Exception to Second Class, First Class swimming requirements benefits Scouts who live far from water

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, which will be posted online soon.

Official wording of the new requirements

Effective Aug. 1, 2017, the following footnote will be added to Second Class requirements 5b and 5c and First Class requirements 6a and 6e:

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. How does the Scout request alternative requirements?
    Each council may establish its own procedures similar to the procedures outlined in Guide to Advancement topic 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.


  1. This is unfortunate. People learn to be safe around water as youths. When they move away later in life and are near water they then don’t have those critical safety skills.

    • This change should have limited impact. Few Scouts will qualify as the overwhelming majority of Scouts have reasonable access to safe places to swim. The promotion of safe swimming is still an important skill for Scouts. This change simply applies to the few people who do not have access to safe swimming areas. I see this change only effecting scouts in rural Alaska (not even the cities in Alaska where indoor pools are reasonably available) or rural parts of the west like into Idaho, Montana, or Wyoming or similar northern, rural areas.

  2. Are we jumping ahead of ourselves here: “This change was officially announced in the September-October 2017 issue of Advancement News, which will be posted online soon.”

    If the September-October 2017 issue of Advancement News announcing this change hasn’t been posted, how could this requirement have been announced?

    Maybe a better article would have been on the $9 increase to registration fees announced at Top Hands at the end of August.

    • Our council mentioned the dues increase to $33 in passing in its announcement that all adults on a troop’s charter must have current YPT at the time of rechartering, or the charter will not be processed. Way to be upfront on raising dues!

      I think the YPT requirement started last year, but what looks to be new is that any adult attending summer camp (i.e., resident camp – why can’t we just call it summer camp?) will be required to be a registered member of the troop – that is, pay National $33 and have current YPT. Not sure if this is a requirement from National, or just the council.

      • The YPT requirement has always been there for rechartering; what has changed is there is no longer a 30-day grace period to have taken YPT for new applications. If you do not submit an unexpired YPT certificate at the time of application, it will be denied.

        As our council registrar explained it, this is because the 30-day grace period often meant that some applications would fall through the cracks with the YPT, since they would sometimes “forget” to submit the certificate at all. Now, with it being required at application time, there’s no chance of it being “forgotten”.

      • “why can’t we just call it summer camp?”

        Not all summer camps are resident camps (even aside from day camps). Not all resident camps need to be in the summer.

        From the National Camp Standards, page 10 (http://www.scouting.org/filestore/outdoor%20program/pdf/430-056.pdf )

        Resident camp is defined as follows:
        1. For Cub Scouts and Webelos Scouts, a council-organized overnight camp of at least two
        consecutive nights in duration that operates under council-retained leadership.
        2. For Boy Scouts and Varsity Scouts, a council-organized overnight camp of at least five
        consecutive nights in duration that operates under council-retained leadership.
        3. For Venturers and Sea Scouts, a council-organized overnight camp of at least three consecutive
        nights in duration that operates under council-retained leadership.

        Chief Seattle Council operates a Winter Camp program that includes Friday and Saturday nights. This would be considered a resident camp for cubs, but not for boy scouts.

      • In Texas, there is a state requirement for face-to-face YPT with a written test for all adults who may attend a camping/outdoor activity that is 72 hours or more. Until the EOC test was removed from the BSA online YPT, that sufficed. If you are a Venturing adult, you have the separate Venturing YPT you must take in addition to the face-to-face YPT.

      • Hmmm, an increase in dues to 33.00. I wonder if it would have anything to do with the outrages salary paid to Wayne Brock to the tune of 1,061,595.00. YES, that is million. This is per Charity Navigator. Oh yes, the top 12 executives make around 7 million dollars. Doesn’t that make everybody feel warm and cozy?

    • My council is addign an addirtion $15 fee for “insurance” on top of the national fee. I have four registered scouts/leaders I pay for. thats $200/year now. a few years ago it was only $100. where is the added benefits is my question.

  3. I am totally against this advancement policy change. I believe Swimming is a vital life skill, and can see fatal consequences. What is the big rush to get Second and First Class that you waive Swimming requirements?

