The right way to take your Cub Scouts swimming or boating

Updated May 1, 2017

Good news for Cub Scouts who love to swim, canoe and kayak: the water is just fine.

Contrary to past BSA program design, all Cub Scouts — not just Webelos — may participate in paddle sports as a pack or den; previously, they could only do so at district or council events. And, of course, Cub Scouts may continue to participate in swimming as a pack or den activity.

The Cub Scouting team worked with the Aquatics and Health and Safety committees to relax the council- or district-only requirements for paddle sports. But as adult leaders, you still must make sure that the points of Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat are incorporated, including training and staying within the BSA’s aquatics framework.

It’s all designed to make sure your Cub Scouts enjoy their experience.

Here’s your five-step plan.

Step 1. Learn about aquatics-related Cub Scout adventures.

The new Cub Scout program includes one aquatics-related adventure for each rank, but you’ll notice they’re all elective, not required. That means Cub Scouts who aren’t interested in water activities are fine to stay on dry land.

But I’d encourage you to give these a try. Aquatics-related adventures give packs and dens more opportunities to enjoy the water. Boys learn to swim and practice boating safety — skills they’ll use in Boy Scouting and life.

These adventures include aquatics:

  • Tigers: Floats and Boats
  • Wolves: Spirit of the Water
  • Bears: Salmon Run
  • Webelos/Arrow of Light: Aquanaut

Step 2. Have a Plan.

Note: As of April 1, 2017, the Tour and Activity Plan has been eliminated. Still, it’s a good idea to plan ahead — even if you aren’t required to submit a Tour and Activity Plan.

Want to enjoy aquatics activities with your pack or den outside of a council or district event? Then you should use the Tour and Activity Plan as a tool for doing so. Forward the completed plan to your council at least 21 days in advance.

It’s actually pretty quick and easy, and you can do it all online.

Just log in to and select the tour and activity plan under your “Unit Tool.”

For more info on the Tour and Activity Plan, check out this handy FAQs page.

Step 3. Have Qualified Supervision.

You know how to swim, so that qualifies you to take your Cub Scouts swimming or boating, right? Not so fast.

Bottom line: If you’re taking your pack or den swimming or boating, you need to know what you don’t know. The good news is you can complete this training online.

Safe Swim Defense: Any time you take Scouts swimming, even if you’re going to a council event or local pool where lifeguards are present, you still need leaders trained in Safe Swim Defense.

  • You can take Safe Swim Defense online at (Click My Dashboard, then Training.)
  • You always need at least one leader trained in Safe Swim Defense — even if you’re somewhere that provides lifeguards.
  • When lifeguards are not present, you need additional rescue personnel trained in Safe Swim Defense.
  • Swim tests are not optional. A key part of BSA aquatics is knowing one’s limits.
  • Safe Swim Defense training is good for two years.

Safety Afloat: You are permitted to take Cub Scouts boating as a pack or den. (Previously you could only go boating with your Cub Scouts at district or council events.) But any time you take Cub Scouts boating, you need at least one leader with Safety Afloat training taken within the previous two years. At least one adult leader must be trained in first aid and CPR as well.

  • You can take Safety Afloat training online at (Click My Dashboard, then Training.)
  • For Cub Scout boating activities, the ratio of trained adults, staff members or guides to participants must be at least one to five. (For Boy Scouts, it’s one to 10.)
  • Cub Scouts must know how to swim to try paddle sports.
  • All participants must wear properly fitted, U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jackets.
  • Any swimming done in conjunction with the activity afloat should operate using Safe Swim Defense.
  • It is strongly recommended that all units have at least one adult or older youth member currently trained in BSA Aquatics Supervision: Paddle Craft Safety to assist in the planning and conduct of all activities afloat. (Contact your council aquatics committee for assistance.)
  • Safety Afloat standards apply to the use of canoes, kayaks, rowboats, rafts, floating tubes, sailboats, motorboats (including waterskiing) and other small craft but do not apply to transportation on large commercial vessels such as ferries and cruise ships
  • Safety Afloat training is good for two years.

Scuba: Cub Scouts aren’t permitted to do scuba.

Step 4. Learn more.

Learn more about aquatics safety in the Guide to Safe Scouting or the Outdoor Program website for aquatics.

Step 5. Have fun!

Now that you’ve done your part to make Cub Scout aquatics activities safe, go have fun!

About Bryan Wendell 3286 Articles
Bryan Wendell, an Eagle Scout, is the founder of Bryan on Scouting and a contributing writer.