Swimming merit badge revised in time for summer camp

SwimmingSwimming merit badge, that Eagle-required summer camp staple, has been upgraded and revised just in time for the 2014 summer camp season.

The new requirements focus more on teaching Scouts correct stroke mechanics while continuing to emphasize basic water skills. Previous requirements like snorkeling, competitive swimming and CPR (which Scouts learn more fully in other merit badges anyway) have been removed.

With the new requirements, the goal is to teach Scouts to swim with greater ease and efficiency, as well as keep them safe in and around the water.

Scouts may use either the old or new requirements in 2014 — it’s their choice. On Jan. 1, 2015, they’ll become official, and only Scouts who have already started working with the old requirements may use the old ones.

As you know, Swimming’s an important merit badge because to earn the Eagle Scout Award, a Scout must earn either Swimming, Cycling or Hiking MB.

A revised Swimming merit badge pamphlet, with new color illustrations, will be available soon for purchase at local Scout Shops and through ScoutStuff.org.

Most summer camps will want to use the latest requirements for Swimming merit badge this summer. So the BSA decided to release those new requirements early. I’ve pasted them below.

That said, Scouts may choose to work using the old requirements, which were published earlier this year in the 2014 Boy Scout Requirements Book. Here’s how the transition will work:

  • Jan. 1, 2014 to Dec. 31, 2014: Scouts may begin or continue working on Swimming merit using either the old or new Swimming merit badge requirements. It’s the Scout’s choice.
  • Jan. 1, 2015 and beyond: Scouts who have started work using the old requirements may continue to use the old requirements. They don’t need to start over again with the new ones. However, Scouts who haven’t started at all must use the new requirements.

Speaking of …

New Swimming merit badge requirements


1. Do the following:

a. Explain to your counselor how Scouting’s Safe Swim Defense plan anticipates, helps prevent and mitigate, and provides responses to likely hazards you may encounter during swimming activities.

b. Discuss the prevention and treatment of health concerns that could occur while swimming, including hypothermia, dehydration, sunburn, heat exhaustion, heatstroke, muscle cramps, hyperventilation, spinal injury, stings and bites, and cuts and scrapes.

2. Before doing the following requirements, successfully complete the BSA swimmer test: Jump feet first into water over the head in depth. Level off and swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl; then swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke. The 100 yards must be completed in one swim without stops and must include at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, rest by floating.

3. Swim continuously for 150 yards using the following strokes in good form and in a strong manner: front crawl or trudgen for 25 yards, back crawl for 25 yards, sidestroke for 25 yards, breaststroke for 25 yards, and elementary backstroke for 50 yards.

4. Do the following:

a. Demonstrate water rescue methods by reaching with your arm or leg, by reaching with a suitable object, and by throwing lines and objects. Explain why swimming rescues should not be attempted when a reaching or throwing rescue is possible, and explain why and how a rescue swimmer should avoid contact with the victim.

b. With a helper and a practice victim, show a line rescue both as tender and as rescuer. The practice victim should be approximately 30 feet from shore in deep water.

5. Do the following:

a.   Float faceup in a resting position for at least one minute.

b.   Demonstrate survival floating for at least five minutes.

c.   While wearing a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jacket, demonstrate the HELP and huddle positions. Explain their purposes.

d.   Explain why swimming or survival floating will hasten the onset of hypothermia in cold water.

6. In water over your head, but not to exceed 10 feet, do each of the following:

a.   Use the feet first method of surface diving and bring an object up from the bottom.

b.   Do a headfirst surface dive (pike or tuck), and bring the object up again.

c.   Do a headfirst surface dive to a depth of at least 5 feet and swim underwater for three strokes. Come to the surface, take a breath, and repeat the sequence twice.

7. Following the guidelines set in the BSA Safe Swim Defense, in water at least 7 feet deep*, show a standing headfirst dive from a dock or pool deck. Show a long shallow dive, also from the dock or pool deck.

*If your state, city, or local community requires a water depth greater than 7 feet, it is important to abide by that mandate.

8. Explain the health benefits of regular aerobic exercise, and discuss why swimming is favored as both fitness and therapeutic exercise.


57 thoughts on “Swimming merit badge revised in time for summer camp

  1. I did like the clothing inflation requirement when I took the badge 45 years ago. The revisions may increase the number of scouts taking swimming followed by lifesaving.
    The requirements that were dropped are now covered in other badges.

    • So they took the clothing float out?? WE just had 5 boys do that, 1 unfortunately did not pass it. And we are trying to promote the purpose of the clothing float is , learning to calm down and use survival flloating and techniques to conserve energy until you can get your clothing off to float them. So now what, They all started to together, and all were required to do the float. the 1 boy swam all the way for it just fine, can float and do other requirements with ease. I am just shocked they took that out, as it is a truly a survival test, of learning how to use calming techniques t conserve energy if they were eer in that type of true situation…. In the end it is not about gettting your clothes to float, it is about , learning how to conserve that energy if you are out there for the long haul, and the air filled clothes are just a bonus to help you in the end….

