The Swimming Merit Badge: Your Ultimate Guide In 2020


If you’re confident in your ability to not drown, the Swimming merit badge might be perfect for you! This Eagle-required badge is typically completed during summer camps, or as a troop activity, and requires a certified lifeguard’s supervision. In this guide, I’m mainly going to be briefing you on all of the answers for the informational aspects of this badge — No way can I teach you how to swim over the internet!

Out of the three options that count for Eagle: Swimming, Hiking, and Cycling, the Swimming merit badge is definitely the fastest to earn — if you have the location and supplies for it. If you’re considering earning any of the other badges though, check out my article answering the question, should I complete the Swimming, Hiking or Cycling merit badge for Eagle Rank.

If you’re still set on completing the Swimming merit badge, keep reading! I’ll be breaking down the answers to each of the knowledge requirements for the worksheet in this guide, as well as giving you some pointers to more easily earn this badge.

Before we get started, if you have other Eagle-required merit badges to earn, I’d recommend checking out my Difficulty Ranking Guide to Every Eagle-required Badge. There, you’ll also find the links to my other merit badge guides, as well as a description and summary of each badge’s requirements. I’m certain this resource will be helpful to scouts on their road to Eagle!

Also, remember that ScoutSmarts should just serve as your starting point for merit badge research. In school, we’re taught not to plagiarize, and the same is true for Scouting worksheets. Answer these questions in your own words, do further research, and I promise you’ll gain much more from every merit badge you earn!

Remember that, while swimming, safety is key. Although this is a fun badge to complete, many people have been injured while swimming. Treat any activity around water very seriously, and you’ll be able to keep yourself and your friends safe!

Now that you know what you’re getting into, let’s dive (haha :P) right into answering the requirements so that you can start earning your Swimming merit badge!

What Are The 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 face up 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.

To summarize, you’ll need to actually swim in a lifeguard-supervised body of water to complete requirements 2-7 of this badge. If you need to review these skills beforehand though, don’t worry! In this guide, I’ll also be providing you with the best online tutorial videos so you can better learn these important swimming and survival techniques!

By using these videos as a review before your swimming test, you’ll be prepared to demonstrate your knowledge to your merit badge counselor. Now that you understand how best to use this guide, let’s jump right into answering the knowledge requirements so that you can quickly complete the worksheet and earn your very own Swimming merit badge!

Do the following:
1a) 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.

Scouting’s Safe Swim Defense plan is aimed at identifying and preventing possible hazards in aquatic conditions. By creating a safe swimming environment beforehand (Preparation) using points 2 (Personal Health Review), 3 (Safe Area), and 8 (Discipline), you do everything possible, beforehand, to ensure a safe swim.

To help mitigate (Prevent) possible hazards during a swim, points 1 (Qualified Supervision), 6 (Ability Groups), and 7 (Buddy System) help to provide more awareness and preparation, should an emergency occur. Finally, to Respond to hazards, rely on points 4 (Lifeguard Response Personel) and 5 (Lookouts).

Now that you know what groups each of these points fall under (Preparation, Prevention, and Response), take the time to read through the actual BSA Safe Swim Defense plan below:

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: Participants should 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.

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. 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.

8. Discipline
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.

Scouting Official Safe Swim Defense Guidelines, December 2019

By following Scouting’s Safe Swim Defense Plan, not only do you reduce the likelihood of possible injuries, you also improve your group’s ability to react to emergencies. Because of the danger involved in any aquatic activity, it’s crucial to always go in with a plan and prepare for any dangers that might arise. Always bring a first aid kit, as it can be used to treat some of the injuries described in section 1b.

1b) 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.

Hypothermia

Hypothermia is caused by one’s core body temperature falling below 95°F. While symptoms of mild hypothermia include shivering and confusion, in more dangerous cases the victim will not have enough energy to continue shivering and may fall unconscious. 

If you notice someone is experiencing hypothermia, immediately warm them using extra clothing, fire, or through body heat. Do not suddenly re-warm the victim by placing them in a hot shower, as this could lead to rewarming shock.

Dehydration

Dehydration occurs when the body does not consume enough water. Some symptoms of dehydration include a flushed face, lack of sweat, or feeling of weakness. This is a potentially fatal condition that can result in lowered blood pressure, dizziness, and fainting. To treat dehydration, encourage the victim to rest and replenish their body with water and electrolytes. Hydrate the victim slowly, avoiding drastic rehydration.

