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Lifesaving Merit Badge Guide

lifesaving merit badge guides

The Lifesaving Merit Badge is not just another achievement in a Scout’s journey; it’s a commitment to understanding and executing vital skills that could one day save a life. Designed specifically for 12 to 14-year-old Boy Scouts, this merit badge focuses on preparing Scouts to respond to water emergencies in a safe and effective manner.

Lifesaving is not about them theoretical knowledge; it’s about hands-on experience, preparedness, and serious responsibility. From mastering basic swimming techniques to understanding common causes of water accidents and planning appropriate rescue methods, the requirements for this badge cover a comprehensive approach.

While you may never have to use these skills all the time, having them equips you to be a vigilant and responsible member of society, especially in protecting your family. The pursuit of the Lifesaving Merit Badge is not just a personal development goal; it is a pledge to uphold the essence of scouting – to be ready and to be there for others.

Lifesaving Merit Badge Requirements

lifesaving merit badge requirements
1. Before doing requirements 3 through 15, review with your counselor the principles of Safe Swim Defense.
2. Before doing requirements 3 through 15:

(a) Earn the Swimming merit badge.

(b) Swim continuously for 400 yards using each of the following strokes in a strong manner, in good form with rhythmic breathing, for at least 50 continuous yards: front crawl, sidestroke, breaststroke, and elementary backstroke.
3. Explain the following:

(a) Common drowning situations and how to prevent them.

(b) How to identify persons in the water who need assistance.

(c) The order of methods in water rescue.

(d) How rescue techniques vary depending on the setting and the condition of the person needing assistance.

(e) Situations for which in-water rescues should not be undertaken.
4. Demonstrate “reaching” rescues using various items such as arms, legs, towels, shirts, paddles, and poles.
5. Demonstrate “throwing” rescues using various items such as a line, ring buoy, rescue bag, and free-floating support. Successfully place at least one such aid within reach of a practice victim 25 feet from shore.
6. With your counselor’s approval, view in-person or on video a rowing rescue performed using a rowboat, canoe, kayak, or stand-up paddleboard. Discuss with your counselor how effectively and efficiently the rescue was performed.
7. List various items that can be used as aids in a “go” rescue. Explain why buoyant aids are preferred.
8. Correctly demonstrate rescues of a conscious practice subject 30 feet from shore in deep water using two types of buoyant aids provided by your counselor. Use a proper entry and a strong approach stroke. Speak to the subject to determine his or her condition and to provide instructions and encouragement.

(a) Present one aid to a subject, release it, and swim at a safe distance as the subject moves to safety.

(b) In a separate rescue, present the other aid to a subject and use it to tow the subject to safety.
9. Discuss with your counselor when it is appropriate to remove heavy clothing before attempting a swimming rescue. Remove street clothes in 20 seconds or less, enter the water, and approach a conscious practice subject 30 feet from shore in deep water. Speak to the subject and use a nonbuoyant aid, such as a shirt or towel, to tow the subject to safety.
10. Discuss with your counselor the importance of avoiding contact with an active subject and demonstrate lead-and-wait techniques.
11. Perform the following non-equipment rescues for a conscious practice subject 30 feet from shore. Begin in the water from a position near the subject. Speak to the subject to determine his or her condition and to provide instructions and encouragement.

(a) Perform an armpit tow for a calm, responsive, tired swimmer resting with a back float.

(b) Perform a cross-chest carry for an exhausted, responsive subject treading water.
12. In deep water, show how to escape from a victim’s grasp on your wrist. Repeat for front and rear holds about the head and shoulders.
13. Perform the following rescues for an unconscious practice subject at or near the surface 30 feet from shore. Use a proper entry and strong approach stroke. Speak to the subject and splash water on the subject to determine his or her condition before making contact. Quickly remove the victim from the water, with assistance if needed, and position for CPR.

(a) Perform an equipment assist using a buoyant aid.

(b) Perform a front approach and wrist tow.

(c) Perform a rear approach and armpit tow.
14. Discuss with your counselor how to respond if a victim submerges before being reached by a rescuer, and do the following:

(a) Recover a 10-pound weight in 8 to 10 feet of water using a feetfirst surface dive.

