A Quick Guide To Safe Scouting: BSA Youth Protection Keys

Over the years, Scouting has become a safer setting for numerous reasons. Long gone are the days of controversy, as Scouts BSA has taken extensive measures to make the experience of Scouting less dangerous and more fun for every youth involved!

One of the most important documents that the BSA publishes is its Guide To Safe Scouting. This lengthy document covers nearly every safety concern the BSA has identified while participating in the program. However, since the Guide To Safe Scouting covers nearly every single activity you could imagine in Scouting, it’s a pretty long read.

While I’d highly recommend reading through the entire guide, in this article I’ve compiled a highlight reel of basically everything you should know about safe Scouting. You’ll learn the safety measures that the BSA takes, understand the required forms to complete, and get prepared to have an even safer time with your troop!

BSA Youth Protection

First off, let’s talk about one of the most important aspects of safe Scouting – youth protection. While you can do everything to protect a Scout from the dangers of outdoor activities, in rare circumstances the danger can lie in other Scouts or adult leaders. 

Below, I’ll list some of the key points in this part of the Guide To Safe Scouting. However, the full document goes into much greater detail. You can think of this section as a brief overview of the most important rules that every troop should follow, no matter the activity.

Scout Supervision and the Buddy System

There are some pretty important rules when it comes to adult supervision and enforcing the buddy system. This is for the protection of the Scout, and the adult leader as well. Below, are some main points and a brief explanation of each:

  • Accommodations (Tenting Rules)
    • Both male and female adults, as well as male and female youth, are not allowed to tent together (except in the case of married spouses).
    • Scouts must not have more than a 2-year age difference when tenting together.
    • Outside of Cub Scouting, youth and adults must tent separately.
  • Supervision
    • Adult supervisors should be at least 21 years old.
    • For every event, there should be two registered adult leaders.
    • One-on-one contact between an adult and a Scout, whether during official troop activities or not, is prohibited.
  • The Buddy System
    •  Using the buddy system, Scouts are paired together, monitor each other, and alert leadership if either buddy needs assistance or is missing.
    • Buddies should generally be around the same ability level and age.
  • Two-Deep Leadership
    • Ensure no one-on-one contact between an adult and a youth.
    • Instead, there must always be 2 or more adults present with 1 Scout, or 2 or more Scouts present with one adult.
    • Additionally, the presence of at least two adults is required to conduct any BSA outing. 

These are the primary policies that ensure a safe Scouting environment. By following these measures, adults and Scouts can help stop the abuses that have ruined lives and made Scouting an unsafe environment in times past.

To sum up this section, abuse is taken very seriously in Scouting. There are numerous safety measures put in place, such as background checks for leaders, mandatory Youth Protection trainings, and even a thorough reporting process for all incidents. Later in this guide, we will cover “mandated reporting” by BSA.

Scout Aquatics Safety

Scouts participate in a lot of aquatic activities. Whether it’s swimming, boating, or fishing, there are some important safety precautions that every troop and patrol should take to prevent injury. Dangers are ever present in the water, and Scouts should always be aware of this.

Below, I’ll go over some of the key points made within the Guide to Safe Scouting, but I encourage you to revisit the document to better understand these points. Scouts will have to participate in several aquatic safety talks that will reiterate much of what we’re about to go over.

Supervision in the Water

While a pretty simple concept, supervision is extremely important when Scouts are participating in aquatic activities. The BSA’s essential safety requirements are covered in this article, but most decisions on safety are determined by one’s troop. It’s up to your troop’s adult leaders to decide who can supervise.

Any aquatic supervisor must fulfill these requirements:

  • A registered adult leader over the age of 21.
  • Experience in the aquatic activity taking place.
  • Trained in BSA Safety Afloat or Safe Swim Defense.

It’s extremely important that adults who are supervising an aquatic activity attend either BSA Safety Afloat or Safe Swim Defense training. The training will provide crucial skills to leaders that will prepare them if something goes wrong on the water.

Safe Swim Defense

Safe Swim Defense is the guideline created by the BSA to help troops identify hazards in the water before they start to swim. The points outlined in the guideline are required for several merit badges, such as the Swimming badge.

Safety Afloat

When participating in any boating trip in Scouting, you’re expected to follow the BSA’s Safety Afloat principles. Much of this is common sense, but Safety Afloat should be practiced and reviewed before every aquatic outing. 