Sunburn

Sunburns are caused by prolonged sun exposure. The affected areas will become sensitive to touch, appear red, and may blister. To avoid sunburns, always apply sunscreen SPF 30 or higher when outdoors, and try to avoid being in direct sunlight for extended periods of time. When swimming, make sure that your sunblock is water-resistant, and try to reapply it every hour.

To treat a sunburn, you can cool the skin with a damp towel or apply a soothing aloe vera lotion. Remember to keep the victim hydrated, and have them refrain from picking at the burn, should it begin peeling later on. Sunburns should take no longer than 2 weeks to heal.

Heat Exhaustion

There are two main types of heat exhaustion:

  • Water depletion: Characterized by thirst, headache, a feeling of weakness, and loss of consciousness.
  • Sodium depletion: characterized by vomiting, muscle cramps, and dizziness.

Heat exhaustion can progress into heat stroke, and should not be taken lightly. If you suspect that someone is suffering from heat exhaustion, immediately get them into a cool area to rest. Have them drink plenty of fluids and take a cool shower. They may be sensitive to high temperatures for a few days afterward.

Heatstroke

Heatstroke is caused when one’s body temperature exceeds 104°F. If untreated, heatstroke can lead to seizures, confusion, loss of consciousness and even a coma. Common symptoms of a heat stroke are throbbing headaches, dizziness, a lack of sweating despite warm weather, or a feeling of weakness. 

If you suspect someone of having heatstroke, immediately call 911. Sit them down in a cool, shady area, and try to lower their body temperature. To prevent heat exhaustion and heatstroke, stay hydrated, wear sun protection and refrain from strenuous activity at the warmest time of day.

Muscle Cramps

Cramps are caused by sudden, involuntary contractions in a muscle. While these spasms tend to subside in a matter of minutes, they can cause significant pain and impairment. 

Exercise extreme caution if you are swimming and are stricken by a cramp, as the pain may cause you to panic and possibly drown. Muscle cramps are usually caused by a lack of water and electrolytes. By taking deep breaths and gently massaging the cramped area, you can reduce some of the pain.

Hyperventilation

Hyperventilation is caused by breathing too quickly which depletes one’s body of carbon dioxide. Also called over-breathing, hyperventilation can lead to feelings of lightheadedness, a tingling sensation in one’s extremities, and may even cause the victim to faint.

If you notice someone is hyperventilating in the water, try to give them something buoyant to hold on to. Do not approach a drowning person if they are flailing around, as, in their panic, they will likely pull you under as well. The best thing to do is to wait until they settle then pull them out as quickly as possible and proceed with standard rescue procedures.

Hyperventilation can result from a variety of situations such as anxiety, severe pain, heavy physical exertion, panic attacks, or infections in the lungs. To treat hyperventilation, have the victim breathe slowly, either through pursed lips or into a paper bag. Bouts of hyperventilation should last no longer than 30 minutes, so seek medical attention if the victim still hasn’t recovered by this time.

Spinal Injury

A spinal injury can result in damage to the brain and nervous system. These types of injuries can be life-threatening to the victim and are impossible to treat in the field. However, to keep their injury from becoming worse, make sure the victim remains absolutely still with their neck and back immobilized. If needed, hold their head in place in a slightly inclined or neutral position. Do not move the victim unless they are in immediate danger.

To identify this type of injury, look for signs of swelling and broken bones in the head or spine. If the victim is conscious, examine them for signs of confusion, inability to remember basic facts, lightheadedness, slurred speech, or uneven people dilation. If they exhibit any of these symptoms or have fallen from a height above their own head, assume that a head, neck or back injury has occurred.

Stings and Bites

In most cases, a sting or bite will not warrant a medical emergency. These wounds should be washed with soap and water, and treated with an antihistamine (Benadryl) to reduce itching. However, for some people with allergies, stings and bites can trigger anaphylactic reactions that have the potential to be deadly.

Be ready to call emergency services if the victim has difficulty breathing, facial swelling, nausea, a feeling of faintness, or a rapid heartbeat. If possible, use an EpiPen on them. If there is no EpiPen available, they can also be temporarily treated with an antihistamine.

Cuts and Scrapes

Cuts and scrapes have a high risk of infection, so always be sure to thoroughly clean your hands before administering first aid. In the case of extensive blood loss, you’ll want to prevent further bleeding by applying pressure to the wound and not removing any of the applied bandages.

If the cut or scrape is minor, you’ll want to clean the wound with water and wash around the affected area with soap. Avoid putting soap directly into the wound! After cleaning the area, apply some antibiotic ointment and a bandage over the injury. If the wound is deep, you should also consider getting a tetanus shot, as deep cuts and scrapes have the potential to quickly become infected.