    I’ve been a lifeguard or lifeguard instructor on and off for over 20 years. I’ve seen what happens when Scouts cannot pass a swim test. There was a reason why Swimming was made a requirement many years ago, and I know this is a major mistake.Read some of the early history of the BSA and the number of drownings we had. One reason why BSA created Safe Swim Defense, Safety Afloat, made both Swimming and Lifesaving Eagle required with no other options like today, and partnered with Red Cross to promote swimming and boating safety.


    • The number of people that this will apply to will be very few. How many people live so far out in the middle of nowhere that they do not have access to a swimming area?

      As noted, this cannot be used as a way to avoid the requirements just because you have an aversion to water or swimming.

      • I can imagine the abuse and “sea lawyering” that will happen because of this. You already got helicopter parents trying to get as many awards for their child. What is the big hurry to get Second and First Class? It’s more important for Scouts to “master the skill” than get a waiver.

      • “As noted, this cannot be used as a way to avoid the requirements just because you have an aversion to water or swimming.”

        Oh, but you can bet they are going to try.

        I always believed the BSA NEVER should of removed Swimming and Lifesaving Merit Badges from the required list and made them “alternate” requirements with other badges. They are life skills and should still be required. If a Scout cannot complete those two merit badges then they shouldn’t earn Eagle. Where in the BSA Mission Statement does it guarantee Eagle Scout? It doesn’t, it’s mentioned no where.

        We should be teaching life skills instead of seeing how many Eagle Scouts we can produce, and trying to surpass last year’s record.

    • This will affect scouts in Alaska, Wyoming and the boonies elsewhere in the country. The vast majority of scouts will not be able to take advantage of this exception. It is not a huge mistake in the slightest.

  4. Swimming is a fundamental life skill. But since 1972, BSA has allowed boys to become Eagle Scouts without earning either Swimming or Lifesaving merit badges. Both of these should be required, not optional, as they were from the earliest days until 1972.

    • Eagle Scout numbers jumped in 1972, I wonder why.

      A member of our Council Executive Board stated that he earned Eagle Scout in 1961 and his hero in life is the Scout who earned it with him He had Cerebral Palsy and completed Swimming and Lifesaving Merit Badges.

      John Silber, former President of Boston College, was born with a malformed right arm that ended in a stump at the elbow. He earned Eagle Scout in the early 1940’s and had to earn Swimming and Lifesaving Merit Badges. He stated that earning Lifesaving Merit Badge was the hardest thing he ever had to do in his life, but he earned it.

      If these two young men could overcome their disabilities and earn Swimming and Lifesaving Merit Badges then that should be the benchmark for all Scouts.

      • Just for the record, John Silber was president of Boston University, not Boston College – they are two different schools.

  5. We should never see this occur anywhere but the most remote and weather challenged spots in the country. It should not be an excuse just because it is winter; wait until it warms up. The advancement time is long enough to wait. I suspect that most councils also might have indoor facilities within access 99% of the time or more. Of course, we will see abuse of the intent, no matter what. But those people really need to live with themselves and know they are really not earning it. Honor and Trustworthy come to mind again.

  6. It makes me sad to think that some scouts are so isolated from a safe-swim area that this would be necessary.
    I met an alumnus of Scouts Pakistan, and he told me they drove 9 hours to camp.

    Why can’t water-sport-loving scouters make this happen for our boys? They won’t be dry-docked forever.

  7. Disappointing is the word that comes to mind with this exception. I live in Houston and I live a long way from a location that I can take part in Snow Sports. Should the requirements for Snow Sports be changed to accommodate the scouts that live in areas that are Snow Challenged? No No No!
    I agree with the comment that Swimming should be a required merit badge and not a choice. I also think that Scouting Heritage should be a required merit badge for 1st Class. Scouts need to learn the history of scouting. Add it as a required merit badge and increase total required for Eagle to 22.

    • When my son visited the National Scouting Museum, it spurred his interest in earning the Scouting Heritage merit badge. After earning it, he said he didn’t understand why it isn’t eagle rewired. Every Eagle Scout should know the history of scouting.

