What’s that age again? A complete guide to when Scouts can do what

MPAA ratings — G, PG, PG-13, R — take the guesswork out of deciding which movies are appropriate for your son or daughter.

Fortunately, deciding which Scouting activities are age-appropriate is just as easy, thanks to this Age-Appropriate Guidelines for Scouting Activities PDF.

The BSA’s Health and Safety team developed the age- and rank-appropriate guidelines based on the mental, physical, emotional and social maturity of Boy Scouts of America youth members. The guidelines apply to Cub Scout packs, Boy Scout troops, Varsity Scout teams and Venturing crews.

Should Bear Cub Scouts build campfires? Can Webelos Scouts use bow saws? Can Boy Scouts go scuba diving? Can Venturers ride all-terrain vehicles (ATVs)?

The answers: No. Yes. Yes. And yes, but only through their approved local council.

The guide covers outdoor skills, sports, tools, trekking, aircraft, vehicles, shooting sports, climbing, aquatics and camping.

It’s a great resource for answering questions from parents or from youth leaders planning future trips.

More specific guidelines on tools

Service projects are an iconic Scouting tradition, and you may be wondering whether certain tools are OK for 13-, 14- or 15-year-old boys and girls. Wonder no more.

This PDF gives a tool-by-tool breakdown.

Can Scouts use zip lines?

Zip-lining is considered age-appropriate for Venturing-age youth and older Boy Scouts. If the youth are participating in a commercial zip-line activity that is not located on a BSA-owned property, then we suggest you make sure that organization follows the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT) standards for installation, maintenance, and operation.

That and more Frequently Asked Questions are answered at this Scouting Safely page, maintained by Richard Bourlon and the BSA’s Health and Safety team.

41 thoughts on “What’s that age again? A complete guide to when Scouts can do what

  1. I’ve been using this sheet for years. It’s a very handy reference. One of the things that’s always puzzled me though is Webelos Scouts attending Camporees – “Visit only”. I’ve never understood the distinction between a Camporee and “regular” Boy Scout Camping. The Guide to Safe Scouting indicates that Webelos Scouts may participate in (and are even encouraged to participate in) Boy Scout camping, so long as their parent/guardian is included. So why is this not acceptable at a Camporee?

    • The main distinctions are that camporees are competitive and district events and usual Boy Scout camping can be competitive but are unit planned and driven. Cub Scouting promotes “do your best” but should not grade or show competitiveness. So a Webelos den attending and fully participating in a Boy Scout Camporee would not be promoting the Cub Scout motto. The better alternative is a Webelos Woods. Same thing as a camporee but there is no competition, the boy scouts run the events with supervision, and it is an opportunity for the troop leaders to talk to the webelos parents and encourage the program transition.

      • Thank you, Andrew, that’s helpful. Connie Knie mentions the same thing in a post below. Do you (or anyone else) know of any official BSA resource that explains this? If this is indeed the reason for excluding Webelos then it must be documented somewhere.

        • In our Council/District, our Webelos are invited to camp the entire weekend. The only difference is that we offer a Webelos program at the Camporee. Yes, the boys get to participate with the Troop that they are attached too. But, in the event that the Webelos aren’t aloud to participate fully, we have an alternate program for them.

  2. “Aye, they be only guidelines, yeaaaarrrr”. I might not let my Cub use the chainsaw, but my 16 year old was more handy with it and more responsible than some adults I know….
    It does “all depend”, but they are GOOD guidelines…
    We deal with safe use, responsible use. Tools, not toys. Skills, not “play around with”. I always insist on playing the “what if
    game”. Always consider consequences and resposibility for one’s actions. There is a reason why we insist on helmets when skiing. There is a reason for handling an axe in this fashion. There is a reason for considering how to put the fire out BEFORE it is lit.
    There is a reason why folks look for a Scout when they want a fire to melt s’mores over.
    Good Scouting to you.

  3. Seems dated, no Webelos at Camporee? We have Webelos Camporee in our district every year. And as Mark pointed out above, they are encouraged to attend a boy scout camp. Tigers are allowed at resident camp as of last summer.

    • As far as Webelos attending camporees my understanding is that they cannot participate only visit. And they are not supposed to camp with a Troop.