(b) Repeat using a headfirst surface dive.
15. Demonstrate management of a spinal injury to your counselor:
(a) Discuss the causes, signs, and symptoms of a spinal injury.

(b) Support a faceup subject in the calm water of standing depth.

(c) Turn a subject from a facedown to a faceup position in water of standing depth while maintaining support.
16. Demonstrate knowledge of resuscitation procedure:

(a) Describe how to recognize the need for rescue breathing and CPR.

(b) Demonstrate CPR knowledge and skills, including rescue breathing, on a mannequin under the guidance of a current CPR/AED instructor trained by a nationally certified provider.
17 With your counselor, discuss causes, prevention, and treatment of other injuries or illnesses that could occur while swimming or boating, including hypothermia, dehydration, heat-related illnesses, muscle cramps, sunburn, stings, and hyperventilation.

The following is the answer to the first requirement.

The Answer for Requirement Number 1

1. Before doing requirements 3 through 15, review with your counselor the principles of Safe Swim Defense.

Principles of Safe Swim Defense

Swimming is a great way to stay fit and have fun. However, it is important to remember that water can be dangerous if not respected. To ensure the safety of swimmers, the Boy Scouts of America has developed the principles of Safe Swim Defense.

These principles are designed to keep swimmers safe in all types of swimming environments, including pools, lakes, and oceans.

  1. The first principle of Safe Swim Defense is to have qualified supervision. This means that a responsible adult should be present at all times to oversee swimmers and ensure their safety.
  2. The second principle is to provide swimmer ability. This means that swimmers should be assessed for their skill level and only allowed to participate in activities that are appropriate for their abilities.
  3. The third principle is to have the proper equipment. This includes things like life jackets, rescue equipment, and first aid supplies.
  4. The fourth principle is to establish safe swimming areas. This means designating specific areas for swimming and ensuring that swimmers stay within these areas.
  5. The fifth principle is to give swimming instructions. This means providing clear and concise instructions to swimmers on how to stay safe in the water, including how to swim properly and how to avoid dangerous behaviors.
  6. The sixth principle is to provide emergency response. This means having a plan in place for responding to emergencies, including how to call for help and how to provide first aid.

By following these principles of Safe Swim Defense, swimmers can enjoy the water while staying safe. It is important to remember that water can be dangerous and that accidents can happen, but by taking the proper precautions, we can minimize the risks and ensure a safe and enjoyable swimming experience for everyone.

The Answer for Requirement Number 3

3. Explain the following:

(a) Common drowning situations and how to prevent them.

(b) How to identify persons in the water who need assistance.

(c) The order of methods in water rescue.

(d) How rescue techniques vary depending on the setting and the condition of the person needing assistance.

(e) Situations for which in-water rescues should not be undertaken.

(a) Common drowning situations and how to prevent them:

Drowning can happen in any body of water, whether it is a pool, lake, or ocean. The most common situations that lead to drowning include lack of supervision, inability to swim, and dangerous behaviors such as diving in shallow water or swimming while under the influence of alcohol.

To prevent drowning, it is important to always have qualified supervision, assess swimmers’ abilities, establish safe swimming areas, provide clear instructions to swimmers, and have emergency response plans in place.

(b) How to identify persons in the water who need assistance:

It is important to be able to identify when someone is in distress in the water. Signs of distress can include splashing, yelling for help, and struggling to stay afloat. If someone is in distress, it is important to provide assistance immediately, either by throwing a flotation device or swimming to the person and providing support.

(c) The order of methods in water rescue:

The order of methods in water rescue is to reach, throw, row, and go. This means that the first step is to try to reach the person in distress with a long object, such as a pole or branch. If this is not possible, the next step is to throw a flotation device or rope at the person.

If the person is still in distress, the rescuer should attempt to row to the person using a boat or other flotation device. Finally, if all else fails, the rescuer should go into the water and provide assistance directly.

(d) How rescue techniques vary depending on the setting and the condition of the person needing assistance:

Rescue techniques can vary depending on the setting and the condition of the person in distress. In a pool or calm body of water, simple rescue techniques such as throwing a flotation device or swimming to the person may be sufficient.

