine, my boys swim fine, but in my troop I have had 3 or 4 kids in the 6 years, that could not be pass this test. Guess what they really aren’t active in the troop any longer. Some took swim lessons, but our town there are only short sessions in the summer, and sometime driving to a larger city isn’t really an option.

  89. I taught swimming at least 45 of my 74 years and only twice did I have a “deep water failure”. My theory was – Feel comfortable with “bobbing” and learn to roll over from any position and float on your back. I always felt that if I could teach those two skills then I could teach strokes – at least enough to make them safe and perhaps help another swimmer in trouble. 90% of my classes began with breathing and floating lessons – even in my advanced classes. My first failure was an elderly lady who really wanted to learn to swim. She just could not make herself put her face in the water and blow bubbles!!! After talking to her husband we set up an at home project using the sink, bathtub and a dishpan. She got so she could hold her breath but never did get the breathing part… but, she could float, roll over and scull her way across the shallow end of the pool. Unfortunately, we never got to the deep end! The second was a 4th through 9th grade student and we were both just about as stubborn as could be! I tried everything I could think of and really got nowhere. Not required to take swimming after 9th grade, my parting words to her were “When you have kids of your own I hope they don’t drown because you will not be able to save them!” I was in tears due to my lack of success! I still have contact with this woman. When her first daughter started taking lessons in 4th grade, the kid saw me on the street and ran up to me and announced that “I know how to swim! Mommy taught me how to breathe when I was a little girl and used to let me float on my back in the bathtub… she told me it would get my ears clean.” As the years passed and she had more children and grandchildren, she and all of the kids have taken pride in letting me know of their swimming abilities…so, perhaps neither of us was a failure after all! My point : There are very few people who cannot pass the BSA requirements if they want it badly enough and are taught these two basic skills!!! And above that it is extremely important they also be taught at least the basic safety rules and regulations – OH, NO… it just came across my scanner that a 2 yr old was just found unconscious in an area where the family is camping… Work well CPR… NOONE can be trusted around the water, no matter what their age or skill! Nature is fascinating, but, it can also be very dangerous!!!

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