Safety Afloat

Safety Afloat has been developed to promote boating and boating safety and to set standards for safe activity afloat. Before a group may engage in an excursion, expedition, or trip on the water (canoe, raft, sailboat, motorboat, rowboat, tube, or other craft), adult leaders for such activity must complete Safety Afloat training.

  1. Qualified Supervision
    • Adult 21 years old (supervisor 21, other 18, ratio of 1 adult to 10 youth)
    • Experienced and qualified in watercraft skills and equipment
    • Trained in Safety Afloat and Safe Swim Defense
    • One trained lifeguard certified in CPR recommended

  2. Physical Fitness
    • Present evidence of fitness with a health history from a physician, parent, or legal guardian
    • Supervisor should anticipate potential risks associated with health conditions and require an examination by a physician where needed.
    • Youth with physical disabilities can enjoy and benefit from aquatics if the disabilities are known and necessary precautions taken.

  3. Swimming Ability
    A person who has not been classified as a "swimmer" may ride as a passenger in a rowboat or motorboat with an adult "swimmer" or in a canoe, raft, or sailboat with an adult certified as a lifeguard or a lifesaver by a recognized agency. In all other circumstances, the person must be a swimmer to participate in an activity afloat. "Swimmers" must pass the swimmer test. (See Aquatic Safety in Safety First Learning for Life Guidelines.) This qualification test should be renewed annually.
  4. Personal Flotation Equipment
    Properly fitted U.S. Coast Guard-approved personal flotation devices (PFDs) must be worn by all persons engaged in activity on the open water (rowing, canoeing, sailing, boardsailing, motorboating, waterskiing, rafting, tubing, and kayaking). Type II and III PFDs are recommended.
  5. Buddy System All activity afloat must adhere to the principles of the buddy system. (See Buddy System, Aquatic Safety, in Safety First Learning for Life Guidelines.)
  6. Skill Proficiency
    All participants in activity afloat must be trained and experienced in watercraft-handling skills, safety, and emergency procedures.
    1. For a unit activity on white water, all participants must complete special training by an aquatics instructor or qualified white-water specialist.
    2. Powerboat operators must be able to
      1. Demonstrate correct first aid for injuries or illnesses that could occur while motorboating, including hypothermia, heatstroke, heat exhaustion, dehydration, sunburn, insect stings, tick bites, blisters, and hyperventilation.
      2. Do the following:
        1. Identify the conditions that must exist before performing CPR on a person. Explain how such conditions are recognized.
        2. Demonstrate proper technique for performing CPR using an approved training device.
      3. Before doing the following requirements, successfully complete the swimmer test (See Aquatic Safety in Safety First Learning for Life Guidelines.)
      4. Demonstrate knowledge of safety laws for motorboating:
        1. Have a permit to run a motorboat, if needed.
        2. Explain state laws affecting pleasure boating.
        3. Discuss how the hazards of weather and heavy water conditions can affect both safety and performance in motorboating.
        4. Discuss the nautical rules of the road and describe national and state aids to navigation.
        5. Explain and show the correct use of equipment required by both state and federal regulations to be carried aboard a motorboat.
        6. Explain the requirement on federal and state ventilation rules and state why this is needed.
      5. Show correct procedures for the following:
        1. Boarding a boat
        2. Fueling and checking the motor before starting
        3. Starting the motor and getting under way from a dock or beach
        4. Running a straight course for a quarter mile, making right-angle turns to the left or right, and making a U-turn
        5. Stopping the boat, dropping and raising anchor, and getting underway.
        6. Coming alongside a dock and tying up or beaching
      6. Show how to
        1. Tie up or take the boat from the water
        2. Store gear
        3. Prepare the motor for the winter
      7. Except for white-water and powerboat operation as noted above, either a minimum of three hours' training and supervised practice or meeting requirements for "basic handling tests" is required for all float trips or open-water excursions using unpowered craft.

    3. Planning
      1. Float Plan. Know exactly where the unit will put in, where the unit will pull out, and precisely what course will be followed. Determine all stopover points in advance. Estimate travel time with ample margins to avoid traveling under time pressures. Obtain accurate and current maps and information on the waterway to be traveled, and discuss the course with others who have made the trip under similar seasonal conditions. (Preferably an adult member of the group should run the course before the trip.)
      2. Local Rules. Determine which state and local laws or regulations are applicable. If private property is to be used or crossed, obtain written permission from the owners. All rules must be strictly observed.
      3. Notification. The float plan must be filed with the parents of participants and a member of the committee. For any activity using canoes on running water, the float plan must be filed with the local service center. Notify appropriate authorities, such as the U.S. Coast Guard, state police, or park personnel, when their jurisdiction is involved. When the group returns from this activity, people given the float plan should be notified.
      4. Weather. Check the weather forecast just before setting out; know and understand the seasonal weather pattern for the region; and keep an alert "weather eye." Imminent rough weather should bring all ashore immediately.
      5. Contingencies. Planning must anticipate possible emergencies or other circumstances that could force a change in the original plan. Identify and consider all such circumstances in advance so that appropriate contingency plans can be developed.

