Safe Swim Defense: What you need to know now that summer is here

A Scout enters the pool via a waterslide
Photo by Michael Roytek

One of the best ways for Scouts to have fun during the summer months is to go swimming. Before you do that, though, remember these three words: Safe. Swim. Defense.

What is Safe Swim Defense?

Safe Swim Defense is the BSA’s required training for all swimming activities. Adult leaders supervising a swimming activity must have completed the training within the previous two years. It can be found at, but you can also take it at some council camps and other council and district training events. Contact your local council and ask to be connected with your local aquatics committee to get more information on training opportunities near you.

Great! What will I learn?

There are eight points of Safe Swim Defense.

  1. Qualified 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 their care, and who is trained in and committed to compliance with the eight points of BSA Safe Swim Defense.
  2. Personal health review: A complete health history is required of all participants as evidence of fitness for swimming activities.
  3. Safe area: All swimming areas must be carefully inspected and prepared for safety prior to each activity.
  4. Response personnel: Every swimming activity must be closely and continuously monitored by a trained rescue team on the alert for and ready to respond during emergencies. These could be trained lifeguards, but they don’t always have to be. Read the BSA’s Aquatics Supervision manual for more information.
  5. Lookout: The lookout continuously monitors the conduct of the swim, identifies any departures from Safe Swim Defense guidelines, alerts rescue personnel as needed and monitors the weather and environment.
  6. Ability groups: All youth and adult participants are designated as swimmers, beginners or nonswimmers based on swimming ability confirmed by standardized BSA swim classification tests. Each group is assigned a specific swimming area with depths consistent with those abilities.
  7. Buddy system: Every participant is paired with another. Buddies stay together, monitor each other and alert the safety team if either needs assistance or is missing.
  8. Discipline: All participants should know, understand and respect the rules and procedures for safe swimming provided by Safe Swim Defense guidelines.

Hang on. Can you explain the part about lifeguards?

You don’t have to be a lifeguard to run a Scout swimming outing. You do, however, have to have designated “response personnel” — somebody capable of going in the water and responding to a struggling swimmer. Response personnel have to be strong swimmers and trained in Safe Swim Defense.

Having said that, it is strongly recommended that all units have at least one adult or older youth member currently trained in BSA Aquatics Supervision: Swimming and Water Rescue or BSA Lifeguard to assist in planning and conducting all swimming activities. Contact your local council for training opportunities near you.

What is BSA Lifeguard training?

BSA Lifeguard provides professional-level training for lifeguards at unit or summer camp swimming activities and is provided locally by qualified instructors who are authorized by the local council. Likewise, BSA Aquatics Supervision: Swimming and Water Rescue training provides leaders with information and skills to prevent, recognize and respond to swimming emergencies. It expands the awareness instruction provided by Safe Swim Defense training.

At what kind of locations does Safe Swim Defense apply?

Safe Swim Defense standards apply at backyard, hotel, apartment and public pools; at established waterfront swim areas such as beaches at state parks and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lakes; and at all temporary swimming areas such as a lake, river or ocean. Safe Swim Defense applies to non-swimming activities whenever participants enter water over knee deep or when submersion is likely; for example, when fording a stream, seining for bait or constructing a bridge as a pioneering project.

Safe Swim Defense does not apply to boating or water activities such as waterskiing or swamped boat drills. Those activities are covered under Safety Afloat guidelines.

Awesome! Where can I learn more?

Bookmark the Aquatics Safety section of the Guide to Safe Scouting, and check back regularly for updates.

About Aaron Derr 457 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.