    • the only sports belt loop my soon didn’t earn was snow boarding because we live in florida. The year after we left cubs we heard about a place that offers indoor snowboarding. Where theres a will theres a way.

    • Those are the ones who need it most!

      I was one of those Scouts because I did drown as a youngster. It was because of Scouting that I was forced to overcome my fears and learn to swim. I went on to become a lifeguard, lifeguard instructor, do 4 50+ mile trips afloat. All because I needed to pass a swim test to get First Class.

      • My son nearly drown doing Aquanaut, and he has Asthma. He has tried for two years to pass the Swim Test to get to 2nd class. We are opening many doors to “non-traditional scouts” lately, but we lose boy scouts every year due to fear of deep water for advancement.

        • As I mentioned, I did drown when I was very young. TERRIFIED of water. Didn’t earn Aquanaut as a Cub. Was given an ultimatum by my mom: overcome my fear of swimming or get out of Scouting. My Mom knew the numerous water opportunities scouting provided, but only if I could swim. It took me 1 year to pass the beginner and an additional year to pass Swimmer, but I did it.

          And as a result I’ve had so many outstanding water trips, I can’t list them all. Canoeing up in Canada with the Scouts, sailing in the Gulf of Mexico with my Sea Scout ship, teaching kayaking in the English Channel at the Scout camp i volunteered at one summer. All because I had to pass a swim test.

  8. This should only apply to Lone Scouts since I don’t think there are any councils that don’t have a camp with swimming offered. I might be wrong. Anyone know of any councils without swimming at their camp. Hence, the Lone Scout would have to live in a place where there was no indoor pools and no safe outdoor swimming. That would be very isolated. Extremely isolated. That poor Scout deserves some breaks.

    An exception would be if the camp swimming facilities were out of commission and couldn’t be fixed in a reasonable amount of time and they were the only swimming facilities within a reasonable distance.

    • Longs Peak (CO, NE, WY) does not have swimming at any of our camps. Water is far too cold and prohibitively expensive to build a pool.

  9. In the 11 edition of the Scout Hand book Second Class req 7b is almost the same as the current 5b and First Class 9b and current 6a are the same. Except at the bottom of the page in Edition 11 there was a foot note that reads, This Requirement may be waived by the troop committee for medical or safety reasons. Just put this back in and you are covered and be done with it. Edition 11 pages 441 and 443.

    • That’s the option expired in 2001. The rule was in effect from 1969 until 2001. 2001 was also the year that Swimming MB was no longer required for Lifesaving MB. Handbook edition 11 was first issued in 1999.

      • I don’t have any info on the why but I will guess units were not applying the consistently and the medical exemption was rolled into the scouts with disabilities area with the council advancement committee needed to approve based on more sufficient documentation. The option was around for more than 20 years. I can’t figure out why swimming mb was eliminated as a requirement for Lifesaving either.

  10. In terms of Eagle Required Merit Badges, Hiking or Cycling may be substituted for Swimming. So if Swimming cannot be accomplished, except by this uneven application (it won’t be the same in all Councils), then do one of the others.

  11. Where would something like this be approved? I don’t think there are any Scouts who will be living in Antarctica for long periods of time, and that seems like the only place. I mean, even Russia, Norway, Finland, and Alaska are good to swim for parts of the year. And surely there’s some municipal pool that could be found if nothing else? I honestly don’t see where this could ever come into play.

  12. This is a throwback to the 1970’s when the Swimming Merit Badge was removed from the Eagle required badges. In its quest to involve more inner city boys, the BSA made the assumption that they didn’t have the same opportunities that “country boys” had for swimming, so they introduced the alternative requirement. The opposite was true. This was the era when “outing” was removed from Scouting. It proved to have disastrous consequences. In an age when all organizations wish to be inclusive and accommodating, a line must be and should be drawn. As we strive to lower and “dumb down” our standards and simplify our requirements, I am reminded by Lord Baden-Powell’s statement In “Handbook for Boys” : “Every boy should learn to swim. I’ve known lots of fellows pick it up the first time they try,
    others take longer. … …there may come the awful time when you see someone drowning. If you are a
    swimmer, in you go, get hold of him the right way, and bring him ashore. And you have saved a
    fellow creature s life! But if you can’t swim? Then you have a horrible time.”