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.

Your merit badge instructor should walk you through the techniques necessary to complete the following requirements. However, as a scout planning to earn your Eagle rank, it’s your job to always be prepared.

Quickly review the following short videos in each section to become familiar with the swimming techniques you’ll need to demonstrate. If you haven’t yet completed the BSA swimmer’s test, you can also check out my full guide by clicking here.

BSA Swimmer Test (3:00)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T1CUclxi6Rg

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.

Take 10 minutes to quickly watch these videos so that you can be sure you’re using the proper form while swimming. I’ve taken the liberty of finding the shortest, most effective videos to brief you on proper swimming techniques, so I’d recommend coming back to this page if you ever need another refresher!

How to do the Front Crawl (2:28)
Front Crawl (2:28)
How to do the Back Crawl (1:43)
Back Crawl (1:43)
How to do the Sidestroke (2:59)
Sidestroke (2:59)
How to do the Breaststroke (1:38)
Breaststroke (1:38)
How to do the Elementary Backstroke (0:49)
Elementary Backstroke (0:49)
Do the following:
4a) 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.

This requirement is the same as Second Class requirement 5c. Here’s a great video that demonstrates useful life-saving skills:

Reaching and Throwing Water Rescue Methods (2:51)

4b) 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.

Line Water Rescue Methods (1:47)

Do the following:
5a) Float face up in a resting position for at least one minute

Floating on Your Back (3:59)

5b) Demonstrate survival floating for at least five minutes.

Survival Floating (3:41)

5c) While wearing a properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard–approved life jacket, demonstrate the HELP and huddle positions. Explain their purposes.

HELP and Huddle Positions (3:07)

5d) Explain why swimming or survival floating will hasten the onset of hypothermia in cold water.

When in water that’s colder than your natural body temperature, you will quickly expend energy trying to stay warm. As the water around you that’s heated by your body is constantly moved away by natural currents, you will find yourself unable to stay warm. If you find yourself in this situation, your best option will be to get out of the cold water as quickly as possible.

Swimming or survival floating will cause you to lose energy very quickly. Once you’re out of energy, hypothermia will set in. Therefore, the best tactic for survival in cold water is to use any clothing you have to remain buoyant and keep warm. Once you’re out of immediate danger, await rescue near a large object if there are no nearby landmasses in sight.

In water over your head, but not to exceed 10 feet, do each of the following:
6a) Use the feet first method of surface diving and bring an object up from the bottom.
6b) Do a headfirst surface dive (pike or tuck), and bring the object up again.
6c) 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.

Surface Dive Techniques (3:15)

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.)

Standing Headfirst Dive (1:04)

To do a long shallow dive, simply do the above dive pushing outward so that you remain shallow in the water throughout the dive. Technically, there is no real definition of a ‘long shallow dive,’ but this is what I’ll assume the BSA meant. I’m not sure what I needed to do to complete this requirement.

With this, there’s only one last requirement between you and your new Swimming merit badge!

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

Frequent aerobic exercise can lead to many health benefits such as increased stamina, decreased stress, and an overall boost to your vitality. However, many types of physical activity can strain or otherwise harm your body. Swimming provides a great option for regular exercise, as being in the water means that your joints do not bear the burden of your weight! This reduces the likelihood of any accidental strains.

There are also many different types of activities you can do while swimming. From intensive sports like water polo to restful types of exercise like Water Zumba and even scuba diving, swimming offers you a pathway to participate in many fun kinds of aquatic activities!

Conclusion

Congratulations! If you’ve made it this far, that means you’re practically qualified to earn your swimming merit badge. If you still have to take your swim test, good luck! By reviewing the videos I’ve included, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble finishing the requirements.

Being a strong swimmer will be incredibly valuable if you want to be prepared to help others. In addition to the lifesaving skills you’ve learned in this merit badge, first aid will also be useful for saving victims in aquatic accidents. If you haven’t yet earned your first aid merit badge, I’d recommend you also check out my complete guide to the first aid merit badge here.

Thanks for reading along! If you liked my guide, please share it with your friends to help them along in their Scouting journey as well. Bookmark Scoutsmarts.com and check back regularly, as I’m always putting out new merit badge guides and articles to help you succeed in Scouting! 

Until next time, I’m wishing you all the best 🙂

Cole

I'm constantly writing new content because I believe in Scouts like you! Thanks so much for reading, and for making this 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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