Scuba Diving

Scuba diving is a much more intense aquatic activity that comes with a lot of risk. While scuba diving is fun, you must take many precautions to ensure that you and your Scouts will be safe in the water. The Guide to Safe Scouting has a lot of information on this topic, but I’ll go over a couple some main points:

  • Training
    • While enjoying a scuba activity, every Scout must be supervised by someone who is certified by a recognized agency.
  • Age Restrictions
    • No Cub Scout is allowed to dive.
    • 40-foot depth limit for Scouts under 12.
    • 60-foot depth limit for Scouts ages 12-14.
    • Every Scout under 15 must be assigned a certified adult supervisor.
  • Medical Restrictions
    • Scouts with certain medical conditions are not allowed to scuba. This includes conditions like ear and sinus problems, recent surgery, and asthma. I’d suggest reading the BSA Safe Scouting section if your troop plans to go scuba diving (page 11).

The above points are a brief overview of what’s in Safe Scouting’s full guide but should give you a solid understanding of what the BSA expects during scuba activities. The BSA takes safety very seriously, so troops should ensure that these guidelines are strictly enforced.

Scout Camping Safety

Most outings in Scouts BSA will involve camping. As a Scout, you’ll become quickly accustomed to camping and all that comes with it. While a fun activity, there are plenty of hazards that the BSA wants you to be aware of before participating in any camping trip. 

Cub Scout Camping

Camping as a BSA Scout and camping as a Cub Scout are two very different experiences. As a Cub Scout, parents and adults will take care of most of the difficult setup work. However, as a BSA Scout, you’ll be in charge of all aspects of setting up and breaking down camp. Below, I’ll list the most important camp safety details outlined in the guide to safe Scouting (page 21):

  • Cub Scouts can tent with parents.
  • At least one leader must be present who is current in Hazardous Weather Training.
  • Youth who are not registered in the unit may not accompany a troop camping.
  • Webelos are allowed to attend on their own only if two registered leaders are present.

As you can see, these are pretty simple rules, but important ones. These were put into place alongside the BSA’s Youth Protection policies to ensure Cub Scouts are safe on their outings.

Camping Hazards and Precautions

There are two major hazards BSA wants you to be aware of when camping, trees and the weather. No matter where you are, these two hazards can be a problem. Here are some key things you need to look out for:

  • Trees
    • When you are finding an ideal campsite, look out for dead trees or trees with dead limbs hanging overhead. If one of these limbs or trees falls on a tent, it could lead to serious injury.
  • Lightning
    • If you ever hear thunder when outside, find shelter! According to the CDC, the chances of being struck by lightning are higher in open and elevated areas. Wait 30 minutes after the last roar of thunder before resuming activities.

These are basic rules, but important to keep in mind. Scouts will frequently cover this material when completing merit badges.

Scout Medical Information And First Aid

Rather than instructing Scouts on how to do first aid, this section will cover measures taken by the BSA to mitigate health-related risks. Below, I’ll go over some of the most major concerns.

Scout Health And Medical Records

Before participating in any Scouting activity, Scouts must first complete a few medical forms. This is to ensure they have no prior conditions that could increase their risks during Scouting. Factors like allergies, chronic ailments, medications, and physical fitness are taken into account.

Here are some of these requirements:

  • Informed consent, release agreement, and authorization
    • This must be completed before your Scout participates in any activity. These forms should be updated annually and signed by parents and Scouts.
  • Health History
    • Also updated annually, this will be required by every Scout.
  • Physical
    • Physicals are only required if your Scout plans on participating in any outing that is over 72 hours long, such as NYLT or Summer camp (page 27).
    • These only need to be updated annually.

Different trips will also require specific information, which your Scoutmaster will inform you of. The full Guide to Safe Scouting includes more detailed information about certain health conditions and medications, so you’ll definitely want to read section V when joining a troop for the first time.

Immunizations and Vaccinations

Only a few immunizations are required by the BSA, but they do recommend several more. Remember, every Scout is required to get the Tetanus, MMR, chicken pox, and polio vaccine before participating. Other vaccinations are encouraged, but they won’t be required to participate in any event.

First Aid Trainings

CPR and Wilderness First Aid certifications are highly recommended by the BSA. Some outings will even require these trainings in order to participate, such as high adventure camps like Sea Base or Philmont Scout Ranch. The BSA does, at times, offer these trainings within their program, and I definitely recommend that you take them.

Risk Assessment

There are some risks that the BSA needs you to be aware of so that it can be mitigated before an outing commences. Several outdoor activities are prohibited within Scouts and could lead to serious punishment.

