Swimming Merit Badge Guide

swimming merit badge guide

Are you thinking about the Swimming merit badge? That’s a great step, especially if you feel at home in the water. Many scouts earn this badge during sunny summer camps or fun troop activities. But remember, a trusted lifeguard is always there to ensure everyone’s safety.

Now, I can’t teach you swimming through words alone, but I can certainly guide you through the knowledge parts of this badge. I’ve got fond memories of getting my badge during a special troop trip, all thanks to a friend’s parent who was a trained lifeguard. Maybe you have someone like that in your troop too? If so, a day at the pool could be your ticket to this badge!

Always remember, while swimming is a joy, it’s vital to be safe. Every time we step into the water, we must be careful and attentive. In this article, I’ll share the key things you need to know for the badge. Plus, I’ll suggest some online videos to help you grasp the important bits of swimming and safety.

By the time you finish this guide, you’ll be all set to impress your merit badge counselor with your knowledge. So, let’s take the plunge and get started on your Swimming merit badge journey!

Swimming Merit Badge Requirements

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 faceup in a resting position for at least three minutes with minimal movement.

(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.

1. (a) Keeping Safe with the Scouting’s Safe Swim Defense Plan

The Scouting’s Safe Swim Defense plan is a well-thought-out approach that makes sure everyone stays safe while swimming. It’s divided into three main parts: Preparation, Prevention, and Response.

  • Preparation: Before even getting into the water, certain steps are taken to make sure everything is good to go. Personal health reviews make sure everyone is fit for swimming. The area is also checked to make sure it’s safe and clean.
  • Prevention: Once everything is set, adults who know what they are doing keep an eye on things. Kids are grouped by how well they can swim, and everyone gets a swimming buddy. These steps help to stop any problems before they happen.
  • Response: Even with all the planning, stuff can still happen. That’s why there are trained lifeguards and lookouts ready to jump into action if something goes wrong.

So, from getting ready, to keeping an eye on things, to knowing what to do in an emergency, this plan covers it all to keep swimmers safe.

CategoryPoints CoveredWhat It Does
Preparation2 (Personal Health Review), 3 (Safe Location), 8 (Discipline)Sets up a safe environment beforehand
Prevention1 (Qualified Supervision), 6 (Ability Groups), 7 (Buddy System)Helps to avoid problems during the swim
Response4 (Lifeguard Response Personnel), 5 (Lookouts)Ready to act if there’s an emergency

Now that you know the Scout Swim Plan has three main preparation, prevention, and response. Make sure to read all the details in the Official Scout Swim Defense Plan.

1. (b) Prevention and Treatment of Health While Swimming

I’ll simplify the explanations and present the information in a table for easy understanding.

Health IssueWhat Causes ItWhat It Feels LikeWhat To DoWhat NOT To Do
Too Cold (Hypothermia)Being in cold water or air for too longShaking, confusionWarm up with extra clothes or a fireDon’t put in hot shower
Thirsty (Dehydration)Not drinking enough waterWeak, no sweatDrink water slowly and restDon’t drink water super fast
Red Skin (Sunburn)Being in the sun too longRed, hurts to touchCool down with a wet cloth, use aloe veraDon’t pick at the skin
Feeling Weak in Heat (Heat Exhaustion)Hot weather, doing too muchTired, dizzy, maybe throw upSit in a cool place, drink waterDon’t keep doing hard work
Very Hot (Heatstroke)Super hot weather, body temp goes very highHead hurts, dizzy, maybe pass outCall 911, sit in cool placeDon’t ignore, it’s really serious
Muscle Pain (Cramps)Lack of water, moving suddenlyHurts a lot in muscleTake deep breaths, rub the hurt spotDon’t panic if swimming
Breathing Fast (Hyperventilation)Breathing too fast, maybe scared or tiredLight-headed, maybe pass outBreathe slow, hold onto something that floatsDon’t go near if they might pull you under
Back or Neck Hurt Badly (Spinal Injury)Bad fall or hit, especially in waterCan’t move, very confusedKeep them still, call 911Don’t move them around
Stung or Bit (Stings and Bites)Bugs or sea animalsHurts, maybe itchyClean it, use medicine for itchingCall 911 if trouble breathing
Small Cut (Cuts and Scrapes)Sharp stuff like rocks or glassBleeds, hurtsWash it, put medicine and a band-aidDon’t let it get dirty

Note: For all serious cases, get medical help immediately. Always have a first-aid kit and someone trained in first aid when swimming.