      The theory behind this is that the Cub Scouts are not supposed to be competing against bigger and stronger youth. Also the Boy Scouts are allowed to do different things and if Webelos were to actively compete they may end up doing events they are not allowed to per the G2SS and these guidelines.

      The way our council works around it, is Troops can invite Dens to come to the event and they can host them at meals and campfire. But there is a separate area for the Webelos to camp and a different set of activities as well.

      • Separating the Webelos Scouts from the troops seems contrary to the whole point of inviting the Webelos Scouts in the first place. We want them to feel welcome and included, and to get the full experience of what it will be like to be a boy scout. I’m not sure I understand what they’re accomplishing by having a separate camping area. What’s wrong with camping embedded with a troop?

        • Because that is what the guidelines state needs to happen. If done right Webelos can get a feeling for what it is like to be Boy Scouts without actually competing against them or camping in their site.
          If an event is planned well, the Webelos can be working on age appropriate activities that get them requirements signed off in their own books towards their own awards.
          A smart Webelos leader can even take the time to eat meals with more than one Troop and get a feel for a few different ones.

          Do you honestly think that Boy Scouts in full blown competition mode are going to stop and make Cub Scouts feel welcome and included? These young men are there to have fun and compete and win. Not babysit Webelos.

        • Connie, while I certainly understand the nature and behavior of young men in a competition, we teach them to abide by the principles of the Scout Law at all times, which of course includes being Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous and Kind. The notion that Webelos Scouts need “babysitting” is inconsistent with the purpose of their visit.
          When you say “that is what the guidelines state needs to happen” – which guidelines are you referring to?

        • Mark,
          I am referring to ALL of the guidelines. They are not arbitrary. I know we teach Boy Scouts to follow the Oath and Law. But there needs to be a bit of common sense and understanding of human nature. That is one of the reasons that the “guidelines” were created.

          There are two groups that may come to a camporee.

          Webelos are only invited to camporees in order to see what it is Scouts do and entice them to cross over. That is the purpose of their visit. There is a bit of “this is what I get to do when I am a Boy Scout” thought process there. Now while I don’t necessarily agree that Cub Scouts should not do things because they might get “burned out” on them, that is what the BSA intended.

          The second group of course are Troops. They are there to compete as patrols. They are not there to have a group of Webelos tagging along. That is what I mean by babysitting. While adults know that there is a possible recruiting aspect of this, that is not why Boy Scout aged youth go to a camporee. And if the guidelines are being followed what are the Webelos supposed to be doing while their hosts are competing?

          Let the Webelos come out and see what Boy Scouts do. Let them also have their own program. But let the Troops host them for meals and campfires.

    • Our district allows Webelos to camp at camporees but they aren’t allowed to participate in certain activities. They typically try to have activities however that Webelos can participate in and sometimes even give bonus points for whatever the competition is if you have Webelos on your ‘team’. Remember that the one-sheeter is just for quick reference and the Guide to Safe Scouting has much more in-depth explanations.

      • Just had a Klondike. Webelos dens could register on their own but the Troop form has a spot for webelos attending. My son attended 4 yrs ago. We wee having 2 stay with us but the weather not only prohibited them from attending but it escalated to where we bailed as well.

  4. Tiger cubs can’t use compasses? What’s this spinny thing? “It points North, to the very top of the world.” Yeah, that’s way too advanced a concept for a 7-year old…? No martial arts until Boy Scouts? I think you underestimate who’s the largest normal target audience for most dojos. No canoeing or kayaking (without a skirt until they’re 12 or so, of course) until Boy Scouts? I never thought I’d see the day when Girl Scouts were more adventurous than Boy Scouts. Where I work, we do archery, and what in the Boy Scouts is called Project Cope, with younger kids as well. What’s the point of a hot air balloon if you can’t get in it while it’s off the ground?