In more challenging environments such as rivers or oceans, more advanced techniques such as using a rescue board or kayak may be necessary. The condition of the person in distress, such as whether they are conscious or unconscious, also impacts the rescue technique that should be used.

(e) Situations for which in-water rescues should not be undertaken:

In-water rescues should not be undertaken in situations where the rescuer’s safety is at risk, such as in rough water or when the person in distress is exhibiting dangerous behaviors.

It is also important to not attempt a rescue if the rescuer does not have the necessary skills or training to do so safely. In these situations, it is important to call for professional help and wait for trained rescuers to arrive.

The Answer for Requirement Number 7

7. List various items that can be used as aids in a “go” rescue. Explain why buoyant aids are preferred.

Various items that can be used as aids in a “go” rescue include:

  1. Life jackets or personal flotation devices (PFDs)
  2. Rescue tubes or rescue boards
  3. Boogie boards or bodyboards
  4. Kayaks or canoes
  5. Inner tubes or inflatable rafts
  6. Surfboards or paddleboards
  7. Anything that floats and can be used to support a person in the water, such as a plastic container, pool noodle, or foam pad.

Buoyant aids are preferred in a “go” rescue because they provide flotation and support to the person in distress, allowing the rescuer to focus on getting the person to safety without having to worry about keeping them afloat.

Buoyant aids are also easier to handle and maneuver in the water, making it easier for the rescuer to reach the person in distress and bring them back to shore.

Additionally, buoyant aids are often brightly colored and easily visible, which can help rescuers locate the person in distress quickly. Overall, buoyant aids are an essential tool for rescuers in a “go” rescue situation, and can greatly increase the chances of a successful rescue.

The Answer for Requirement Number 10

10. Discuss with your counselor the importance of avoiding contact with an active subject and demonstrate lead-and-wait techniques.

Avoiding contact with an active subject is extremely important in a rescue situation because it helps ensure the safety of both the rescuer and the person in distress. An active subject is someone who is conscious and alert but may be panicking or struggling to stay afloat.

In such situations, the person may be flailing their arms and legs, making it difficult for the rescuer to approach them or safely. Attempting to make contact with an active subject can put the rescuer in danger of being struck, kicked, or pulled under the water.

To avoid contact with an active subject, rescuers can use a technique called “lead-and-wait.” This involves approaching the person from a safe distance and using verbal commands to guide them to safety.

The rescuer should position themselves upwind or up-current from the person, and then swim parallel to the person while keeping a safe distance. The rescuer can then give clear and concise commands, such as “Swim towards me,” “Grab onto this flotation device,” or “Hold onto my arm.”

The rescuer should avoid physical contact with the person unless absolutely necessary, such as when they are too exhausted to swim or need immediate medical attention.

Demonstrating lead-and-wait techniques can help rescuers prepare for real-life rescue situations by learning how to safely approach and guide an active subject to safety without putting themselves in danger.

By practicing these techniques, rescuers can build confidence and improve their ability to respond effectively to emergency situations. Additionally, by learning to avoid contact with active subjects, rescuers can minimize the risk of injury or harm to both themselves and the people they are trying to rescue.

Basic Swimming Skills

Water rescues don’t always require swimming; reaching or throwing an aid often works. However, the rescuer must sometimes swim a float to an active victim or tow an unconscious person to safety. This requires strong swimming skills.

Before beginning your Lifesaving training, you must first master the basic strokes of front crawl, sidestroke, breaststroke, and elementary backstroke. An excellent way to prepare for the Lifesaving merit badge is to first earn the Swimming merit badge to complete the second requirement.

You must be able to easily complete the required 400-yard swim. If you can’t quite make the distance, get someone to review your strokes with you. At this stage, stamina is probably not as critical as good form.

If you know how to do the strokes properly, the distance shouldn’t be a problem. The basic strokes are reviewed here.

Lifesaving procedures will require you to modify the strokes to carry equipment, avoid obstructions, keep an eye on the victim, and if needed, tow the victim to safety.

1. Front Crawl

type of swimming front crawl arena

The front crawl combines a relaxed flutter kick with rotary arm motion and rhythmic breathing. It is the fastest stroke but requires considerable energy. The stroke is most efficient if your head remains supported by the water.