  1. Hypothermia: If you’re too cold and your body temp drops below 95°F, you might start shivering or even pass out. Keep warm clothes on and limit your swim time. If it happens, add layers and warm up gently—avoid hot showers as it can make things worse.
  2. Dehydration: Not drinking enough water can make you weak and dizzy. Always keep water handy and take breaks to sip. If it happens, take it slow with the water and rest.
  3. Sunburn: Too much sun can burn your skin, making it red and sore. Always apply sunscreen and limit your time under the sun. If burned, use a cool cloth and aloe vera to soothe the skin.
  4. Heat Exhaustion: Working too hard in hot conditions can make you thirsty, give you headaches or make you throw up. Take it easy, find some shade, and drink water. Cooling off and hydrating will usually help.
  5. Heatstroke: This is very serious. Your body temperature goes above 104°F and can make you dizzy, confused, or even cause you to faint. If this happens, call 911 immediately and try to cool down.
  6. Muscle Cramps: A sudden, sharp pain in your muscles, usually due to dehydration or sudden movement. If this happens while swimming, be cautious, as panicking could lead to drowning. Try to stretch it out and relax.
  7. Hyperventilation: Breathing too fast can make you dizzy or faint. If you notice this, try to calm your breathing and if you’re in the water, find something to float on.
  8. Spinal Injury: Bad dives can cause serious injuries. Always make sure the area you are diving into is deep enough. If an injury occurs, keep the person still and call for emergency help immediately.
  9. Stings & Bites: Most of the time, these are minor. Clean them and maybe use an antihistamine. However, if there’s trouble breathing or other serious symptoms, call emergency services.
  10. Cuts & Scrapes: These can get infected if not treated properly. Clean the area, apply ointment, and put a bandage on it.

Always consult a healthcare provider for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

2. Complete the BSA Swimmer Test

To successfully complete the BSA Swimmer Test, a scout must first jump feet-first into water that is deeper than their head height. After leveling off in the water, the scout needs to swim a total of 100 yards.

The first 75 yards of this distance must be swum in a strong manner, employing one or more of the following swim strokes: sidestroke, breaststroke, trudgen, or crawl. Following this, the scout should then swim an additional 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke.

It’s important to note that the entire 100 yards must be swum continuously, without stopping, and must also incorporate at least one sharp turn. After completing the swim, the final requirement is to demonstrate the ability to rest by floating in the water.

CriteriaRequirement DescriptionMeasurement
Initial EntryJump feet-first into deep water and level off.N/A
Strong Stroke PhaseSwim 75 yards using strong strokes.75 yards
Easy BackstrokeSwim 25 yards using an easy, resting backstroke.25 yards
ContinuityThe entire 100 yards must be swum without stopping.100 yards
TurnsInclude at least one sharp turn during the swim.N/A
FloatingDemonstrate the ability to rest by floating afterward.N/A

The test is comprehensive, designed to assess a scout’s swimming ability, stamina, and awareness of various strokes and techniques, ensuring both safety and skill development.

Also Read: Eagle Required Merit Badges

3. Comprehensive 150-Yard Swim Using Multiple Strokes

To complete this swimming requirement, you’ll need to swim a total of 150 yards using different strokes, and you need to do it continuously, without stopping. Start with the front crawl or trudgen and swim for 25 yards. Make sure your technique is strong and your form is good.

Next, switch to the back crawl for another 25 yards, also focusing on form and strength. After that, use the sidestroke for 25 yards, then go into the breaststroke for the next 25 yards. Finally, finish up by swimming 50 yards using the elementary backstroke. Each stroke needs to be performed in a strong manner, so keep up the energy and maintain good form throughout.

StrokeDistance (yards)Notes
Front Crawl/Trudgen25Strong form required
Back Crawl25Strong form required
Sidestroke25Strong form required
Breaststroke25Strong form required
Elementary Backstroke50Strong form required

4. (a) Water Rescue Methods and Safety Guidelines

To demonstrate water rescue, you can use different methods. First, try to reach the person in trouble with your arm or leg if they are close enough. Second, if they’re a bit further away, use an object like a stick or a pool noodle to extend your reach.

Third, if the person is even further, throw a line or something that floats for them to grab onto. Now, why shouldn’t you just swim to them? Swimming to rescue someone can be risky because you might get pulled down too.

So, only swim as a last resort. And if you do swim, make sure to avoid direct contact to protect yourself from getting pulled under.