    • But isn’t Everest the top of the world?
      The poles are actually a little closer to the earth’s center than most any place else! 😉

  5. There are areas of this guide that my Troop has found to be overly restrictive. This past fall we booked a WW Rafting excursion through a reputable rafting company that was recommended to us by the local BSA council in their area. We chose a non dam release weekend so that it would be a kinder, gentler trip for the Webelo II dens that we wanted to invite in order to give them a taste of what Boy Scouts has to offer as well as to satisfy our PLC who didn’t want to just “go camping” again to entertain the Webelos. Our DE and Director of Programs confirmed that the Webelo II’s were NOT permitted to attend even though the tour operator recommended this trip for ages 7 and over and provided full safety equipment and 3 trained guides in Kayaks to accompany us throughout the entire trip. Except for one short Class II, the entire trip was Class I rapids. This would have been the perfect trip for the Webelos. Instead we had to inform them that due to BSA rules they couldn’t go. They can go skiing, snow boarding, and snow tubing-all of which we have had to deal with Scout injuries; but, they can’t do low water low rapid WW Rafting run by a reputable company in which we’ve never had an injury. Also, the wheeled cart guidelines in tool use are totally off base. Why can’t a young Scout pull a wagon or push a wheel barrel full of mulch during an Eagle project. You’ve basically got the younger Scouts standing around and watching. Both of these need to be re-evaluated.

  6. Publishing this without the full guide to safe scouting is a poor idea. In many people’s minds, this is carte blanche to not read the fine print…

  7. I’ve heard many times from other Scouters (and have even read in some of the other comments here) that these are just “guidelines” or “recommendations”… while others make it seem that these ages restrictions are the hard and fast “rules” or “laws” of the BSA program. If I use my judgement and have a mature group of Bear Cub Scouts build a campfire or allow an experienced 15-year-old to use a leaf-blower, am I violating BSA policies (can I get in trouble and removed from Scouting they way I would if I violated, say, Youth Protection or some other policy; would I not be covered by BSA insurance if something happened)? What are the consequence of not following these guidelines? Are they really just “guidelines” or are they the “law” of the program?

    • These are in the “guide to safe scouting”, so they are guidelines, but they are highly encouraged guidelines. If someone were to tattle on your 15 y.o. scout using a leaf blower you won’t get kicked out of Scouting, but you may be contacted by the district or council because of the purpose for these guidelines: to reduce the risk of Scouting activities.

      The idea behind this guide is to reflect not only the physical ability of the scout, but also his maturity and skill level for his age. Can a Webelos do a multi-day hike? probably, but could he react appropriately if someone gets seriously hurt? Could a wolf operate a small sailboat? sure, there are junior Olympic sailing clubs for youth 6 and up, but how comfortable do you feel giving a usual 2nd grader the reins to a multi-thousand dollar watercraft that takes a lot of skill just to go in a straight line? These are not easy questions and we should always err on the side of caution when it is a question of youth safety.

      Some Scouters think that these guidelines are too arbitrary and restrictive, but let me argue that while they may have some scouts or children that they feel can handle higher activities, have they also had scouts that could not handle an age appropriate activity because they were acting too childish during instruction or were just not physically/mentally/skillfully ready to fully grasp the idea to put it into practice? Honestly I don’t feel comfortable seeing a Cub Scout wield a hand ax, nor do I think it wise to have a 12 y.o. scout on an active and physically demanding white water rafting trip because there are too many opportunities for risk that the youth may not handle well.

      As for insurance, just think in the mind of a lawyer and you can probably imagine some outcomes of a serious injury.

      • Thank you Andrew!! What you said nailed it. These guidelines (and to be honest I have never used them as such) take into account the average, strength, maturity and skill level of the Scouts.

        And even though they are called guidelines they are not to be taken as optional or arbitrary or applying to some youth but not others.

        Whether we agree with these “guidelines” or not, this is what is out there and this is what needs to be adhered to.

      • Thank you Andrew. I deal with some leaders who freak out if we have a mature 15-years-and-10-old Scout who want to use a leafblower because the “Guide to Safe Scouting” says he has to wait until his 16th birthday, and act as if using it is breaking the law.

