To be allowed into the water during any official Scouting function, it’s required that every scout pass the BSA Swimmer’s test. While the actual swim isn’t considered to be too difficult, there are a few common mistakes that cause a good portion of scouts to fail the BSA swim test on their first attempt. My goal is to help you pass the swim test right from the start!
When I was a scout, swimming was one of the activities that I loved the most, but I was pretty nervous when taking the BSA swimmer’s test. However, I received some advice from the older scouts that helped to make passing the swim test a breeze. You may be nervous, but don’t worry! If you’re able to swim at all, I know that with this advice, you’ll be able to pass the BSA swim test too.
Even if you’re not interested in swimming while at camp, it’s still important to pass the BSA swimmer’s test. First Class requirement 6a makes it mandatory for scouts to complete the BSA swim test so that they can finish the aquatics portion of their training and rank up. Camps are the most convenient way to fulfill this requirement.
Swimming is an incredibly valuable skill, and can even help you save a life. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the official BSA swim test. Plus, I’ll be giving you a few insider tips so you can easily pass on your first try.
If you’re also interested in completing the swimming merit badge, you can check out my full guide, which includes all of the answers to the merit badge worksheet, by clicking the link here. Now let’s dive into it!
Swimmer Classification levels of The BSA Swim Test
For the BSA Swim test, you can choose to take either the Swimmers test or the Beginners test. After attempting your selected test, there are three levels of classification you can receive. The three categories you can be grouped in are Swimmer, Beginner, or Learner (also called a non-swimmer).
You will become a Swimmer by passing the swimmer’s test, and a Beginner by passing the beginner’s test. If you are unable to pass your selected test, you will be considered a Learner and will be unable to enter most parts of the pool until you retake and pass a swim test.
Now let’s cover the requirements you’ll need to complete in order to pass both the Swimmer and Beginner swim tests.
Requirements of The BSA Swim Test
As mentioned earlier, a scout can select which test they’d like to attempt. Typically, after completing their chosen test, the Beginners will only be allowed in the shallow areas of the pool, while Swimmers will be able to swim where they please. Below are the requirements for each test.
To complete the Swimmer test, you must demonstrate the following:
- Jump feet-first into water deeper than your head, level off, and begin swimming.
- Swim 75 yards in a strong manner using one or more of the following strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl (no dog-paddle)
- Swim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke.
- After completing the swim, rest by floating for one minute.
(The 100 yards must be completed in one swim without stops and include at least one sharp turn.)
To complete the Beginner test, you must demonstrate the following:
- Jump feet-first into water deeper than one’s head, level off, then swim 25 feet on the surface.
- Turn sharply, resume swimming as before, and return to the starting place.
(Therefore, a beginner will need to swim 25 feet in each direction for a total of 50 feet.)
Learners (also called Non-Swimmers) are those who do not attempt, or cannot pass, the test required of Swimmers or Beginners. Typically, Learners will only be allowed into shallow water. However, if a scout fails their swim test, they are often able to retake their test later on during the camp.
The video below shows you how a BSA swim test should be conducted, and will also give you a quick overview of the acceptable swimming strokes. Take 3 minutes to watch it, as this clip provides some great information. After reviewing the video, continue reading for my key tips to passing the BSA swim test on your first try!
Tips For Scouts On Passing Their BSA Swim Test
When I was a scout earning my swimming merit badge, there were a few tips my troop and I discovered that made passing swim tests much easier. When I became a leader, I’d always give the following advice to new scouts trying to pass complete their BSA swimming requirements:
- Don’t get too excited: Strong swimmers sometimes fail the BSA swim test because they take off too quickly and tire themselves out right away. Take your time and breathe.
- Practice and plan: If possible, practice each stroke for a few minutes before taking the swim test. Going in with a game plan will make completing the test so much easier.
- Goggles: If you’re nervous, goggles will make this test much, much easier. Even if you need to borrow someone else’s pair, goggles will be a tremendous help if you’re not 100% confident in your swimming abilities.
- Push off correctly: When making the sharp turns at the end of the pool, be sure to give yourself time to glide in the water. This will save you energy and shorten the distance you’ll need to swim.
- Use breaststroke: The breaststroke is the easiest stroke to swim 75 yards with. The front crawl (freestyle) will usually be the most difficult.