MethodWhen to UseWhy to UsePrecautions
Reaching with arm or legPerson is very closeLeast riskyMaintain your balance
Reaching with an objectPerson is within the length of the objectModerately safeSecure your position; hold object firmly
Throwing lines or objectsPerson is far awaySafe for the rescuerAim carefully
Swimming rescueLast resortRiskyAvoid direct contact; use flotation aid

4. (b) Performing a Line Rescue as Both Tender and Rescuer

To perform a line rescue, you’ll need a helper (tender) and a practice victim. The victim should be about 30 feet away from the shore in deep water. First, the tender prepares a rope with a large loop at one end, which goes over the rescuer’s shoulder.

The other end of the rope is tied to the tender’s wrist. Now, when the rescuer jumps into the water to reach the victim, the tender feeds out the rope so it doesn’t tangle.

Tender1. Ties a loop in one end of the rope. 2. Secures the other end to their wrist.
3. Feeds out rope as the rescuer swims toward the victim.
Rescuer1. Wears the rope loop over one shoulder. 2. Jumps in and swims to the victim.
3. Signals the tender to start pulling them back once the victim grabs the rope.

In case the victim can’t hold onto the rope, the rescuer can hold the victim’s head above water while the tender pulls them in. Both roles are important for the rescue to be successful.

5. (a) Learning How to Float on Your Back Safely

Floating on your back is a basic but important water skill that can help you breathe easily and conserve energy while in the water. For beginners, it’s recommended to have someone who can swim present for safety reasons. The technique can be broken down into two main steps: floating with aids and floating without aids.

With Floats1. Place a float under each arm.
2. Lie on your back and slightly spread your arms and legs.
3. Keep your pelvis raised and your head straight, looking at the ceiling. Relax your muscles.
Without Floats1. Assume the same position but without the floats.
2. If legs aren’t floating, place a float under your lower back.
3. Keep your nose above water and make small movements with your hands and legs to help you stay afloat.
Floating on Your Back (2:21)

5. (b) Demonstrate Survival Floating

Survival floating is a life-saving technique that allows you to conserve energy and oxygen when you’re in water. The whole process involves a series of motions, rolling your body to get air and then going back into a float. Here’s a simple explanation of how to do it:

PositionStart by tucking your chin towards your chest, bending your knees slightly, and letting your arms hang in front of you.
Rolling for AirRoll your entire body, not just the head, towards the surface to take a breath. Your body should almost be in a side-stroke position during the roll. Exhale forcefully before coming up for air.
Breath HoldingHold your breath while your face is underwater.
PostureKeep your back rounded and your hips slightly lower than your shoulders. Your upper shoulders may peek out of the water, and you should be looking back towards your feet.

If needed, you can do a slight sculling motion with your hands to stay afloat, especially if you have a large muscle mass that tends to sink.

survival floating

5. (c) How to Use HELP and Huddle Positions with a U.S. Coast Guard-Approved Life Jacket

A Personal Flotation Device (PFD), commonly known as a lifejacket, is essential for water safety. Make sure to select a US Coast Guard-approved PFD, which can be identified by a special stamp inside the jacket. A well-fitted PFD should be snug and won’t ride up when you’re in the water. To adjust the fit, use the adjustable straps on the sides, shoulders, and front of the jacket.

Type of PFDUse
Type 1Most buoyant, best for open water
Type 3Suitable for recreational water sports

If you find yourself in cold water, wearing a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket can be a lifesaver. Two important positions to know are the HELP (Heat Escape Lessening Position) and huddle positions.

PositionHow to Do ItPurpose
HELPCurl up, bring your knees to your chest, and wrap your arms around your legs. Lean back slightly.This helps you lose less body heat, keeping you warmer for longer.
HuddleIf you’re with others, form a circle and wrap your arms around each other’s shoulders.This uses everyone’s body heat to keep the whole group warmer.

So, if you’re in cold water, remember these positions. The HELP position is good for when you’re alone, and the huddle position is great for when you’re with others. Both will help you stay warmer and could make a big difference in a tough situation.

HELP and Huddle Positions (3:07)

Also Read: Lifesaving Merit Badge Guide

5. (d) Why Swimming in Cold Water Speeds Up Hypothermia

When you’re in cold water, your body works hard to stay warm. But if you start swimming or floating, you’ll use up your energy even faster. As you move, the warm water close to your body gets pushed away, and you’re surrounded by colder water again.