  8. The restrictions state, in part:
    16 and older
    Residential lawn mower (self-propelled, riding)
    Commercial lawn mower (push, self-propelled, riding)
    Line trimmer (electric, gas-powered)
    Edger (electric, gas-powered)
    Leaf/grass blower (electric, gas-powered)
    Hedge trimmer (electric, gas-powered)
    Belt sander (electric, cordless)
    Pressure washer (>50 but <100 PSI)
    18 and older
    Circular, reciprocating, jig, or radial saw
    Band and scroll saws
    Chain saws

    Clearly this is an issue that needs to be investigated (I’d say reinvestigates, except that I don’t think it was investigated in the first place except maybe by lawyers who haven’t touched power tools

    My grandson (Eagle in 12/12) at age 15 has been doing residential lawn mowing since age 12. He knows how to safely use the other items.

    On his Eagle Project, he used a circular saw. It was an issue raised at his BOR, but did not prevent them from finding him qualified for Eagle Rank.

    The person who let him use the tools, himself the father of two Eagles, said “I’ll show you how, but I won’t do it for you.” Additionally, he had taken industrial technology in middle school for two years, and had used similar tools.

    In all of the uses he had qualified supervision and discipline and instruction in safety techniques. Isn’t this what is emphasized in all of the on-line safety courses – Safe Swim Defense, Safety Afloat, Climb On Safely, Trek Safely? We let them zip line, climb and rappel, white-water raft, canoe, shoot, etc. with qualified supervision and discipline and instruction in safety techniques. Isn’t it time to understand that these boys/young men can handle these things also and officially remove some of these restrictions.

  9. What? Cub Scouts can’t learn how to build a fire? OK, I understand that it might not be the wisest of things for them to light the fire, but surely they can gather the wood and learn from adults how to build a fire.

  10. I had a Cubmaster this last week post, on the Pack FB page, that ALL the Cub Scouts in the Pack could sign up and go to an event, AND campout over the weekend. I pointed out that the Scouts could only campout overnight with a parent camping with them. And later went back and added that I didn’t believe that Tiger Cubs were allowed to ‘overnight camp.’ The Cubmaster lashed back at me (I was there UC and am now the District CS Roundtable Commissioner) on the FB page that he was told by a paid District Staff person that ALL the Cubs could attend and campout for the weekend. I sent a text to that District Staff person and he confirmed it with me! I see this now and YIKES!!!!!!!!!!! What is he thinking????? I knew it was wrong, I guess they haven’t hit their number of 500 participants and he was trying to get there. This is sad . . .

    I’ve pulled this reference sheet off and now have it on my tablet to refer to!

    Thanks for posting it!

    And yes, Girl Scout guidelines are different from this – I can have going into 1st grade ‘Tiger Cubs’ at Day Camp and do Archery with them, but Girl Scouts have to be going into the 4th grade before I can have them on the Archery Range! And believe me I’ve been the Archery Range Officer at Cub Scout & Girl Scout Day Camps and most of those Cubs have no problem, with the proper instruction shooting with the re-curve bows, but the little Kindergarden aged sisters that “paid” to come to a Cub Scout event last fall in our Council, for which I was the Archery Range Officer and told I had to let them shoot if they had on a wrist band – couldn’t do it, and the parents yelled at me! sigh! And at GS day camp we have compound bows that the incoming 4th graders don’t have the upper body strength to pull back on – as do a lot of the junior high girls I’ve had on the range – and so they start being ‘stupid’ with the bows and arrows!

    Guidelines are only guidelines, and just because it says a certain age group/level CAN do it, doesn’t mean that they CAN!

    Safe Scouting all!

    • Luanne,
      I guess I am wondering what the event was that he was referring to. I mean in certain circumstances Tigers can camp overnight (with an Adult partner) and nowhere does it state that a parent must accompany a Cub Scout (other than Tiger) on a campout or outing. It is strongly suggested and encouraged but if you look at the wording what is needed is an adult who is directly responsible for said Scout. Unless your Council has made it stricter, those are National’s rules.

  11. I can’t find the reference right now (but I’ll keep looking) about Webelos Scouts attending a Boy Scout camporee has real rationale. Webelos Scouts can and should attend a TROOP overnight campout (with a parent/guardian) as part of the transition process. In this setting, the Boy Scouts are, in a sense, trying to ensure that the Webelos Scouts will want to join their troop. However, in a camporee setting, the focus isn’t on the Webelos Scouts, it is on the competitions and activities. Visiting a camporee may give the Webelos Scouts and their parents a look/see at several troops, but there is little interaction among the Webelos Scouts and individual Boy Scouts. The analogy that works best is that high school seniors are not usually invited to attend a college recruiting event on homecoming weekend but on special weekends where the focus can be interaction, on an individual basis, with the high school and college students.