    • The problem with that requirement is the the new scout pants have zippers therefore they can not be inflated

  2. My first thoughts were not positive. I didn’t know this was being revised. However, these requirements are much more focused, and as a Swimming MBC it certainly will help me qualify and progress more Scouts so I can work on other water related MBs with them like canoeing and kayaking. I’m not sure how realistic most of the “exercise plans” that I have read ever were anyway. These are good changes. I look forward to the new pamphlets.

  3. What I really dislike is how a Scout can earn the swimming merit badge…and still have to take an annual swimming test – as if they’ve forgotten how to swim each year. It’s kind of ridiculous.

    • I have seen that happen. More importantly, I’ve seen Scouts who haven’t exercised regularly not have the stamina to pass a swim test after having done their Swimming Merit Badge.

      Honestly, I view it the same as I view working in my woodshop: I’m glad you proved to someone else you can be safe, but this is my area and in here you are my responsibility, so I need you to prove it to me, too.

    • Since summer camps give the swimming merit badge to boys who can not swim, I see that as the reason why we need to do the swimming test every time we go swimming.

      • That is a REALLY big problem if this is occurring. IF that is the case, not only are other Scouts being cheated, the Scout receiving the MB is as well.

    • Yep. You can lose the skill, or even be coming down with an illness that’s just sneaking up on you.

      If it’s any consolation, I’ve earned BSA guard (repeatedly, over the years), mile swim every year, snorkel, etc…, and still have to take that test.

      Actually, we *get* to take the test! There’s nothing keeping a boy from not swim-testing and just doing land-based activities at camp.

    • Taking the swimmer test each year, verifies how strong a Scout is at the current time. Just because you learned a skill last year does not mean you are still as good at it.
      If a scout did little to know swimming in the past year, and just barely earned swimming the summer or two before, he may not be able to swim at a level to safely do whatever water activity the troop is doing.

    • Or if you earned the Badge in a pool and are at summer camp at a lake, you need to test that they can handle that swimming condition. The water may have a difference in temperature, elevation, or clarity that could change the results.

      • We are allowed to test out at a Y if tested by a MBC. Our troop did that regularly, because there is so much going on that first night in camp, that doing the swim test then was a pain. There’s a form that you fill out and have signed by the MBC stating the troop, names of the people taking the test (including adults), and their rank or position.

        • Not all camps allow you to pre-certify. Several I know of with cold, spring fed mountain lakes require you to take the swim test every year in the lake. Camp Daniel Boone, Camp Ottari, and Camp Powhatan require a swim test every year at camp.

      • Had that happen this week, a good swimmer in the pool, the boy panicked when he could not see bottom in the lake.

    • I earned the Swimming merit badge when I was 11. When I was 17, I had a hard time passing the swim test. Physical fitness is not a “once and done” skill.

      • YEP, the first year I did it (as an adult), I thought I was going to die. And that’s after being RAISED on the lake, swimming since before I have memories, ski and slolam ski all my life since I was 4, jet ski, and drove boats since I was 6. I thought it would be a snap.

        Well, to be honest it might have been if my vanity had not got in the way. Being my first year at camp, having gained weight, I did not want to do that in front of all those boys and men (which was ridiculous because 99% of them were married, I was married, and the rest was….well, you get the drift).

        So I didn’t put a swimsuit on. I did it in my shorts and t-shirt AND belt (and blackberry…my vanity cost me a $600 phone!) There’s a reason swimsuits are made the way they are….so you can GLIDE through the water.

    • It may not be that a Scout, or anyone else for that matter, “forgets” how to swim. But, it may be that they are no longer physically able to swim. Your assumption that everything remains the same. It is NOT ridiculous to require a swim test WHENEVER a Scout or non-Scout enters the water. Take it from someone that spent over a week in the hospital recovering from a near drowning.

  4. I like the new revision and I concur that exercise plans are problematic. I personally wish the clothing inflation requirement had remained. I know many Scouts dread it, but the confidence created from completing that requirement is amazing; and it is one Scouting memory that no one forgets as it is so unique.

    • Well, I’m glad it’s gone for one simple reason. there were many boys in our troop that did not get the badge specifically because of that requirement. Either they were too terrified to try, or could not do it. I did it with them, and I had a lot of trouble. I’ll blame it on my age, lol!

      At camp, the instructors told the boys NOT to wear jeans….to wear exercise pants, preferably the swish/swish when you walk kind. They blow up easier. So we reminded the boys BEFORE we came to camp, because most boys did not have those as a ‘need to pack’ item.