Turn your head to the side to inhale, and rotate down to exhale. Keep the lower arm bent and sweep it across the chest rather than rotate it in a vertical arc. The arm motion generates most of the power.

However, your kick should be strong enough to push you forward without having to use your arms. Your feet should not slap the surface of the water.

2. Breaststroke

Breastroke (Credit Arena)

Coordination is the key to breaststroke. Your legs power you forward as your arms move to a glide position with your head down. Your arms power you while you pull your head up, take a breath, and prepare the legs for the next whip kick.

Done slowly with a glide, the breaststroke conserves energy and works well for long distances.

3. Sidestroke


The sidestroke uses a scissors kick in which the heels are first tucked behind the body. The top leg is then extended forward and the bottom leg back. Power is generated when the legs are snapped back to a trailing position.

The lower arm pulls water past the chest while the upper arm pushes from the chin toward the feet. The ear rests in the water, and the face is high enough to keep the mouth and nose above water. The stroke uses a glide to conserve energy.

A good swimmer can do the sidestroke on both sides.

4. Elementary Backstroke

Begin the backstroke with arms at your sides and legs together. Start the whip kick by slowly lowering the heels beneath the knees. Rotate the ankles outward of the knees and
return them to the start position in a rapid, continuous, circular whipping motion.

The knees slightly separate and follow the feet out, do not lead out with the knees. Bring the arms slowly up along the chest with elbows tucked in close to the sides and then extend them outward at shoulder level.

The arms are used to push water toward the feet while the legs make a circular “whipping” action. Avoid raising the head or bending at the waist. This is a restful stroke good for long distances. A long glide is an important part of the stroke.

5. Using and Modifying the Strokes for Lifesaving

With some modifications, the front crawl, breaststroke, sidestroke, and elementary backstroke can be made more effective when used during a lifesaving situation.

Sidestroke and Elementary Backstroke. Generally used for towing assists. If the victim needs help, both the sidestroke and the backstroke will work for towing a conscious victim grasping afloat. If the float is large enough that the victim and rescuer can hold opposite sides, use the breaststroke to push the victim to shore.
Breaststroke. Used as an approach stroke and to tow or push rescue aids. This is a more versatile approach stroke than the crawl. The head stays out of the water and rescue equipment may be trailed behind, tucked under the arms, or pushed forward with one or both hands.

If wind and water are calm, the swimmer can push afloat, such as an inner tube or air mattress, ahead of him and use his arms for stroking. The rescuer also can lie on a bodyboard, surfboard, or air mattress while using his arms in a breaststroke fashion. The breaststroke may also be used to push one side of a flotation aid while the victim holds the other side.
Sidestroke and Elementary Backstroke. Generally used for towing assists. If the victim needs help, both the sidestroke and the backstroke will work for towing a conscious victim grasping a float. If the float is large enough that the victim and rescuer can hold opposite sides, use the breaststroke to push the victim to shore.
Using and Modifying the Strokes for Lifesaving

If you have used a nonbuoyant aid or the victim is unconscious, tow using the sidestroke or elementary backstroke. This is discussed later in more detail. For now, practice the sidestroke with the lower handheld at the side and practice the backstroke using just the kick.

6. Rotary Kick

At times, you may need to stay in one position without a float and with your head up; that is, you will need to tread water. You may already know methods for treading water, such as sculling with your hands and using a combination of kicks.

Another option is to use the rotary, or eggbeater, kick. The rotary kick uses a sitting position with the knees apart. Rotate one leg and then the other in a circular pattern similar to the whip kick used for the breaststroke and the backstroke.

However, each leg moves separately in the rotary kick. Try it first using a float or sculling with your hands. As you get the feel of it, use just your legs. Kick only fast enough to keep your head above water.

The information below might help you answer the requirements of 14 lifesaving merit badge.

7. Surface Dives

Some drowning victims must be retrieved from below the water’s surface. Keep the following
in mind when diving below the surface.