    • Webelos that we invite participate along with us. I am not familiar with the competition you describe. elementary pay sports, etc. We just go to the stations and do our best. Ya they score but many times we never know our ranking at the end of the event. Who cares. It is about personal growth.

      I remember my son attending Klondike as a Webelo. They had an issue starting the fire w/ flint & steel. Each flick cost a point. They decided to switch to matches but no one brought any. My son whipped out his matches and saved the station lol! Lesson: Be prepared.

  12. On February 23, 2013, a policy was reversed and now allows Tiger Cubs (and their adult partner) to attend Cub Scout resident camp. The age-appropriate guidelines still have not been updated to reflect this policy change.

  13. Most of the guidelines make sense, and I understand that there is a difference between what a youth does at home under parental supervision (like mow the lawn) and what happens with a group of youth under adult leadership (potentially at a 10:1 ratio). However, I do have issues with some of the power tool guidelines.

    When I first became Troop Committee Chair several years ago, I was faced with the assumed prohibition against scouts using power tools on Eagle projects. I poured through the GSS and the age charts available then and also reviewed them with my DE. At that time we concluded that chain saws and log splitters were verboten, but that basic power tools were ok with proper instruction and supervision. Then, after finally stomping out the non-existent rules, age charts were reissued with prohibitions against the use of many power tools by youth. Talk about frustrating.

    Most of our Scouts learned how to use circular saws, jig saws, table saws, and routers in their 7th grade Tech Arts class. I doesn’t make sense to say they can’t use them on an Eagle project. I have been on several projects were there would be a lot of boys standing around watching adults work if they were not allowed to use certain power tools.

    There are also disconnects with merit badges. Almost as ridiculous as the trudgen stroke in the swim requirements, is to expect a Scout to make a work bench using only hand tools (Home Repairs), or ALL the carpentry projects for Woodwork. For that matter, expecting a younger Boy Scout to paint a ceiling (Home Repairs) or some exterior walls (Painting) without a paint roller with an extension pole is silly. Add to all this the fact that the use of a lathe is called for in one of the Woodwork options. While not as dangerous as a band saw, I do remember that my shop teachers were more concerned wit our use of the lathe than the table saw.

    • Excellent points – perhaps National needs to set up some committees to look at some of the the conflicting and silly rules that ignore reality. Might even use some of the bloated top executives’ salaries to bring them to Irving to work on this. Maybe listening to some of the people for who Scouting is a passion rather than a paycheck would open their eyes

      • the problem is scouting programs vary so widely a crossed the US it is impossible to make it one size fits all.

        City folk have different expectations and tolerances than Country folk.

        Farm kids can run tools and vehicles while Social media city kids shouldn’t be any where the business end of a chain saw or a rifle

        The rules are about litigation, as a leader you violate the written rules who is in trouble…… The BSA legal team can say CM Jones did not follow the BSA Guide to safe scouting and as a result Little Timmy died. We are not financially responsible because Mr. Jones did not follow the guide.

        • Fine, except, I am a “city folk”, who saw to it that my grandson wasn’t wrapped in gauze and insulated from real life . . . that’s what Scouting is for – developing a well-rounded boy who “is prepared” to do most things – “Prepared. For Life”, as it were.

          He completed the climbing merit badge at summer camp, which allowed him to rappel off a cliff. The following year, he went to a People to People Student Ambassador trip to France, Italy, and Greece. In Italy, they offered him an opportunity to rappel off a 200’ castle tower, which, because of his preparation in Scouting, didn’t faze him.

          The point is, many of these boys have had the experience that qualifies them to use, say, power tools…the thing that should be considered is their experience, combined with (what is emphasized in the safety courses) “qualified supervision and discipline”. If a boy’s parent/grandparent is present, and does not object to the use, a waiver is assumed. If a boy’s parent/grandparent is not present, and no waiver has been executed, the in that case the boy’s use is assumed not to be allowed. This preserves the opportunity to have the appropriate use of equipment, while preserving legal niceties. Keep ‘em safe, but don’t insulate them!

