The BSA Executive Board has approved an exception to the Second Class and First Class swimming requirements, allowing Scouts who live prohibitively far from safe swimming areas to substitute other requirements.
In some geographically large or predominately rural councils, Scouts might live many miles from an indoor swimming pool or safe outdoor swimming area. This exception allows those Scouts to continue their advancement in a way that is practical but still challenging.
All the power lies with local councils here. The council Scout executive works with his or her council advancement committee to decide what constitutes “a reasonable traveling distance.” If the council determines a Scout lives too far from a swimming spot, the council then selects an “alternative requirement.” The requirement should provide a similar challenge and learning experience.
One note: This opportunity isn’t for Scouts who are unable to complete the swimming requirements because of an aversion to water. For guidance to help Scouts struggling with swimming, read this post. Be sure to scroll through the comments, where Scouters share their strategies for helping Scouts overcome their fears and learn this important life skill.
This change was officially announced in the September-October 2017 issue of Advancement News.
Official wording of the new requirements
Under certain exceptional conditions, where the climate keeps the outdoor water temperature below safe levels year-round, or where there are no suitably safe and accessible places (outdoors or indoors) within a reasonable traveling distance to swim at any time during the year, the council Scout executive and advancement committee may, on an individual Scout basis, authorize an alternative requirement. The local council may establish appropriate procedures for submitting and processing these types of requests. All the other requirements, none of which necessitate entry in the water or entry in a watercraft on the water, must be completed as written.
What this means — and what it doesn’t
This exception for alternative requirements is only for those limited locations where indoor swimming facilities or safe outside venues aren’t available within a reasonable travel distance.
This exception must not be used as a convenience to avoid the swimming requirements. It’s not for Scouts having difficulty learning to swim or meeting the swimming requirements.
FAQs about this change
- Who has authority to grant the alternative requirements?
The council Scout executive and advancement committee is responsible for granting the alternative requirements. They must not delegate this authority to any other group or individual.
- What alternative requirements are acceptable?
That decision is made by the council Scout executive and advancement committee. Local councils are best equipped to make this determination based on any unique characteristics they may face. However, any alternative should provide a similar challenge and learning experience.
- What is a reasonable travel distance?
That is up to the local council to decide. Some geographically large or predominately rural councils face unique travel situations which larger urban or suburban councils do not. For example, councils in Alaska may have several locations where the exception is applicable but metropolitan councils may never have a situation come up where the footnote applies.
- Can the council grant alternatives for all or just some of the requirements?
The council may only grant alternatives for the requirements that actually require the Scout to be in or on the water. Those include Second Class requirement 5b and 5c and First Class requirements 6a and 6e. Even if alternatives are approved for these requirements, the Scout still must complete all the other out-of-water requirements as written.
- Must the Scout complete the out-of-water requirements first?
No, although it does make sense to complete Second Class requirement 5a and First Class requirement 6b before doing the other requirements.
- How does the Scout request alternative requirements?
Each council may establish its own procedures similar to the procedures outlined in Guide to Advancement topic 10.2.2.2 covering alternative rank requirements for members with disabilities. Typically, a unit leader will submit a written request to the council advancement committee explaining their situation and why alternative requirements are necessary.
- What does the council advancement committee do?
The council advancement committee carefully reviews the request and provides a written response either approving, with the Scout executive’s concurrence, or denying the request. If approved, the unit must maintain the approval letter in their files.
- Can the council advancement committee and Scout executive grant blanket authority to certain units in remote locations?
No, the council advancement committee and Scout executive must individually review every request. Sometimes conditions may improve and alternatives may no longer be warranted. However, a unit’s request may contain the names of one or more Scouts.
- Do these alternative requirements apply to Scouts who have an aversion to water or other difficulties completing the swimming requirements?
No, the footnote and alternatives only apply to those limited situations where a safe swimming resource is not available or within a reasonable travel distance. If an appropriate resource is available, then the Scout must complete the requirements in the normal fashion. Alternative requirements are not available for any of the aquatic merit badges. Merit badge requirements must be completed as written.