      • mariah, I don’t like thought/concept of dropping requirements because Scouts find it difficult or is terrified by it. With respect to you also having trouble, just keep in mind your inflated clothing is not going to replace wearing a PDF. Also, denim/jeans is perfectly fine for inflating; it has been done for years and years. Confidence in and around water has always been a BSA tenet and this requirement was a confidence builder. I don’t know you or your Scouts’ situation but I would hope with time, practice, and experience in and around water the confidence would be developed and thus the fear of this requirement could have been overcome, if not there was always hiking and cycling merit badge. Sadly patience seems to be a disappearing trait. These are my opinions, your mileage may vary.

  5. One concern I have is at our Summer camp we do not have a swimming pool, we have a lake. How is the requirement for diving 10 feet deep supposed to be attained in lake water where many others are swimming and stirring up sediment? Especially for a person who wears glasses and cannot see without them in pool water?
    Also the clothing requirement is the only one my son has yet to accomplish, I was hoping like the OP, that by completing this one he would gain more confidence. (he was supposed to do it next Sunday)

    • Agreed. With most lakes even with googles you can’t see more than six inches in front of you. Regarding the inflation, any guard or pool manager worth their salt will let him practice this in deep water. Let him get the mechanics down in shallow water then try it in deep. FYI, doesn’t work to well with the zip off switchbacks. Jeans aren’t the best either but that is what they will likely be wearing when they would need the skill. The important thing is that they be able to remove their clothes in deep water.

    • The body of water/visibility is irrelevant. For a scout to be confident of his ability, (more importantly for us to be confident of a scout’s ability) he has to be able to perform this skill in the environment in which his unit typically swims.

      But, generally, we do this in a deep enough portion of the aquatics area where scouts aren’t diving down and kicking up muck.

      • The body of water is relevant specifically for safety. As an Adult Leader your primary mission is their safety and adhering to Safe Swim Defense as qualified supervision. I would recommend you review your training and fully understand what is required.

        As per the Aquatics Safety Manual:

        Visibility: Underwater swimming and diving are prohibited in turbid water. Turbid water exists when a swimmer treading water cannot see his feet. Swimming at night is allowed only in areas with water clarity and lighting sufficient for good visibility both above and below the surface.

        Diving and Elevated Entry: Diving is permitted only into clear, unobstructed water from heights no greater than 40 inches…..

      • Great point, “q”. And a good swimming merit badge counselor or a good summer camp program might show and offer to help a scout with the former clothing requirement even though it is not required.

    • Hi Sharon:

      If you re-read the article, the old requirements can still be used. Since your son has already done everything in the old requirements, go ahead with the plan for him to complete the clothing requirement next Sunday and, if he is successful, he will have completed all the requirements and earned the Swimming merit badge.

    • Your summer camp lake is not exempt from Safe Swim Defense rules, which prohibits swimming underwater if visibility isn’t sufficient. So they likely DON’T dive where others are stirring up sediment. They set up a safe swim zone, control that zone, and conduct training/testing there.

      There should be nothing program-wise preventing your son from completing the current Swimming merit badge next Sunday. The new requirements don’t take effect until next year, and he probably doesn’t want to start over on them now instead of finishing the requirements he started.

  6. Personally, I would like to see the various stroke demonstration be longer than 25 yards each, or if not longer, then be actually done correctly in all legs of the total swim. Way too many scouts “barely” manage some strokes, and if asked to “proficiently” swim them even across a pool often cannot not. I realize that in the camp classes, too many laps may not be feasible if you have large groups; still, two pool lengths, or equivilent, should be doable if properly organized. The crawl is the worst, as many scouts basically refuse to put their face in the water; and you are not doing the stroke properly if you do not keep your head down and breath rhymically to one side or the other.

  7. Anyone who has ever worked a summer camp knows a previous merit badge in swimming does not mean the child/boy can still swim. Seen boys that parents bragged on sink to the bottom at the beginning of the swim test. That is why swim tests are mandatory at all camps bsa runs.

  8. Just completed safe swim min. water depth is 10-12 feet for head first diving. Or did this just change? Crew Advisor, Crew 55 Harbor Springs, MI.

  9. Ahhh!!! Change!!! Nooooo! Why can’t the BSA just keep things the way they were? Why does the BSA feel the need to “change,” “update,” “adjust,” or otherwise alter their program? It’s bad enough the society and the world around us keeps changing! The Boy Scout Handbook (and the merit badge pamphlets for that matter) should be carved into stone tablets and never ever changed ever!!! The skill of swimming hasn’t changed in thousands of years, why does the merit badge have to change? Please stop changing the program, BSA!

  10. Got a question for you all out there…

    Our Troops SM is saying that “its mandatory” for a scout to have both his Swimming MB -and- Canoeing MB before he can attend a troop “summer-camp” trip down the Colorado River??!!

    Isnt all that’s required – be that a scout pass a BSA swim test?

