What to know before taking Cub Scouts in or near the water

Photo by David Carlson

It’s their last pack meeting before a big family campout, and the Cubmaster from Pack 282 in Frisco, Texas, is going over the rules.

“No, Nate,” he says to a Webelos Scout, “you can’t go hiking alone. Never go anywhere without a buddy.”

“Yes, Rohan,” he says to a Bear, “you can bring your fishing gear. Just remember that those hooks are sharp. Be careful!”

“No, Mr. Jones,” he says to one of the dads, “you can’t bring that kind of six-pack.”

Then came a question that, honestly, stumps the Cubmaster. At least at first.

“My family owns a Jet Ski,” says one mom. “Our kids are totally comfortable on it. Is it OK if we bring it to the campout and let the Cub Scouts drive it out on the lake?”

It’s a fair question. It seems that the Arrow of Light-aged kids in this particular family were comfortable on personal watercraft. But that doesn’t mean it’s OK for the rest of the pack.

After consulting the Age-Appropriate Guidelines for Scouting Activities, the Cubmaster has to give them the news.

“Unfortunately, we’re going to ask that you leave your Jet Ski at home,” he says. “When it comes to official Scouting events, the operation of personal watercraft is limited to older Scouts at council-level programs only.”

Supervision, supervision, supervision

It’s difficult for dens to meet regularly during the summer. However, it’s not difficult to plan two or three summertime activities for your pack to keep kids and families engaged as we head into the fall.

Many of the best and most popular summertime activities are going to involve water in one way or another. From a backyard pool party to a neighborhood spray park to a massive water park, you’ve got lots of options.

No matter which you choose, there are a few things you need to keep in mind, starting with Safe Swim Defense (available at my.scouting.org) and what the BSA calls “adequate supervision.”

“All swimming activity must be supervised by a mature and conscientious adult age 21 or older who understands and knowingly accepts responsibility for the well-being and safety of those in his or her care,” according to the BSA’s Aquatics Safety website.

This applies not only in a backyard pool, but also in a public pool where there are already trained lifeguards in place.

No matter where you are, you need a handful of adults whose sole job is to supervise the kids in the water. Not cooking burgers. Not serving sodas. Not working on their suntans. Just supervising the swimmers.

(It’s a good idea to rotate these folks in and out so they, too, can enjoy a hot burger and a cold drink.)

Photo by Michael Roytek

Know the limits

Another thing to take into account when taking Cub Scouts in or near the water is the skill level of the kids (and adults, for that matter). The BSA calls this “ability groups.” Scouts and adults are placed into ability groups through the BSA swim-check process. Learn more in the official BSA Aquatics Supervision guide.

Cub Scout-aged kids are tricky. Some of them might have already had years of swimming lessons. Others might not have. Some, quite frankly, might be scared of the water but are afraid to admit it in front of their friends. And many might have missed out on swimming lessons over the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

You don’t have to slap a label on their foreheads that says “weak swimmer,” but it is important for you to keep it straight so you know who should be in the deep end and who shouldn’t.

This can be a challenge when you’ve got dozens of Cub Scouts wandering around a large water park, but it’s your responsibility to make sure no swimmer gets in over their head — literally. This might mean assigning response personnel to follow groups of Scouts around the water park.

If you’re nervous about taking kids swimming, a neighborhood splash park is a great alternative. While qualified supervision is still required, with water no more than ankle deep, it relieves a ton of pressure off the adults.

If you’re a little more adventurous, the aforementioned Age-Appropriate Guidelines are going to be your friend.

Some of the limits are pretty obvious. Can Cub Scouts go scuba diving? No. What about cliff jumping? No.

But what about canoeing, kayaking or row boating on still water — water that is calmer than Class I rapids? Yes, but Lions and Tigers are allowed to be passengers only.

What about tubing — floating in gently moving water? Yes, but only for Wolf and older.

To make sure you’re 100% prepared for aquatics activities this summer, review the BSA’s Aquatics Safety page, and don’t forget to take the Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat programs available at my.scouting.org.

Photo by Michael Roytek
About Aaron Derr 148 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.