Swimming Deferments for Advancement

This article appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Abilities Digest.

Swimmer short a leg

For many leaders there has always been concern when working on advancement with Scouts with special needs in aquatics. Commonly we find these Scouts terrified of water and unable to complete the swim tests at camp or the swimming merit badge itself. For whatever reasons, these Scouts will not touch the water. Your council’s advancement and special needs committees have probably assisted many leaders in finding alternatives to this conundrum. COVID-19 has given Scouts a reprieve of sorts.

BSA has posted its decision regarding swimming and advancement for all Scouts (as per scouting.org): “Swimming remains a major health and safety concern and cannot be abandoned by Scouts BSA. With that in mind, the Swimming rank requirements for Second Class (5b Demonstrate your ability to pass the BSA beginner test: Jump feet first into water over your head in depth, level off and swim 25 feet on the surface, stop, turn sharply, resume swimming, then return to your starting place) and First Class (6a Successfully complete the BSA swimmer test) may be deferred until each Scout’s next rank, as necessary (through Life, but not Eagle).

“This temporary deferment will allow Scouts to advance in rank up to, and including Life Scout, but not beyond. All other rank requirements must still be earned to advance. When conditions warrant and upon direction from the National Council, these requirements will be reinstated with 30 days’ notice to our Scouting family via Workplace, Bryan on Scouting, Scouting Wire, social media, and any other means determined appropriate.

“For clarity, the following swimming requirements can be completed on dry land and are not a hindrance to advancing:

“Second Class requirement (5c) Demonstrate water rescue methods by reaching with your arm or leg, by reaching with a suitable object, and by throwing lines and objects.
First Class requirement (6e) 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.)”

For any aquatics activities, BSA notes:Aquatic activities require current and valid swim testing for both Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat. If swim checks for these events cannot be done, then the aquatics activities cannot take place.”

This deferment for all Scouts may give you an opportunity to help those Scouts with special needs. Water terror issues may not have to be permanent. With creativity and patience Scouts can learn to tolerate, accept, and enjoy water activities. Find an instructor who is sensitive to the needs of Scouts experiencing water terrors and have him/her work with the Scout in ways acceptable to the Scout and the parent. Together, both parties may be able to help the Scout overcome his/her fear. Remember, that for Eagle required merit badges, hiking or cycling can replace swimming. This provides other opportunities to achieve rank. If it is not possible to help the Scout conquer his/her fear or sensitivity to water, an Individual Scout Advancement Plan can be written with the help of parent, Scout, educational personnel, and/or medical team. Refer to the Guide to Advancement ( for further information.