This makes it even harder for your body to stay warm. When your energy runs out, your body can’t fight the cold anymore, and that’s when hypothermia can set in. So, if you’re stuck in cold water, it’s better to stay still and use clothes or other items to help you float until help arrives.

6. Surface Diving and Retrieval Exercises

To fulfill these requirements, you’ll be doing three different tasks in water that’s over your head but no deeper than 10 feet.

  • Feet First Method: For this, you’ll dive feet-first into the water. Once you reach the bottom, pick up an object and bring it back to the surface. This method is easier for beginners and helps you get used to diving.
  • Headfirst Dive (Pike or Tuck): Now, dive headfirst using either a pike or tuck position. Go to the bottom, grab an object, and bring it up. This is more advanced and requires better control.
  • Deep Dive and Underwater Swim: For the final task, perform a headfirst dive to a depth of at least 5 feet. Swim underwater for three strokes, then come up for a breath. Do this two more times.

Make sure to do these exercises safely, ideally under the supervision of an instructor or a lifeguard. Good luck!

Surface Dive Techniques (3:15)

7. Demonstrate Diving Skills in Accordance with BSA Safe Swimming Defense Guidelines

To complete this requirement, you’ll need to perform two different types of dives in water that is at least 7 feet deep, or deeper if your local laws require it.

The first dive is a standing headfirst dive. Stand on the edge of the dock or pool deck, take a deep breath, and dive headfirst into the water. Make sure the area is clear of other swimmers and obstacles.

The second dive is a long shallow dive. This dive aims for distance rather than depth. Again, stand on the edge and, this time, propel yourself outward, staying close to the surface of the water.

It’s crucial to perform these dives under qualified supervision and to make sure you’re abiding by all the safety rules and guidelines set forth by the BSA Safe Swim Defense.

Type of DiveMinimum Water DepthKey Points
Standing HeadfirstAt least 7 feetClear area, dive straight down
Long ShallowAt least 7 feetClear area, aim for horizontal glide

8. Health Benefits of Aerobic Exercise and Why Swimming Stands Out

Regular aerobic exercise is great for your body and mind. It helps you breathe better, gives you more energy, and even chills you out when you’re stressed. Now, why is swimming so special?

Well, it’s like a two-for-one deal. Not only do you get the good stuff that comes from regular exercise, but you also go easy on your joints because the water holds you up. This makes it less likely for you to get hurt compared to running or jumping around on solid ground.

Plus, swimming isn’t just about doing laps; you’ve got choices! Want to play a fast game? Try water polo. Need to relax? Go for Water Zumba. Feeling adventurous? Learn to dive. So, swimming is like an all-you-can-eat buffet of exercise that’s good for everyone.

Benefit CategoriesRegular Aerobic ExerciseSwimming
Stress ReductionYesYes
Joint SafetyVariesHigh
Variety of ActivitiesLimitedWide Range

Swimming checks all the boxes, making it a great option for both fitness and healing exercises.

Type of Swimming Style

Swimming is a specific sporting activity in which one calls for to relocate the entire body inside(via) water. Sounds quite simple, does not it? In fact, a great deal of initiative goes right into responding to the drag that water generates due to its viscosity.

A person would certainly feel lighter inside water, the drag will never allow your muscular tissues unwind while moving. This aids in working out the muscles without placing the lots on bone joints. There are primarily 5 types of swimming or strokes in which you can swim.

Allow us to go over each kind’s method, benefits, muscle mass entailed, etc carefully.

Front Crawl

type of swimming front crawl arena
Front Crawl (Credits Arena)

This stroke is additionally known as ‘Freestyle’. It offers maximum speed with minimal initiative. Freestyle swimming consists of a Prone horizontal (face down) setting. Flutter kicks and also alternate arm step motions help develop the drive required to press the body.

Legs relocate at the same time with quick and compact kicks in the water maintaining the feet pointed. Arms are used to draw the water back alternately.

While one arm draws the water from a prolonged forward placement towards the hip, the other recuperate outside water from hip to the expanded onward placement.

Breathing is done sidewards when an arm is drawn out of the water for healing. Head comes out of the water sidewards with the shoulder as the air inhalation happens quickly. Air is breathed out inside the water itself to ensure adequate intake in the fractional time of breathing.

Front Crawl is the fastest and also most efficient stroke in swimming since:

  • Drag is minimum throughout the arm recovery as a result of the sharp hands.
  • There’s constantly one arm pulling the water.