    4. Equipment
      All equipment must be suited to the craft, to the water conditions, and to the individual; must be in good repair; and must satisfy all state and U.S. Coast Guard requirements. To the extent possible, carry spare equipment. On long trips or when spare equipment is not available, carry repair materials. Have appropriate rescue equipment available for immediate use.
    5. Discipline
      All participants should know, understand, and respect the rules and procedures for safe unit activity afloat. The applicable rules should be presented and learned prior to the outing and should be reviewed for all participants.

    Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs)

    Only U.S. Coast Guard-approved equipment (Types I, II, or III) is acceptable for use in Learning for Life aquatics. Ski belts are not acceptable. Youth and unit leaders should learn which type is appropriate for each specific circumstance and how to wear it and check for proper fit.

    Water Clarity

    Swimming activity in turbid water should be limited to surface swimming. Turbid water exists when a 12-inch white disk at the depth of 3 feet is not visible from above the surface of the water. Underwater swimming, headfirst entry (except for racing dives), and board diving are not permitted in turbid water. Supervised instruction in lifesaving skills and surface diving may be conducted in confined areas of turbid water not exceeding 8 feet in depth and free of bottom hazards.

    Snorkeling and scuba skills are taught and practiced only in clear water. Clear water exists when a 12-inch white disk at a depth of 8 feet is visible from above the surface of the water.


    Lifeguard training has been established to provide posts with qualified individuals within their own membership to give knowledgeable supervision for activities on or in the water. The first standard in the Safe Swim Defense and Safety Afloat guidelines establishes a need for qualified supervision. An adult currently trained as a lifeguard or an adult leader assisted by a youth holding lifeguard training meets this requirement. To enroll in the Learning for Life lifeguard course, you must be at least 14 years of age or have completed the eighth grade. Contact your local Learning for Life office for the latest requirements for lifeguard training. Every leader is encouraged to become trained or to ensure that at least one youth or adult member has this training.


    Swimming areas should be large enough to avoid crowding (minimum of 40 square feet per swimmer). Note the following in accordance with Safe Swim Defense rules. Mark off the area for three groups: not more than 3.5 feet deep for nonswimmers; from shallow water to just over the head for beginners; deep water not more than 12 feet for swimmers.

    Diving and Elevated Entry

    "Diving" refers to any water entry where the feet are not making first contact with the water. "Elevated entry" refers to any water entry from a height more than 18 inches above the water. According to Safety Afloat standards, no diving or swimming activity of any kind is done in water with a depth greater than 12 feet.

    All water entry must be feetfirst where the water has less than 7 feet of unobstructed depth. A leaping entry is recommended where water is at or above head level; a step-down or jump-down entry from a sitting position is recommended for shallower water.

    No diving is permitted in water with less than 7 feet of unobstructed depth. Diving is permitted in clear water over 7 feet deep from a dock, pier, or platform that is no more than 18 inches above the water surface. For elevated entry from 18 inches high but less than 40 inches above the water surface, clear and unobstructed water depth must be at least 9 feet. The water must be clear enough to enable supervisory and guard personnel to see the diver at the deepest part of the plunge.

    Board diving is permitted only from boards, mounted on a fixed (not floating) platform or deck, no more than 40 inches (approximately 1 meter) above the water surface. Clear water depth below the board should be 9 feet to 12 feet. A guard or supervisor should be positioned where the diver can be seen at all times beneath the surface. There should be no other surface or underwater activity or obstruction for at least 15 feet on either side of the board and 25 feet in front of the board. Diving should always be done straight ahead from the board, never to the sides.

    Any elevated entry from a height greater than 40 inches must be feetfirst and only from a fixed platform or solid footing no more than 60 inches above the water surface. Clear-water depth should be 10 feet to 12 feet. Other protective measures and distances are the same as for board diving.


    Any person possessing, displaying, or using scuba equipment in connection with any Learning for Life activity must be currently certified by the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) or the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). These two agencies are recognized by Learning for Life for scuba training and instruction. Alternatively, if PADI or NAUI training and instruction is not available, certification may be accepted from other agencies that comply with Recreational Scuba Training Council (RSTC) guidelines, provided that such acceptance has been expressly approved by the local office in consultation with the National Health and Safety Service.

    Scuba programs may be a part of Learning for Life or Exploring activities for participants who are 14 years of age or older. Persons meeting the age requirement and properly certified may participate in group dives under the supervision of a responsible adult who is currently certified as a dive master, assistant instructor, or any higher rating from NAUI or PADI. Student divers must be under the supervision of a currently certified NAUI or PADI instructor. No exceptions to the age requirement are permitted, and any NAUI or PADI age requirements for those 14 and older shall be followed in all program-related activities. A 14-year-old participant with a junior diver certification may dive only when accompanied by a buddy who is a certified open-water diver at least 18 years old.

