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How do you get your Cub Scout Pack on the water in kayaks and canoes?

How to take your Cub Scouts swimming or boating

I was looking at trying to get our Pack on the water this year and I was referred to the article above. The article makes it look like we can hit the water in canoes as long as we have the right training. It does not appear to require a swim test. I just want to make certain I am correct in this. The article is a little out of date (2017).

We do have access to canoes, but many of the Pack families own kayaks. Is there a way that we can get them swim tested outside of summer camp to allow them to use their kayaks on a Pack outing? Is it possible to be swim tested by a Red Cross lifeguard at a town beach or pool?

Is there anything else I should consider aside from what is mentioned in the article when taking a Pack on the water in canoes or kayaks?

you do not Cubs are not allowed in Kayaks or canoes - they are allowed on some rafts.

Safety Afloat BSA groups shall use Safety Afloat for all boating activities. Adult leaders supervising activities afloat must have completed Safety Afloat training within the previous two years. Cub Scout activities afloat are limited to council, district, pack, or den events that do not include moving water or float trips (expeditions). Safety Afloat standards apply to the use of canoes, kayaks, rowboats, rafts, floating tubes, sailboats, motorboats (including waterskiing), and other small craft, but do not apply to transportation on large commercial vessels such as ferries and cruise ships. Parasailing (being towed airborne behind a boat using a parachute), kite-surfing (using a wakeboard towed by a kite), and unit-level recreational use of personal watercraft (small sit-on-top motorboats propelled by water jets) are not authorized BSA activities. Safety Afloat training may be obtained from my.scouting.org, at council summer camps, and at other council and district training events. Additional guidance on appropriate skill levels and training resources is provided in the Aquatics Supervision guide available from council service centers.

Also the Safety Afloat Training online lays it out better


Thank you for the help!

here is the reference - https://filestore.scouting.org/filestore/HealthSafety/pdf/680-685.pdf

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So maybe they changed it to passengers is ok - so that is a pretty big change

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Yes, I was surprised by that change as well. It used to be challenging to take even BSA Scouts (10-17 y/o) on the water back in the 1990s. The article I attached at the head of the post makes it sound as if you can not only take your Scouts in canoe with another adult without a swim test, but also that you can have them kayak if they have had a swim test. I wanted to run this by the crowd to check on this further. I am also curious if the language “expeditions” with regard to “float trips” refers to a type of boating use. Thank you for the resources and please let me know if you think of anything else.

Aquatic is a HUGE CYA activity for Units - make sure you have multiple TRAINED individuals - mine is about to expire and before THIS change. I would NEVER put a Cub (probably even a WEB) in a boat - unless I had seen them pass a Full swim test.


I appreciate the cross check. I didn’t want to base my research into water activities on one article.

On further reflection, I agree that this needs to be a deep discussion with the Pack Committee. Not only do we need to take the swimming ability into account, but the maturity and ability to accept limits of each Scout and adult. I would be more concerned for a strong swimmer who was alone in a vessel who tested limits than I would be for a weak swimmer who knew their limits and operated within them.

Well with any scouting aquatic venture - it is the Strong swimmer respecting the Weak swimmers limits that is often the issue. And the Strong swimmer being a strong rescuer - THAT is a very different skill set - I will be re-upping my safe swim defense and safety afloat this week


I thought that all Cub Scouts floated. It’s the parents that sink.
If memory serves me correctly.

Realistically, I’d want to think through what would happen if a big wave came by and tipped everything over. Would all survive, and how?
Even meeting requirements, if that isn’t a yes then don’t touch the water.


Thank you for the input (and the joke). I like your “what if the worst came the worst” thought process. Once we do that we can think of ways to mitigate the risk. I always look at risk mitigation as a graph with “likelihood” on the x axis and “severity” on the y axis. Once I follow the rules, then I need to do what can to reduce the likelihood of a severe event to as near nothing as possible. In this case, I am thinking only use waterways that are too small to allow the fetch for wind driven waves to reach any significant height and that do not allow motor vessels so there is no danger of significant wake. Still an inexperienced boater can make the mistake of standing up in a canoe and put everyone in the water. We have to plan for that eventuality.
My opinion is that the best way to reduce risk of drowning on the water is to always use(wear) properly fitted Coast Guard approved personal flotation devices. My personal favorites (for life safety, as opposed to comfort) are those with a through the groin strap so there is no danger of it sliding off over the wearer’s head. If properly worn, these devices will keep even an unconscious person afloat long enough for rescue.
Of course no one wants to get into that situation in the first place, so risk mitigation should include being willing to cancel a trip if the conditions or gear are not acceptable.
On a more amusing note, back when I was a Scout, we took a canoe trip on shallow whitewater. The water level was so low, most of us dragged our canoes for 10 miles with brief interludes of paddling. It was miserable. The only canoe that stayed afloat was the one with the youngest and thinnest Scouts who aptly named their group the “skeleton crew”.

