Buddy check! The importance of getting a friend wherever you go

In a crowded pool full of raucous boys splashing and swimming, the justification for frequent buddy checks appears self-evident.

But do Scouts really need to get a friend for a quick trip to the latrine or when they meet with a merit badge counselor?

Simply put, yes.

Scouting’s buddy system calls for Scouts to pair up with a friend or two for all activities. This helps ensure safety and accountability, and teaches Scouts to have responsibility for others.

The basics

Looking out for one another anywhere and everywhere is the keystone to the buddy system. Just because you’re in a populous place doesn’t mean you can’t get overlooked by those around you. Watch a few videos on this YouTube page of rescues at a South Carolina wave pool, and you’ll soon notice that many times the lifeguards — and not the swimmers just a few feet away — are the first ones to realize something is wrong.

Buddies are there to watch you when others may not. They stay nearby to monitor you, alerting a safety team if help is needed.

Adults are not exempt from any these safety measures. Scouters should have buddies during all Scouting activities, too.

Buddy system guidelines: 

  • The buddy system should be used at all times, not just for aquatics. Horseback riding, cycling, canvassing the neighborhood during a fundraiser…you name it, you need a buddy.
  • It’s recommended that buddies know and be comfortable with each other. No youth should be forced into or made to feel uncomfortable by a buddy assignment.
  • It is strongly encouraged to pair Scouts of similar abilities, ages and maturity. Self-selection with no more than two years age or significant differences in maturity is recommended.
  • A buddy team may consist of three Scouts when necessary, like an odd number in a group.

On the water:

  • Buddies should check into and out of an area together. They are to stay in the same assigned area, too.
  • If two buddies are of differing swimming abilities, they should remain in the assigned area of the buddy’s lesser ability level.
  • About every 10 minutes, lookouts can conduct a buddy check. The lookout gives a signal and calls for “Buddies.” Buddies are expected to raise each other’s hand by the time the lookout counts to 10. Lookouts count the paired swimmers before swimming resumes.
  • Scouts on a float trip need to have buddies as well, and each boat should have a “buddy boat.”

On the trail:

  • While hiking or camping in the backcountry, Scouts are encouraged to travel in groups of at least four. That way, if one gets injured, a buddy can stay with him, while the other two seek help.

At meetings:

  • When meeting with a merit badge counselor, Scouts can have a fellow Scout, sibling, parent, relative or friend with them.
  • A buddy isn’t necessary for a Scoutmaster conference, but the meeting should be visible and accessible by others.

What about girls?

When girls join Cub and Boy Scouting programs, the Venturing program has a practice the other programs will follow. Buddies should be the same gender, or in groups of three in mixed company. No boy-girl buddy pairs.

21 Comments

  1. I overheard a first-year scout going over the buddy system with our troop guide last night.
    Always good to have boys nailing down the basics.

    But, please cite that venturing “rule” specifically. I know of nothing preventing boy-girl buddies. I have allowed a boy and girl in the same sailboat/canoe. Ability groups trumps sex segregation … especially when safety is concerned.

    Separate sleeping quarters is the only known national rule. Crews define their own rules for public displays of affection.

    That we’d have to make sure all co-eds around camp were at least thruples would be news to most Advisors.

  2. The purpose of a buddy check at a BSA swimming event isn’t to check for lost bathers (10 minutes is way too long to respond to a lost swimmer). The purpose of buddy checks is to reinforce the buddy concept – that buddies need to keep a constant eye on each other in the water. If the participants are well trained at maintaining the buddy system, then every 10 minute buddy checks may be excessive. That is why at summer camp waterfronts buddy check intervals typically get longer during the week – the scouts get used to the expectation. The waterfront staff then doesn’t need to remind them as often with buddy checks.

    • Just above the Buddy System Guidelines section:

      “Adults are not exempt from any these safety measures. Scouters should have buddies during all Scouting activities, too.”

    • Sorry to reply again under your comment, Kelly, but I tried to post a comment under the main topic twice yesterday with no success …

      Where in Venturing is there a rule about no boy-girl buddy pairs?
      I’ve certainly allowed a boy and girl to pair up in canoes, tandem kayaks, and sailboats. Sex is not marked on my aquatic area’s buddy tags.

      I don’t grudge a boy or girl walking around camp together.

      When it looks like social relationships will undermine morale, I confront confront the couple if the crew president hasn’t beat me to it. Crews who foresee this being a regular problem are encouraged write their own by-laws regarding public displays of affection. Some crews insist on narrow stipulations out of deference to their chartered organization, but no one strategy should be construed as general practice.

    • That is mentioned in this article (just above the Buddy System Basics section):
      “Adults are not exempt from any these safety measures. Scouters should have buddies during all Scouting activities, too.”

  3. The last paragraph indicates that in Venturing buddies should be same gender or groups of three. Is this noted anywhere in official publications? I have not been able to find it in a search other than in NYLT handbooks from specific councils.

  4. Where is there written a national rule prohibiting boy-girl buddy pairs in Venturing?
    I’ve often let a boy and a girl put their tags on the same canoe or sunfish!
    If one of my crew started the campfire and the only person who wants to sit by it is of the opposite sex, I haven’t called my other venturers back from their activities to counter the balance.

    But maybe I’m a bad Advisor who hasn’t read youth protection policies cover to cover …

  5. A question for all. Buddy system is to be used at all times and for all activities. Most Troops use tent buddies for sleeping. Does your Troop ever allow Boy Scouts to sleep solo in a tent or hammock or under the stars with no other Scouts using a hammock or under the stars? No it is not specifically stated that you can’t sleep alone but the G2SS does not list what we can not do but typically lists what we must do.

  6. Sorry to be obtuse, but I have tried to submit a comment challenging the reference to Venturing in the last paragraph of this post. It seems to be getting filtered automatically.

    • Now that I think I figured out what’s getting filtered, let me explain …

      Directing aquatics (canoes, kayaks, sailboats) for Venturers, I allowed mixed buddy pairs without a second thought. No problem if mixed pairs go run an errand around camp together. Etc …
      Latrine? One stays out guarding the door the other goes in, no problem.

      Couples? I confront them if my crew president doesn’t beat me to it. We have a ground rule: don’t dampen morale. They agree. No problem. Other crews make by-laws. Works for them. No need for national edicts.

      Sleeping arrangements: spelled out in the guide to safe scouting. No problem (although I have to patiently explain this to scouts from other countries who are not bound by such restrictions).

      That’s what I’ve been trained to be Venturing practice. If it’s something else, please cite the authoritative source.

  7. I bet Bryan got a sneak peak at the new YPT, and the new policy will be no mixed gender buddies. It’s been a while since i took Venturing YPT, but i don’t remember that rule either,

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