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Water Activities

Welcome to the Water activites part of the county web site. Please use this page and the menu to the left in order to navigate the Water Activities pages.

The county water activities team organise various water based activities such as; Canoeing & Kayaking,  Sailing & Power Boating, Bell Boats, Dragon Boats. If you are interested in taking part or helping out with any of these please get in touch using the contact form on the water activities contact page.

Below you will find some general information relating to scouting water activities.



All water activities require Scout Association Adventurous Activity Authorisation Application form available for download on the County Website. One person in each boat should be authorised under these rules, or the activity should be under the direct control of a suitably authorised person. See also POR Chapter 7 rule 15 regarding confidential inquiries. Both the warranted leader and authorised person in charge of the activity have responsibilities in ensuring its safe operation.

If external outdoor centres are being used then the Scout Leader in charge must check that the centre is properly insured, and that the instructors are appropriately qualified.


Local Advice and Assistance

Local advice is available from Assistant County Commissioners (Activities or Water Activities), from County or District Water Activities Advisers in both home and host areas and from Headquarters. The leaders of a local Sea Scout group may also be able to provide advice and/or practical help.



An awareness of the possible dangers associated with water activities should not be allowed to interfere with the challenge associated with these activities. Proper training in the background to the dangers and self-help techniques of survival can help to eliminate or minimise dangers.

Proper discipline, correct training, good organisation, use of correct facilities, qualified/experienced leadership and correct briefing are paramount for water safety. A lifejacket is no substitute for these.


Lifejackets and Buoyancy Aids

Lifejackets or buoyancy aids are required to be worn for the vast majority of water activities. See the notes on individual activities for which is appropriate; normally buoyancy aids on C, B1 and B2 waters, and lifejackets on B3 or A waters.

Where a buoyancy aid is specified a lifejacket may be substituted, but not vice-versa. Where an EC Standard is specified a higher EC specification may substituted, but not vice versa. Note that in some cases a higher-spec may not be suitable as it restricts movement too much; people authorised to be in charge of water activities should be able to make this decision.

All garments should be of the appropriate size for each individual, and worn correctly in accordance with the manufacturers instructions.

Lifejackets and buoyancy aids must be inspected and tested independently each year in accordance with County or District arrangements. It is important that any necessary repairs (or replacement) are carried out promptly. See storage and maintenance of equipment. See also fact sheet FS120603 – Water Safety (Incorporating Lifejackets and Buoyancy Aids).

  • A buoyancy aid is intended to assist a competent, alert swimmer to stay afloat whilst taking part in active water sports. As such it allows the user the necessary freedom of movement.
    A buoyancy aid also provides padding from impacts and insulation against the cold. For some sports these features may be almost as important as the buoyancy.
  • A lifejacket is intended to keep an unconscious person afloat and on their back in a survival situation at sea (note that contrary to popular belief a lifejacket is not guaranteed to turn an unconscious person on to their back, only to keep them there). Lifejackets may restrict freedom of movement, particularly in small boats and canoes.Lifejackets can contain either foam or air buoyancy or a combination. For the majority of activities, ones containing at least some foam should be chosen (these work only as a buoyancy aid when not inflated; they should be inflated immediately in a survival situation). Some lifejackets automatically inflate when the wearer enters the water or pulls a tab, others need to be blown up by mouth.Lifejackets with some (or all) air buoyancy can easily be damaged by sharp objects. As such they are not ideal for activities such as fishing (the hooks can puncture the lifejacket).


Lifejackets must be to BS3595 [British Standard] or EEC 150 Newton [European Standard] and marked accordingly. Buoyancy aids must be to BMIF [British Marine Industry Federation], BCU [British Canoe Union] or EEC 50 Newton Standard (minimum) and marked accordingly.

Manufacturers can now only supply lifejackets and buoyancy aids that have been tested to the new European specifications and carry the CE mark of approval. (Traders may continue to sell pre-1995 stocks; check for other approval and be aware that foam degrades with age.) There is no requirement for members of the Scout Association to replace serviceable Lifejackets or Buoyancy aids (but see the note above on annual testing).

Note that the EC 100 Newton Standard is referred to as a lifejacket; previously in the UK this would be known as a buoyancy aid.