  • Don’t try to swim down. Your body is lighter than water and naturally floats upward. Instead, practice the surface dives described in this section until you can easily reach the bottom in 8 feet of water.
  • Take only one or two deep breaths before diving. Breathing too deeply for too long can lead to hyperventilation, which may cause you to blackout underwater.
  • Don’t ignore the pain in your ears. As you swim downward, you may notice a slight pain in your ears. This is caused by the increased pressure of the water against your eardrums. Swallowing, wiggling your ears, or gently blowing against a pinched nose may ease the discomfort.

However, if the pain in your ears becomes intense, return to the surface. Otherwise, your eardrums could rupture and cause you to lose your sense of direction and possibly blackout.

Feetfirst Surface Dive. Use the feetfirst surface dive whenever you can’t clearly see what is beneath you. At the surface, begin in a vertical position with your arms extended outward. Push down with your arms and use a scissors kick to lift yourself as far out of the water as possible. The weight of your body will then drive you back downward. Straighten your legs and push up against the water with your hands. Do not lift your arms too quickly; they should push against the water rather than break the surface
Headfirst Surface Dive. Use the headfirst surface dive when the water is deep and clear. Begin by moving forward with a breaststroke. With your hands at your sides and your legs
straight back, scoop downward with your arms and bend at the waist, lifting your legs into the air. Then extend your arms in front of your head.
Surface Dives

The object is to point your entire body toward the bottom with your legs above the surface, so the weight of your legs will drive you downward.

This dive is known as a “pike” if you keep your legs straight the entire time. It is a “tuck” if you bring your legs toward your body and then straighten them into the air. Keep your arms extended to protect your head as you dive.

Recognizing a Victim

The first step in rescue is recognizing that someone needs help. Often it is obvious. A capsized canoeist may be frantically swimming for shore while being swept toward rapids. People clinging to the top of a car swept off a low-water crossing may be shouting for help.

Bystanders may be calling to someone floating facedown. But not all drowning situations are that dramatic or easy to spot. A child who appears to be playing may actually be in serious trouble. it is important to know that not everyone in trouble will call for help or seem to be struggling.

People in danger of drowning can be divided into categories based on their conditions. In
turn, those conditions influence basic rescue techniques. Categories include distressed versus drowning, conscious versus unconscious, and active versus passive.

The labels are less important than identifying specific behaviors and their effects on rescue techniques. Several categories are discussed below, and you should learn the major differences. Note that these are guidelines.

An actual victim may not exactly fit the descriptions and may slide from one type into
another during the course of a rescue.

1. Tired Swimmer

A tired swimmer may ask for help. The swimmer might be clinging to a boundary line, trying to float on his back, or making little progress using short bursts or a weak stroke.

He lacks or thinks he lacks, the energy to make it to shore and simply needs encouragement and a helping hand. The tired swimmer is calm, will respond to questions, and should cooperate with the assistant.

2. Distressed Swimmer

A swimmer in distress is normally vertical in the water and shows various degrees of anxiety or panic. He may be a poor swimmer who has exceeded his abilities. If caught in a rip current, he may first become exhausted swimming against the current and then become frightened.

Sudden medical problems such as a cramp or stroke may also cause a conscious swimmer to need help. A distressed swimmer makes little or no progress in the water but may struggle enough to keep his head out of the water.

He may call or wave for help. If he could level off and apply the same energy to swimming, he might be able to reach safety on his own. He may act on clear instructions from a rescuer and reach for aid as it is presented.

Nonbuoyant rescue aids, such as a shirt or robe, may be used. Once help has come, he may grow calm and even assist by assuming a prone position and kicking. However, the rescuer should remain alert and wary and should avoid contact.

The victim may try to grab the rescuer in an attempt to remain above water. It may be some time before he returns to a normal state of mind and behavior. The longer a distressed swimmer remains in trouble, the more likely he is to show the symptoms of an active drowning victim.

Also Read: Backpacking Merit Badge

3. Active Drowningvictim

An active drowning victim is at a stage just before submersion and unconsciousness. Like a distressed swimmer, this victim is also frantic or distraught. However, the level of mental “distress” is not an important factor.

An active drowning victim lacks the ability to make deliberate motions to stay afloat and will generally go under within 20 to 60 seconds. He can’t call or wave for help; he must be
recognized for his behavior. He is usually vertical in the water.