After the swimming portion, you’ll also need to float on your back. My tip for this would be to spread your arms and keep as much air your lungs as possible. Basically, all you need to do to stay floating is not exhale completely.
If you follow each of these tips, I’m sure you’ll pass the BSA swimmer’s test with ease. If you want to be a great scout, you can even help the rest of your troop by sharing these tips with them as well. That’s the sign of an awesome leader.
For the readers who are in charge of leading and guiding your troop, know that being a good leader is as much about things you don’t do, as it is about things you do. For my best quick tips on the top 5 leadership mistakes to avoid, check out my full article here.
In the next section, I’ll be talking about the safety protocol to follow when administering the BSA swim test.
Who Can Administer a BSA Swim Test?
According to the official Scouting website, the BSA Swim test must be administered by qualified supervision. This individual is defined as a conscientious adult age 21 or older who:
- Understands and knowingly accepts responsibility for the well-being and safety of youth members in his or her care.
- Is experienced in the particular activity.
- Is confident in his or her ability to respond appropriately in an emergency.
- Is trained and committed to the nine points of BSA Safety Afloat and/or the eight points of Safe Swim Defense.
Additionally, you must have at least two other response personnel available who are solely designated to look after the safety of the swimmers. Altogether, you should maintain a ratio of at least 1:10 (rescuers to swimmers) to be present when administering the BSA swim test. At least one rescuer must be over the age of 21.
Professionally trained lifeguards, when provided by a regulated facility, will also satisfy the safety requirements. For more information, you can check out the official Scouting aquatic regulations (https://www.scouting.org/health-and-safety).
What Precautions Should Be Taken For a Safe Swim?
To ensure a safe swim, you should follow Scouting’s Safe Swim Defense plan which is aimed at creating a safe swimming environment. The plan has 8 points intended to anticipate, prevent, mitigate, and respond to potential aquatic emergencies.
In the section below, you can review the official Scouting Safe Swim Defense Plan to fully understand the precautions that should be taken to make sure that every scout is safe in the water.
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 his or her care, and who is trained in and committed to compliance with the eight points of BSA Safe Swim Defense. 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.
2. Personal Health Review
A complete health history is required of all participants as evidence of fitness for swimming activities. Forms for minors must be signed by a parent or legal guardian. Participants should be asked to relate any recent incidents of illness or injury just prior to the activity. Supervision and protection should be adjusted to anticipate any potential risks associated with individual health conditions. For significant health conditions, the adult supervisor should require an examination by a physician and consult with the parent, guardian, or caregiver for appropriate precautions.
3. Safe Area
All swimming areas must be carefully inspected and prepared for safety prior to each activity. Water depth, quality, temperature, movement, and clarity are important considerations. Hazards must be eliminated or isolated by conspicuous markings and discussed with participants.
Controlled Access: There must be safe areas for all participating ability groups to enter and leave the water. Swimming areas of appropriate depth must be defined for each ability group. The entire area must be within easy reach of designated rescue personnel. The area must be clear of boat traffic, surfing, or other nonswimming activities.
Bottom Conditions and Depth: The bottom must be clear of trees and debris. Abrupt changes in depth are not allowed in the nonswimmer area. Isolated underwater hazards should be marked with floats. Rescue personnel must be able to easily reach the bottom. Maximum recommended water depth in clear water is 12 feet. Maximum water depth in turbid water is 8 feet.
Visibility: Underwater swimming and diving are prohibited in turbid water. Turbid water exists when a swimmer treading water cannot see their 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. Water depth must be at least 7 feet. Bottom depth contours below diving boards and elevated surfaces require greater water depths and must conform to state regulations. Persons should not jump into water from heights greater than they are tall, and should jump only into water chest deep or greater with minimal risk from contact with the bottom. No elevated entry is permitted where the person must clear any obstacle, including land.
Water Temperature: Comfortable water temperature for swimming is near 80 degrees. Activity in water at 70 degrees or less should be of limited duration and closely monitored for negative effects of chilling.
Water Quality: Bodies of stagnant, foul water, areas with significant algae or foam, or areas polluted by livestock or waterfowl should be avoided. Comply with any signs posted by local health authorities. Swimming is not allowed in swimming pools with green, murky, or cloudy water.