Below I’ll list a few banned activities, and some BSA recommendations for planning outings (page 35):

Prohibited Activities In Scouts BSA

Some activities have been deemed too risky for any Scout-related outing. While the list is rather lengthy, I’ll talk about a few of the major ones. If you have a question about an activity, I suggest you read their health and safety page before participating. The banned activities include:

  • Anything that breaks the Scouter Code of Conduct
  • Anything that does not comply with safety regulations
  • Activities related to climbing that fail to comply with Climb on Safely and Belay On.
  • Use of hang gliders, ultralights, experimental aircrafts, nontethered hot-air balloons, or any other flying outside of commercial flights.
  • Motorized vehicles used as programs or activities—including all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), off-road vehicles, and motor boats.
  • Shooting outside of sanctioned events
  • Extreme sports such as parkour, cliff diving, whitewater paddling on rapids rated Class V or above, tree climbing, rodeo, bungee jumping, etc.
  • Using or selling fireworks.
  • Use of accelerants, chemicals, or pyrotechnics to start fires or in ceremonies. 
  • Burning any solid, liquid, gel, or gas fuel in a tent—including tents or teepees that feature or support stoves or fires.

There is also a much more extensive list in section VII of the Guide to Safe Scouting that I suggest you read. It covers all of the prohibited activities that could put your troop and Scouts at risk.

Scouts BSA Activity Planning

The Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” and that’s especially important when planning any activity. Before you go, you want to be aware of the risks of an outing, no matter how small. The BSA has two major documents covering activity planning: Program Hazard Analysis and Safety PAUSE.

These documents are important for both Scouts and adult leaders. I suggest reading them before your next outing so you can plan accordingly.

The SAFE Checklist

The SAFE Checklist is a simple list created by the BSA to help assess activities for any safety concerns.  Here are some important points from SAFE:

  • Supervision
    • There should always be trustworthy and registered supervision at any event.
  • Assessment
    • Risk assessment should always take place during planning to ensure the safety of all Scouts.
  • Fitness and Skill
    • Health records should always be reviewed before allowing a Scout to participate in a risky activity.
  • Equipment and Environment
    • Appropriate equipment should be provided to Scouts for each outing.

Before you go on any trip, you should always go through the SAFE Checklist. Scouting is all about having fun, but you must keep safety in mind. Evaluating every risk before you leave helps create a safe and exciting environment for Scouts and adults participating.

Scouts BSA Insurance

Insurance is extremely important for any troop. Having insurance provides protection against injuries or any damage to the property incurred during Scouting. The Guide to Safe Scouting section IX includes useful information on when you might need insurance and what it can cover.

The BSA suggests that registered and unregistered adults get Comprehensive General Liability Insurance. This will cover adults who are supervising Scouts, transportation of Scouts, and watercraft activities. However, this insurance is just for adult leaders, not Scouts.

The BSA also requires Automobile Liability Insurance for any vehicle used in a Scouting activity. There are also some optional insurance policies, such as Accident and Sickness Coverage for Scouts and Scouters, which is good to have in case of an emergency.

Transportation Safety

Scouts will require transportation to and from events or meetings on a regular basis. Before transporting a Scout, it’s important to understand the BSA’s guidelines on transportation within a Scout setting. There are some specific rules that I suggest you familiarize yourself with before transporting a Scout.

The BSA also enforces the Scouter Code of Conduct. This ensures that adult leaders behave in a respectable and forthright way. Points include following youth protection, avoiding alcohol during Scouting events, and acting in a clean manner.  This is one of the most important Scouting documents, so if you’re a Scouting volunteer I’d suggest giving it a read.

BSA Incident Reporting

We’ve gone over some of the incidents possible within a Scouting setting. Now we’ll cover how to report them. 

If you have witnessed or been involved in a Scouting incident, it’s your obligation to report it in a timely manner. Reporting incidents is what keeps Scouting safe for everyone involved.

The BSA’s website has several incident reporting tools depending on what happened. Below, I’ll link to each:

Once you’ve used the reporting tool to document what happened in detail, you must promptly submit it to your council. If you’re unsure of your council, you can use the BSA’s council locator. Hopefully, you’ll never need to fill out one of these forms, but things can happen. However, if an incident occurs, you’re now prepared to report it so your council can respond accordingly!


The BSA has made great strides in increasing the safety and well-being of all participants. The Guide to Safe Scouting serves as a comprehensive resource, covering essential aspects such as youth protection, aquatics, camping, first aid, and more. It also emphasizes the importance of adult supervision, the buddy system, and two-deep leadership – ensuring the safety of every Scout. 🙂

Thanks so much for reading, and for making our world a better place through your involvement in Scouting! If you enjoyed learning about safe Scouting and youth protection, I’d highly recommend also checking out any of the following articles if they spark your interest:

By following these measures and embracing a culture of preparedness, Scouts can enjoy the thrill of Scouting while staying safe, having fun, and creating epic memories! Now, that’s all for this article. Until next time, I’m wishing you all the best on your Scouting journey!


I'm constantly writing new content because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making our world a better place. Until next time, I'm wishing you all the best on your journey to Eagle and beyond!

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