    Due to lack of frequency of diving by most sport divers, it is important that any certified divers be screened and evaluated by a certified diving instructor before participating in program-related a ctivities. The skills to be evaluated include the following:

    1. Use of a buoyancy control device
    2. Giant stride entry
    3. Removal and replacement of weight belt
    4. Neutral buoyancy
    5. Snorkel to regulator exchange
    6. Removal and replacement of scuba unit under the water
    7. Face mask removal, replacement, and clearing
    8. Emergency swimming ascent
    9. Alternate air source ascent
    10. Predive safety drill
    11. Five-point ascent and descent
    12. Deepwater exits
    13. Simulation of surface procedures

    Policy on Asthma/Reactive Airway Disease as Related to Scuba Activities

    1. Persons with symptomatic or active asthma/reactive airway disease (commonlyknown as RAD) should not be allowed to scuba dive. This would include, at a minimum, anyone who
      1. Is currently taking medication for asthma/RAD
      2. Has received treatment for bronchospasm in the past five years
      3. Has exercise-induced bronchospasm
      4. Has cold-induced bronchospasm
    2. Persons with asymptomatic asthma/RAD who wish to scuba dive should be referred to a pulmonary medical specialist who is also knowledgeable about diving medicine for a complete medical examination, including exercise and bronchial challenge testing.


    The snorkeling requirements have been developed to introduce youth to the special skills, equipment, and safety precautions associated with snorkeling; to encourage the development of aquatics skills that promote fitness and recreation; and to provide a solid foundation of skills and knowledge for those who later will participate in more advanced underwater activity.

    Trained aquatics instructors may serve as a counselor. A person recognized and certified as a snorkeling instructor by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI), the National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI), or the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) also qualifies as a snorkeling counselor.

    Instruction must be conducted in clear, confined water with a maximum depth of 12 feet. A swimming pool is recommended. All requirements must be completed as stated on the application form. The counselor may not omit, vary, or add requirements. The requirements are presented in the order in which they should be taught. The completed application should be submitted to the local Learning for Life office by the counselor or adult leader.


    Safe waterskiing starts with safe equipment; a thorough knowledge of techniques; competent instruction; an efficient, careful towboat operator; and a conscientious observer. A life jacket is a must for all water-skiers. Skis should be in good shape and free from sharp or protruding edges. The boat operator should be driving solely for the benefit, satisfaction, and safety of the skier. The boat and skier should stay away from docks, swimmers, boaters, people who are fishing, and other objects.


    The boardsailing program has been developed to introduce youth to basic boardsailing skills, equipment, and safety precautions; to encourage development of skills that promote fitness and safe aquatics recreation; and to lay a skill and knowledge foundation for those who will later participate in more advanced and demanding activities on the water.

    Persons recognized and certified as an instructor by Windsurfer International or the U.S. Board Sailing Association may serve as a counselor for the Boardsailing Award with the approval of the local service center. Any person trained and experienced in boardsailing skills and safety may serve as a counselor for this award in a camp program under the direction and supervision of a currently trained aquatics instructor.

    Whitewater Safety Code

    The American Whitewater Affiliation (AWA) Safety Code:

    1. Be a competent swimmer.
    2. Wear a PFD.
    3. Keep your canoe or raft under control always!
    4. Be aware of river hazards and avoid them.
    5. Boating alone is not recommended; the preferred minimum is three to a craft.
    6. Be suitably equipped.
      1. Wear shoes (tennis shoes or special canoeing shoes are best).
      2. Tie your glasses on.
      3. Carry a knife and waterproof matches (also compass and map).
      4. Don't wear bulky clothing that will waterlog.
      5. Wear a crash helmet where upsets are likely.
      6. Carry an extra paddle and canoe-repair tape.
      7. Open canoes should have bow and stern lines (painters) securely attached. Use at least 15 feet of 1/4- or 3/8-inch rope. Secure them to the canoe so that they are readily available but will not entangle feet and legs in case of a spill.
    7. Swim on your back in fast water, keeping your feet and legs downstream and high. Keep watching ahead.
    8. When you start to spill, keep the upstream gunwale high.
    9. If you do spill, hang on to your canoe and get to the upstream end. (Note: If you are heading into rough rapids and quick rescue is not expected, or if the water is numbing cold, then swim for shore or a rock where you can climb out of the water.)
    10. When you are with a group:
      1. Organize the group to even out canoeing ability.
      2. Keep the group compact for mutual support.
      3. Don't crowd rapids! Let each canoe complete the run before the next canoe enters.

    Each canoe is responsible for the canoe immediately behind it.

    Safety First Learning for Life Guidelines

    Copyright © 2002 by Learning for Life