Moving Water: Participants should be able to easily regain and maintain their footing in currents or waves. Areas with large waves, swiftly flowing currents, or moderate currents that flow toward the open sea or into areas of danger should be avoided.
Weather: Participantsshould be moved from the water to a position of safety whenever lightning or thunder threatens. Wait at least 30 minutes after the last lightning flash or thunder before leaving shelter. Take precautions to prevent sunburn, dehydration, and hypothermia.
Life Jacket Use: Swimming in clear water over 12 feet deep, in turbid water over 8 feet deep, or in flowing water may be allowed if all participants wear properly fitted, Coast Guard–approved life jackets and the supervisor determines that swimming with life jackets is safe under the circumstances.
4. Response Personnel (Lifeguards)
Every swimming activity must be closely and continuously monitored by a trained rescue team on the alert for and ready to respond during emergencies. Professionally trained lifeguards satisfy this need when provided by a regulated facility or tour operator. When lifeguards are not provided by others, the adult supervisor must assign at least two rescue personnel, with additional numbers to maintain a ratio of one rescuer to every 10 participants. The supervisor must provide instruction and rescue equipment and assign areas of responsibility as outlined in Aquatics Supervision, No. 34346. The qualified supervisor, the designated response personnel, and the lookout work together as a safety team. An emergency action plan should be formulated and shared with participants as appropriate.
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. The lookout should have a clear view of the entire area but be close enough for easy verbal communication. The lookout must have a sound understanding of Safe Swim Defense but is not required to perform rescues. The adult supervisor may serve simultaneously as the lookout but must assign the task to someone else if engaged in activities that preclude focused observation.
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. The classification tests must be renewed annually, preferably at the beginning of the season even if the Scout has earned the Swimming merit badge.
Swimmers pass this test: Jump feetfirst 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.
Beginners pass this test: Jump feetfirst into water over the head in depth, level off, and swim 25 feet on the surface. Stop, turn sharply, resume swimming, and return to the starting place.Anyone who has not completed either the beginner or swimmer tests is classified as a nonswimmer.The nonswimmer area should be no more than waist to chest deep and should be enclosed by physical boundaries such as the shore, a pier, or lines. The enclosed beginner area should contain water of standing depth and may extend to depths just over the head. The swimmer area may be up to 12 feet in depth in clear water and should be defined by floats or other markers.
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. Buddies check into and out of the area together.
Buddies are normally in the same ability group and remain in their assigned area. If they are not of the same ability group, then they swim in the area assigned to the buddy with the lesser ability.
A buddy check reminds participants of their obligation to monitor their buddies and indicates how closely the buddies are keeping track of each other. Roughly every 10 minutes, or as needed to keep the buddies together, the lookout, or other person designated by the supervisor, gives an audible signal, such as a single whistle blast, and a call for “Buddies.” Buddies are expected to raise each other’s hand before completion of a slow, audible count to 10. Buddies who take longer to find each other should be reminded of their responsibility for the other’s safety.Once everyone has a buddy, a count is made by area and compared with the total number known to be in the water. After the count is confirmed, a signal is given to resume swimming.
Rules are effective only when followed. All participants should know, understand, and respect the rules and procedures for safe swimming provided by Safe Swim Defense guidelines. Applicable rules should be discussed prior to the outing and reviewed for all participants at the water’s edge just before the swimming activity begins. People are more likely to follow directions when they know the reasons for rules and procedures. Consistent, impartially applied rules supported by skill and good judgment provide steppingstones to a safe, enjoyable outing.
For many scouts, the BSA swim test is a rite of passage and unlocks new possibilities of camping fun. Hopefully, this article has given you a good overview of what’s expected during the test and will help you complete all of the requirements with ease.
If you can pass the BSA swimmer’s test, there’s a good chance you’d also be able to earn the swimming merit badge. If you’re interested in seeing if this badge is right for you, you can click the following link to check out my complete guide to the swimming merit badge.
I hope you’re now ready to crush the BSA swimmer’s test. Know that swimming is a dangerous activity, so stay prepared, but also be sure to have fun in the water! Thanks for reading, and until next time, best of luck on your Scouting journey.