Scouts Swimming in Northern Ireland

Purpose of Note

The Scout Association’s rules for swimming are complicated. This note has been prepared to provide guidance to Northern Ireland Leaders on the permissible limits for swimming in a Northern Ireland context and in Northern Ireland waters only. Leaders are required to read Factsheet FS120620 Swimming and POR 9.48 to 9.52 in addition to this note.

Scout swimming is allowed in public swimming pools and beaches where adequate lifesaving cover is provided by the pool owner, or the local authority.

Leaders still need to manage their group.

In other locations, it gets a bit more complicated!


  1. Scouts may ‘paddle’ in still water of depth less than the individual scout’s waist height, with appropriate risk assessment and precautions by the leader, without a qualified Lifeguard having to be present. Provided participants are visible at all times, some swimming may (just) be possible within this rule. If the water is ‘moving’- i.e. any significant current in a river or tidal flow, the permissible depth reduces to knee height.


  1. Scouts may swim in still water of depth more than waist height with appropriate risk assessment and precautions by the leader, without a qualified Lifeguard being present (see guidance below) in Class C water. In Northern Ireland the following areas are Class C water:
  1. Millisle Lagoon
  2. ECOS lake, Ballymena
  3. Downhill Lake
  4. Small Natural Loughs or ponds in the Mourne catchment area, Antrim Plateau (including Cranaghs of Benmore, Loughs of Knocknore, Quolie 1&2), or Sperrin mountains, within 20m of a bank with easy pedestrian access to the water
  5. Pools on upland rivers less than 20m wide, in summer conditions where flows are not significant and water depth at downstream end is less than knee deep
  1. For water of higher classification than Class C, Scouts may only swim if there is a suitably qualified Lifeguard present. The qualification required is the RLSS Water Safety Management Programme (or higher).

Pool-based qualifications such as RLSS Pool Lifeguard, Bronze Medallion, or the Bronze or Silver Cross are not acceptable.

  1. Scouts may also swim under the control of a water activities permit holder, within the limits of that permit, but only while wearing buoyancy aids as required for the activity.
  1. When other activities take place near the water the guidance contained within the CCPR Group Safety at Water Margins document should be followed. This can be found at

Note: no tidal water can be classified as Class C, so Scouts must not swim in tidal water more than waist deep, unless either:

They are supervised by a water activities permit holder and wearing buoyancy aids


There is a lifeguard present with a recognised RLSS WSMP or Beach Lifeguard qualification.

Swimming in Class C Water

Scout swimming can be safely supervised in Class C water more than waist deep by a person who is not a qualified Lifeguard, but only within reasonable limits.

Risk assessment must be carried out. The following would be appropriate considerations:

Is the swimming area clearly defined by marker buoys or other obvious boundary restrictions? Is it comparable to a swimming pool- i.e. max. 20m wide?

Is the majority of the area wadeable- less than 1.5m deep, with only small areas of deep water? What precautions are needed for deeper areas?

Is exit from water easy and controllable?

Are there any significant hazards in terms of underwater obstructions, overhanging vegetation, or bottom hazards (e.g. thick mud or rubbish)?

Is water quality reasonable, with no obvious evidence of pollution, and significant flows in or out (i.e. not stagnant).

Is there one competent and experienced person in charge and enough leaders available to control the group?

Is there at least one person providing safety cover who is capable of rescuing a casualty from any point in the swimming area? Has that person recently practised the necessary skills?

Do you have throwline, lifebelt or other safety equipment available? Has someone practised using them? Where do they need to be? Can all parts of the swimming area be reached?

Are the numbers in the water manageable? If someone disappears would it be noticed? What control measures are needed?

Risk of Hypothermia/ sunburn/cuts etc covered?

Implement the ‘buddy system’

Leaders are strongly encouraged to read Factsheet FS120620 Swimming and POR 9.48 to 9.52

Malcolm Kerry
NI Activities Adviser

02890 795917/ 07714245376