He may have his head thrown back with arms extended to the side and pressing down or flapping. There is no effective leg movement. His head may bob below the surface, and he probably cannot respond to commands or reach for nearby rescue aids.

During the assist, he may try to stay vertical and resist horizontal tows. Avoid contact.
Use buoyant aids for support. Unaided, a poor swimmer in distress may slip into the active
drowning stage. This is particularly true of nonswimmers who have never supported themselves in deep water.

A nonswimmer stepping off a submerged ledge will be unable to reach shallow water just a few feet away. A young nonswimmer knocked off an air mattress won’t be able to reach for it and may submerge in only 20 seconds. Speedy rescue is essential. You can read it in full on the following link

4. Unconscious victim

Various circumstances can cause people to lose consciousness in the water. Unaided, an active drowning victim will soon lose consciousness and become passive.

Immersion in cold water can numb and weaken a swimmer, eventually causing unconsciousness even if the person is wearing a flotation device.

Other swimmers may blackout with little or no warning because of a diving injury, hyperventilation, heart attack, stroke, seizure, drunkenness, or drug reaction. An unconscious victim may float facedown at the surface or may partially or completely sink to the bottom.

Speed is critical in reaching and moving the victim to safety. A rescuer must make physical contact, and breathing must be started again as soon as possible if the victim is to survive.

In every instance, the person who has lost consciousness in the water will need a medical evaluation. Summon emergency medical help as soon as possible. In a public setting, shout for someone to call 911 as you begin the rescue.

5. Injured Victim

A water rescue can become even more complex if the victim is injured. Diving into shallow water or being hit by a surfboard can cause head and spinal injuries.

Cuts and broken bones can happen from boat collisions, water skiers hitting objects, cars entering the water, boats capsizing in rapids, or surfcasting swimmers against pilings. Gasoline explosions on motorboats can cause burns.

Fishermen might become entangled in hooks. Some marine creatures can inflict painful stings. Keep general first-aid rules in mind: Treat the most serious condition first, do no further harm, and quickly summon help if needed.

In water rescues, the most serious condition may be stopped breathing, but standard rescue techniques for a person who is not breathing can worsen a spinal injury. These concerns will be covered later.

6. Endangered Swimmer

The above classifications are based on a victim’s lack of or loss of swimming ability. However, there may be times when a competent swimmer requires aid.

A capsized canoeist caught in a cold, fast current is one such situation; a kayaker pinned against a rock is another. Ocean rip currents can sweep a swimmer out to sea. Fast-rising tides against a cliff face can catch a hiker off guard.

Abnormally high waves can sweep fishermen off jetties. Flash floods can trap motorists in their cars. Situations vary greatly, as will rescue responses. Some victims may make it to shore unaided and the rescuer’s responsibility becomes one of follow-up support, first aid, and transportation.

In other cases, a rescuer can help from shore. In still others, the lifesaver’s only safe option is to immediately seek aid from a trained rescue squad with special gear. Remember, seeking help is as much a lifesaving technique as any other.

Success is the final measure of any rescue. If you can’t safely perform a rescue with resources at hand, then quickly seek help from those with more training and better equipment.


The majority of the criteria for the lifesaving merit badge are demonstration-based, so I may not have much more material to give you other than what you see here.

In conclusion, every young person who is serious about learning water safety and rescue practices should work towards getting the Lifesaving merit badge. Scouts will acquire lifesaving knowledge by fulfilling the criteria for the badge, which include first aid, CPR, and water rescue. They will also develop a more nuanced appreciation for water safety and the hazards inherent in aquatic pursuits.

Scouts will learn the skills they need to properly react to an emergency situation via a combination of classroom education, hands-on practice, and realistic situations. They will acquire the knowledge necessary to be safe while participating in water-based activities.

It takes perseverance, effort, and a desire to learn in order to obtain the Lifesaving merit badge. However, there are several benefits, including the satisfaction that comes from knowing you can assist those in need. Earning the Lifesaving merit badge shows dedication to learning about water safety and rescue procedures, making you a value to any community.

I'm a Mechanical Engineer and lifelong Eagle Scout. My passion for scouting guides my writing, aiming to inspire fellow Scouts on their path. Thanks for reading, and best wishes on your journey to Eagle!