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(Published Jan 2017, last reviewed with no updates March 2022)


This page provides information and guidance on the delivery of swimming sessions within Scouting. This should be read in conjunction with POR rules 9.13.9.

Swimming in class C waters

Those providing safety cover for a Scout swimming activity in class C waters (including swimming pools) where there are no operating guidelines in force must meet these requirements:

Risk assessment - conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of the situation and make informed decisions as to the management of the activity. This risk assessment should be dynamic and continue throughout the activity. If the safety cover feels at any stage that the risks are too high then the activity should be stopped.

Environmental factors - assess factors such as weather, water temperature, flow, clarity of water to determine a suitable duration of activity. 

Swimming ability - have sufficient swimming ability to conduct effective rescues should the need arise. Therefore they should be a strong enough swimmer for the location and water conditions with the ability to keep themselves and a casualty afloat during a rescue.

Rescues - be capable recovering a casualty or swimmer in distress. This requires the knowledge of suitable rescue techniques. These should be appropriate to the location and equipment available.

Equipment - be capable of using suitable rescue equipment for the location being used. This needs to be available and on hand for the safety cover to use.

Swimming area - clearly define the swimming area and communicate this to the group in an appropriate way. This may include the use of markers, flags etc. When deciding on the swimming area consider the ability of the group, safety cover, other users in the area, winds, water movement etc.

Communication - clearly communicate with the group. This needs to be included in any briefing given so that the swimmers are aware of the signals for exiting the water, swimming area etc.

Access - ensure access for the swimmers to enter and exit the waters. Access to the water must be possible to conduct a rescue or recovery should it not be possible form the edge of the water.

Manage the group effectively whilst the group is in the water. This will include; adequate briefings prior to the group entering the water, defining a suitable swimming area and communication whilst the group is swimming.

Ratios - provide adequate cover based on the ratio identified in the risk assessment, and ensure that additional adult supervision is provided in line with the section ratios for outdoor activities.

It may be that you have access to someone with a formal lifeguarding qualification who will act as your safety cover for the above. If this is the case they must be capable of fulfilling these guidelines. Suitable qualifications should be appropriate for the water being used i.e. pool or open, and include:

  • RLSS Water Safety Management Programme
  • NRSTAC – National Rescue Award for Swimming Teachers and Coaches.
  • RLSS National Pool Lifeguard Qualification
  • RLSS National Beach Lifeguard Qualification
  • RLSS Open Water Lifeguard Qualification

Swimming – Water activity permit holders

When providing safety cover for swimming under a water activity permit you must meet these requirements:

  • Class C guidelines – follow the guidance for swimming in class C waters as detailed above
  • Ratios – you must operate with the same size group (or smaller) as you do under your permit.
  • Class of water – you may operate on lower classifications of water but not higher, and the suitability of the waters for swimming should also be considered prior to the activity taking place.
  • Personal flotation devices – all permit holders supervising swimming activities must ensure that all participants are wearing appropriately fitting buoyancy aids. This requirement does not apply to those with SCUBA or Snorkel permits, where no personal flotation device is required for the permitted activity.
  • Location of permit holder – the permit holder must position themselves in a suitable place to effectively conduct rescues should they be required.

Swimming – Formal qualification

Those providing safety cover for swimming in B1 waters and higher using formal qualifications must have the qualifications listed in POR 9.13.9.

Note that those holding the Beach Unit or River Unit may provide safety cover for flat water swimming activities but those holding only the Flat Water Unit may not provide safety cover for beach or river swimming activities.

Those holding the Beach Unit may not provide safety cover for swimming in moving inland waters.

Those holding the River Unit may not provide safety cover for swimming in the sea.

Equivalent qualifications

For reference a list is provided below which covers some of the most widely available courses considered to be of equivalent or higher to the RLSS Water Safety Management Programme (as required in B1 waters and above). This is not a definitive list:

  • RLSS National Beach Lifeguard Qualification
  • RLSS Emergency Response Activity Supervisor Award
  • SLSGB Beach Lifeguard Qualification
  • SLSGB Surf Coach Life Saving Award
  • British Canoeing Lifeguard
  • RLSS Open Water Lifeguard Qualification


  • Lifesaving awards such as the Bronze Cross and Silver Cross are not equivalent qualifications.
  • Pool based qualifications such as the Bronze Medallion and the National Pool Lifeguard Qualification are not equivalent qualifications.

Further definitions

The following must be used when defining the type of swimming activity:

  • Flat or still water is that where there is a minimal variance in the water level and little flow for the duration of the activity. There are no obvious waves and undercurrents.
  • Moving water is that where there is a significant rise and fall in the water level or significant flow during the period of the activity. There may also be obvious waves and surface turbulence or noticeable undercurrents which could also cause shifting of the sea/river bed.
  • Swimming may also include the use of Lilo’s, inflatable boats (excluding Kayaks and Canoes), Tubing and Hydrospeeding.

Training and qualifications

All adults in Scouting with an interest in swimming and water safety would be encouraged to take part in the RLSS Water Safety Management Programme. This programme has a variety of units ranging from a basic water safety unit through to in water rescue and environment specific units.

More details on the RLSS WSMP.

Rules relating to swimming

Rule 9.13.1 All water activities

Rule 9.13.3 Classification of Waters

Rule 9.13.7 Activities Near Water

Rule 9.13.8 Paddling

Rule 9.13.9 Swimming

Rule 9.13.10 Scout Owned Swimming Facilities

General activity rules

Rule 9.1 All Activities

Rule 9.6 Use of External Centres and Instructors