Muscles used in front crawl are:

  1. Core and abdominal muscles in keeping the body structured and lifting it while breathing.
  2. Forearms muscles are utilized in drawing the water back.
  3. There is the application of glutes as well as hamstring for the propulsion through legs and maintain a well-balanced placement.
  4. Hand’s entry undersea as well as connecting additionally needs the involvement of shoulder muscle mass.


Breaststroke swimming type
Breaststroke (Credits Arena)

This kind of swimming stroke also takes place in a vulnerable setting. In Breastroke, the body is forced into a likely setting from a straight position to do the activity. Frog-like kicks as well as synchronized hand motion inside the water helps the body move via the water.

Legs are curved and tossed out inside the water to move the body onward. This frog-like activity (symmetrical whip kick) happens undersea.

Arm activities are synchronized and also in proportion. An arc is made by the hands from an extended ahead setting to below the chest. Unlike the freestyle stroke, hands relocate in a straight line during the recovery stage.

When the hands are under the head and the upper body is above the water surface area, breathing is done at the end of propulsion.

Breaststroke is the slowest one among all the 5 kinds of swimming strokes. Generally, the beginners have educated this method first given that the head is above the water for the majority of the time.

Muscles used in Breast Stroke are:

  • To move the arms inward against the water, Pectoral and Latissimus Dorsi muscles are used.
  • Glutes and Quadriceps are used to kick the legs inside the water.

Butterfly Stroke

Butterfly Stroke Type
Butterfly stroke (Credits Arena)

The butterfly stroke entails a vulnerable setting. It is exhausting and also quite stressful relative to other kinds of swimming strokes. In this stroke, the body performs wave-like activities, relocating the upper body and hip up and down the water surface.

Legs undergo dolphin-like activity which indicates both the legs stay together and straight as you kick them in the water.

Arms motions are symmetrical again tracing an hourglass motion undersea. They begin with an expanded forward placement below the breast towards the hips.

Breathing happens while healing when both head and chest are lifted above the water.

The butterfly stroke is among one of the most challenging strokes to master. The wavinesses, dolphin kick and also the arm activities are all not so simple to find out. It is really tiring and therefore not generally utilized for entertainment or health and fitness swimmers.

Muscle mass utilized:

  • When breathing, there is high utilization of the core abdominal and also reduced back muscles which raise the body out of the water.
  • Glutes are made use of in the leg-movement like a dolphin.
  • Pecs lasts, quads, hamstrings, calf bones, arms, shoulders, and triceps are all required extensively in this powerful stroke.



One of the oldest types of swimming stroke that can be used to rescue somebody that is drowning. It requires just one arm with unbalanced undersea arm movements as well as scissor kick. The body remains in a sidewards position during the entire stroke. The head is above the water at all times.

Legs do the scissor kicks with the top leg pushing against the water with the rear of the leg, while the reduced leg pressing with the front of the leg.

Arms motion is unbalanced as well as arbitrary. The lower arm relocations underwater from a prolonged forward placement to the upper body as well as the upper arm, which was resting on the side, bend at the arm joint as well as recoups towards the breast.

Breathing is devoid of movements once again as the head is above water throughout the stroke.

Muscles used:

Muscular tissues on the one side of the body go through more exercise greater than the various other at once. So, the literally challenged individuals use it to carry out swimming.

Also Read: Personal Fitness Merit Badge

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the Swimming Merit Badge?

The Swimming Merit Badge is a special award you can earn in Scouts. It shows that you know how to swim well and understand water safety rules. You have to complete different tasks and answer questions to get it.

How long does it take to earn the Swimming Merit Badge?

It varies for each person. Some might get it done in a few weeks, while others might take a couple of months. It depends on how quickly you can complete the tasks and learn the stuff.

What’s the BSA Safe Swim Defense?

This is a set of rules from the Boy Scouts to make sure everyone stays safe while swimming. It talks about stuff like having a lifeguard around and knowing the area where you’re swimming.

Do I need to know how to dive?

Yes, you’ll need to show a couple of basic dives like a headfirst dive and a long shallow dive. Just make sure you follow all safety rules.

What if I’m afraid of deep water?

It’s okay to be a bit scared, but you will need to swim in water that’s at least 7 feet deep for some tasks. If you’re nervous, talk to your Scout leader or a lifeguard about it. They can help you get more comfortable.

Is swimming in a pool and open water different?

Yes, they are different. Pools are usually safer and easier to swim in. Open water like lakes or oceans can have currents and other things to watch out for. You’ll learn how to be safe in both.

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!