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So the national BSA and our council made one huge marketing mistake here.

We will never take the Cubs canoeing and one the past few years they handed us recruitment brochures with a canoeing scene from somewhere like Minnesota on it. Nice photo, but tone deaf about the program.

All the good canoeing around us is on rivers. We have some of the best river canoeing in the country within 4 hours of us on half a dozen rivers. Great activity for the 11-17 program. Most the rivers are the scale that you’re not more than 10 feet from shore if you get in trouble.

Lakes and Cubs, not so much
The swim level safety factor has been well covered.

Most lakes around me worth canoeing on are also popular with speed boats and I wouldn’t take a kid who could swim well on them for that reason alone.

This is a legitimate fear with 13 year olds who have taken Lifesaving MB, let along 6-8 year olds who may have never taken swim lessons.

What I would like is a national program where councils take their canoes, when they own them, and offer a canoeing day camp at smaller lakes and have an event no wake zone defined. Show up, pay $30 and you get access to a paid staff, a meal and some time in a canoe where they have people available in a boat for rescues. Safety and fun.

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Swim ability testing can be conducted by any certified lifeguard. I recommend having two people who took Safe Swim Defense to supervise the testing. You can find the test requirements online easily enough.

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Thank you! I appreciate the help.

I agree with you regarding the power boats. There are some large lakes that I won’t go on in my own power boats due to the speed boats that are out on them that are being operated recklessly.

Read “The Guide To Safe Scouting” and “Age Appropriate Activities”
Pete Mullaney

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Donovan McNeil is 100% correct!

Correct about what? No cubs in canoes? (While that was @DonovanMcNeil’s first reply, he later amended it.)

As I understand the Age Appropriate Guidelines, older Cubs (grades 2-5) can participate in paddle sports, including canoes and Kayaks, and younger cubs (K-1) can still be “passengers”.

Specifically from the current GSS Safety Afloat section…

Cub Scout activities afloat are limited to council, district, pack, or den events that do not include moving water or float trips (expeditions).

And under swimming ability…

For activity afloat, those not classified as a swimmer are limited to multiperson craft during outings or float trips on calm water with little likelihood of capsizing or falling overboard. They may operate a fixed-seat rowboat or pedal boat accompanied by a buddy who is a swimmer. They may paddle or ride in a canoe or other paddle craft with an adult swimmer skilled in that craft as a buddy.

I believe this is a change from earlier guides that completely prohibited Cub canoeing outside of Council/District events. In fact, I think the (very dated) online training module for Safety Afloat still says this.

But I never quite understood this… back in the 80’s I did a lot of canoeing as a 1st-2nd grader in a YMCA youth program (canoeing with my dad of course). And then when I joined Cubs, we didn’t do any.

All that said, it’s really impossible to parse the guidance in the GSS and SA training. It would be nice if the guidance was clearer on what’s really required to take a bunch of families on a float or canoeing trip, especially when you’re arranging with a company or canoe club that families could just go to on their own as individuals anyway. If we make it onerous to arrange that as a Pack activity (i.e. requiring lots of lifeguards and adult swimmer tests), we’re missing the… well, boat, on what could be a fun outdoor family activity.

I do like @KevinCarlyle’s idea of councils running canoe trips or events for Packs. That’s basically what our old Y did, and would certainly help with the safety oversight.

@SageLichtenwalner yeah it is a hot mess right now it seems. Safety afloat is the same training that says verbatim “Cubs only at District, Council Events” & still the “only raft thing”. But then you look at Age appropriate chart and it says different and says at even DEN events - which is a HUGE mistake in my book.

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