  13. Bryan —

    Can you give us an example of what type of thing could constitute a “similar challenge and learning experience” that could be used as an alternative requirement here?

  14. I agree swimming is an important skill but I have known scouts and parents who are deathly afraid of water and would leave scouts rather than get in the water or allow their son to get in the water. I’m not sure what the right answer is but I would hate to have a youth drop out of scouts due to their parents irrational fear of water.

    • I wouldn’t let my kids hang out at the mall due to an irrational fear of teen fashion. Got no problem with a parent who takes a similar pass on advancement for the fear of acquatics.

      Don’t swim? Don’t advance. There’s still the rest of the great outdoors to enjoy.

  15. WOW… what a disappointing thing to see. More “dumbing down” in our program. Hopefully we’ll be getting that “Politically Correct” Merit Badge approved any day now.

    So by the same measure, will the people who live in “bear country” have alternatives for Camping and Hiking because of a lack of “safe hiking” opportunities? How about people who live near “nothing special” getting alternative options for visiting historic sites? Or kids who are homesick still getting Camping credits even though they don’t want to go to summer camp?

    I’ve never heard of a place where there are NO swimming pools in a drive-able distance. You mean to tell me there are NO YMCAs? NO swim clubs? NO hotels with a swimming pool with a scout-friendly manager? NO BSA camps? Nothing…. at all…. zilch… not one creative way to “overcome” and “achieve”???

    I find that so hard to believe.

  16. For those concerned about the Scouts not learning Swimming, remember: They still need Swimming MB to get their Eagle, so they have to learn to swim eventually!

    • Michelle, we don’t expect every scout to earn Eagle. In fact, no scout has to earn it!
      We do want every scout, over his 7 year tenure, to be first class. That way, he will have the skills needed to achieve the pinnacle scouting experience of hiking and camping independently with his mates.

  17. OK for what it’s worth. We are talking about a very few places that this even affects. As far as making swimming an eagle required again. Just please remember the youth with disabilities that prohibit them from swimming.

  18. doesn’t every BSA camp in the country have a safe place to swim? So every scout has the opportunity to prove their swimming skills. This is just watering down requirements for the everyone gets a trophy generation. Soon tobe an eagle it will be just a checklist with no actual work.

  19. What about scouts whose family does not have the money for for swim lessons and/or access to public swim areas? I have spent a fortune on getting my son up to the second class requirements. He now likes to swim, but I can no longer afford to get more lessons for for him for him to advance to first class.

    • Summer camps offer instructional swim. My first year at camp, I did that so that I could pass my swimmer test. And I did it by the end of the week too. So he can take swim lessons at summer camp.

    • Janet,, Agreeded, swimming can be expensive. Plus, add in driving time and mileage.
      Not like the old days when a kid just headed down to the old swimming hole for a lazy afternoon.

  20. Without swimming ability, that eliminates all the water activities – canoeing, sailing, rafting, etc. for the left out Scouts. When I was in college, many required entering students to pass a swimming test in order to graduate. Old timer

  21. I taught Lifesaving merit badge at summer camp when that badge was mandatory for Eagle. Had one Scout who had to come out on the dock with crutches and leg braces because his legs were non-functional. He took his leg braces off, dropped his crutches, and managed to earn Lifesaving just as he had earned Swimming, using his arms only. Incredibly impressive. That was someone who epitomizes what it means to BE an Eagle Scout (which he earned).

  22. So what’s next, the snowflake merit badge? I had a scout I got into the water with to pass the swim test. All scouts are capable of learning to swim, no matter their personal challenges. The fact there isn’t a local swimming hole is no reason to compromise the integrity and dumb down the program. Scouts bent on EARNING Eagle will do what it takes to get there. Not every scout reachs Eagle. Unfortunate, however Eagle is not a participation trophy.

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