        • While I agree that the age appropriate guidelines have a lot of ages, skill levels and maturity levels which demands such broad applications, Gary’s response gave me an idea.
          What if (still with age restrictions in place) there were safety courses that a Scout could take and if granted the card that proves he can handle the tool safely, he can use them? Still under trained adult supervision of course. I mean around here, if an adult wants to use a chainsaw on any of our council properties they need to pass a course given by the camp ranger.

          Just a thought.

  14. Like others I have been using the activity chart for several years since they first came out with it. I had never seen the tool guidelines before. A good reference and one that is needed for Eagle Scout projects and the like. Thanks for the heads up.

  15. Scouting sure has changed since I was a youth member. Nowadays everything seems to be slanted toward “coddling the little ones” and slanted away from developing “real men”. Anybody want to guess how many of those activities mentioned above were done by me and my friends way earlier in life than BSA deems “safe”? No hunting until you’re a Venturer? My dad taught me to shoot at 11 and I took my first deer at 12. No power tools? I was using them at 13 to help my dad around the house. Only defensive martial arts? I guess the person who dreamed up that rule never had a punch thrown at him (or her). I could go on but you get the idea. I wonder if this list is a response to a changing population structure. When I was in a pack and troop, the leaders all were military veterans of World War 2 or Korea (or both). They held jobs in the mines, mills, and factories. Many kids today seem to be growing up with only divorced or never-married mothers in the house. Maybe these rules are a reflection of the fears and anxieties of those moms.

  16. About Webelos Scouts and Boy Scout Camporees. — Found it! The June-July 2013 issue of “Advancement News” has a detailed article about this. Go to Scouting.org/advancement and look in the Advancement News archives to read the whole article. The article references the Cub Scout Outdoor Program Guidelines as well as the Age-Appropriate Guidelines being discussed in this blog.
    (For transition into a troop — it states that “this can best be accomplished at a special troop Webelos Scout welcoming event, rather than at a camporee.” It also states that “Webelos Scouts cannot spend the night at a Boy Scout camporee.”

  17. “To return to our previous analogy, those visiting high school seniors would not
    be able to take classes for credit during their college visitations.”

    The above quote caught my eye from the document. Not sure about your schools but around here schools are offering duel high school credit. Enough to drop of a years worth of college lol.

    I think in order to beef up crossover rates (with the ultimate goal of saving scouting’s downward spiral), I think the webelos program needs to be revamped with more interaction between the den and the troop. Starting with Web. 1 they participate in some activities with the troop but by web 2 they are camping together as much as they want so as crossing over is an obvious step.

    Obviously camping at a Klondike would depend on temperature, etc. but the rest of the year is fair game especially regular monthly campouts unless it is bad weather. This would also help those smaller Webelo dens that don’t have the manpower or willingness to camp out. They can piggyback onto the local Troop for help.

  18. First there is no legend of what the colors means. The green is obvious, but I have no idea what all of the other “pretty” colors mean. In the military we have “green”-you can do it. “Yellow” we can do it with certain conditions. “Red” we can’t do it. My recommendation is that BSA adopt this model.

    Second these are stated as “guidelines”, and that is what I will use them as. There are some WEBLOS in my pack that I would not let do half the activities that this chart would allow them to do, but I would a good number of the Wolves and Bears. It is not about age, but maturity and discipline. Scout leaders need to make those decisions.

    Lot’s of contradictory information in the chart. You can’t teach a cub scout to survive unless you can teach him how to make a fire. You can’t teach him to read a map without teaching him how to read a compass. How do you teach a cub scout pioneering without teaching him to use tools. Just like the public school system we are really dumbing down our your boys. I don’t see this program creating the astronauts and the great generals that it use to create. We need to readopt that first Boy Scout Handbook that Bayden Powell wrote to create men of character, purpose and adventure. Suspect that mMy Pack will be taking a lot of family camping trips and we will be lawyering up, I will be sending Hon. Robert Gates a note as well. Wow, the lawyers and insurance companies have taken over the BSA.

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