    • That is your troop leader’s requirement for the river trip. It is not a BSA requirement. It is perfectly acceptable for trek leaders to set prerequisites for outings. We often use an age requirement along with First Class as a prerequisite for trips because of degree of difficulty.

  11. Swimming should flat out be required for Eagle, no substitutes. It is an important life skill that may save ones life . If it were up to me hiking swimming and camping would be requirements for junior scouts to advance since they are building blocks for so many other meritbadges especially the really fun ones.

  12. Once again the BSA feels they have to achieve success through goal modification. How did so many boys for so many years make it through swimming MB by inflating their clothes? How did they ever succeed? My son had to do twice. First time was a fail. He is now Eagle. I failed my first time in a cold lake in Canada. I became an Eagle and taught it on staff at summer camp. The BSA has to learn that boys aren’t interested in easy they are interested in challenges. Being taught how to achieve difficult things and earning the bragging rights that go with it, along with the quite self confidence it builds. The whole point about the swimming MB is to learn how to swim so that you do not drown if thrown into the water for whatever reason. That is why the rest of your waterfront MBs want to know if you can swim before you take them. Learning how to stay afloat with your clothes means not drowning and learning how not to drown is a serious life skill. Granted CPR is taught elsewhere and it is good to focus on learning proper swimming techniques. But in the end confidence in the water comes from experiencing stressful situations in the water and succeeding. The clothes flotation requirement did that and should be restored.

  13. I have been a Water Safety Instructor/ Aquatics MB Counselor since 1973, and
    was “Aqua Albert”Cahill’s Assistant at NCS-NER (for those who know). At one point BSA DROPPED the Swimming Merit badge requirement for Eagle Scout. A HUGE mistake-which was acknowledged and re-instated. I still regret that Lifesaving was dropped as a required merit badge-it is what made us FAMOUS! I always tell my lifesavers that if they earn Lifesaving MB, they can be Eagles, and that it was the deal-
    breaker for many of my contemporaries in the late 60s, who were perfectly fine scouts. I ask them “What is the first thing you read in Boys Life? Ans. “A True story of Scouts in Action. And most of the stories involve water rescues.” Period. I have had dozens of former Scouts come up to me and tell me how hard the inflated clothing was, but that they gutted it out, and were PROUD of it! And that it boosted their confidence, and they know they could survive and help rescue others!! And most went on to Lifesaving MB.

    We are raising a nation of wimps and sissies, where EVERYBODY gets a trophy to boost their self-esteem, even if they came in last and can’t do the skill!!
    Such nonsense has nothing to do with real life, which is ALL about winning and losing. The boys today look at me when we chat once in a while, and ask me when I made Eagle Scout. (1969) And some of the smarter ones look knowingly and say, “It was harder then, wasn’t it?(Not really a question) And I will quietly say “Yes, but if you earn yours the right way, you will be just as proud of it as I am”. But the numbers -it used to be 1 percent. Now it’s 4 or 5% depending on the source. Big difference. The dumbing down/wimping of America.

    And I still look at an Eagle’s sash for Lifesaving MB, and if I see it, I smile and say “Lifesaving MB. A REAL Eagle Scout.”

    • -Clothes Inflation….I have also taught Swimming and Lifesaving. I think the clothes inflation requirement is a leftover from a bygone era. I don’t know too many people that hang around water in a long-sleeve button up shirt and long pants. Most likely shorts and T-shirt. Perhaps a better skill to be taught in the Navy where the uniform matches the requirement. Does the Navy teach it?

      -REAL Eagle Scout?…I think your comment belittles the badge. Eagles aren’t REAL based on what merit badges they did or did not take, they are REAL based on their attitude and commitment to the ideals of Scouting. Find the guy that is over helping his elderly neighbor or organizing a neighborhood cleanup without being asked – go call him a REAL Eagle Scout.

      -BSA Lifeguard – You didn’t mention this program. It is much better training for someone interested in being a lifeguard. What are your thoughts on it?

  14. We are a fairly large Troop and generally take 60-70 Scouts to Summer Camp. For us, the ability to pre-test saves us lots of time the first day of camp. We also take advantage of pre-testing to have knowledge of everyone’s ability for water based activities. During the pre-testing was have always taught our new Scouts the clothing inflation techniques so when they get to camp, they bang it right out while other Scouts struggle to figure it out. The confidence of doing it ahead of time with their friends makes a huge difference.

  15. Hi Bryan –

    You may want to modify your summary description of this change.


    Update released May 2014

    Note: This merit badge will become Eagle-required on Jan. 1, 2014

    It sounds like you are stating that Swimming is now unequivocally required for Eagle. Traditionally, this has not been the case as either Cycling or Hiking may be substituted.

    Can you please clarify?

  16. you’re welcome. Thanks for maintaining this blog. Its a great source of information.

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