Specialist white-water canoeing buoyancy aids are fitted with a harness to assist rescues. This harness should never be used as a climbing harness.


Swimming Ability

Members of the Association taking part in any water activity must be able to demonstrate to a suitable person (such as a Scouter) their ability to swim 50 metres in ordinary clothes and keep afloat for five minutes. When undertaking this test it should be remembered that the water on which an activity takes place is likely to be much colder than a swimming pool, although the participant is likely to be wearing a buoyancy aid.

A non-swimmer may take part in some water activities, at the discretion of the person in charge, only if certain precautions are taken. There must be no more than one non-swimmer in any craft. In the case of single-handed craft (e.g. kayaks or Toppers) this should only be on C or B1 Waters with supervision on a one to one basis. The non-swimmer must wear a lifejacket or buoyancy aid of approved design and be in the charge of an adult. The leader in charge when using recognised forms of public transport may relax these last two conditions.



Some inland and coastal waters may be polluted with chemical and biological materials (e.g. sewage).

Scouts participating in water activities should take care not to pollute the water. Some common pollution problems are covered below in more detail:

Weil’s Disease
Weil’s Disease is a bacterial infection carried in rats’ urine, which contaminates water and wet riverbanks. The bacterium does not survive for long in dry conditions. It can be a serious illness requiring hospital treatment and can lead to kidney or liver failure. Weil’s Disease is a notifiable illness. The bacterium is absorbed through the skin or mucous membranes of the mouth and eyes. It gets into the blood stream very easily if you have a minor cut on your skin or feet, or if you become immersed.

It is particularly common in (but not limited to) stagnant or slow moving water. Any flu-like symptoms within a few weeks of participating in water activities should be reported to a doctor immediately, notifying him of the possibility of Weil’s disease. A special service is available to return blood test results within 24 hours (normal services taking up to seven days); for early identification of the bacteria your doctor can be respectfully reminded about the existence of:

  • The Lepto Spirosis Reference Unit
    Public Health Laboratory
    County Hospital
    Hereford HR1 2BR
    Telephone: 01432-268161If diagnosed early enough the disease is fully treatable with antibiotics. Any delay is potentially fatal.

Information sheets are available from the BCU and RYA.

Blue Green Algae
This bacterium is found mostly on the shoreline (of both fresh and salt water), particularly where wind or currents have driven collections of algae onto the shore. High concentrations of algae may also be found in pools during times of drought.

To date this bacterium has only caused illness in humans although it has caused death in cows, sheep and dogs drinking at the water’s edges.

The toxins attack the nervous system, which can cause acute liver damage. The toxins can also cause skin rashes.

Situations where recreational water users are most at risk from toxins are:

  • Ingestion of scum on water including raw water or inadequately treated water.
  • Skin contact with scum on water or raw water. Many areas of water, particularly those used by sailing clubs, now display information about Blue Green Algae and where high levels of Blue Green Algae are found a flag will be flown to warn the public. The flag will be half blue and half green with the word TOXIC across it. For other water areas contact your local river authorities or water company to find out whether Blue Green Algae is present.

Craft Seaworthiness & Buoyancy

Leaders must ensure that all craft are maintained in a serviceable condition and inspected and tested independently every year in accordance with County or District arrangements. See the maintenance of equipment page in the Sea Scout directory for more information. The authorised person in charge of any water activity must ensure that the craft is seaworthy and suitable for the activity on each occasion that it is used. Certain points should be checked, including:

  • Buoyancy should be sufficient to support craft and crew in the event of a capsize. Buoyancy can be built in or, if provided, by other means which must be securely fixed to hull. In case of any doubt a swamp test should be carried out.
  • Adequate general equipment should be carried; see the water activities kit list for suggestions of ancillary equipment to carry.
  • Checks should be made on fittings together with general overall condition of hull. All boats should have adequate marine insurance cover.

Cold Water Immersion

Cold water can kill in several ways. These can be explained under the headings of ‘short term’ and ‘long term’ immersion.

All leaders and instructors supervising water activities should be aware of the causes, signs, symptoms and treatment of hypothermia (low body temperature).

Permission to use the Water

Not all rivers, lakes etc have public access. You must obtain local permission to use the water. In some cases this may involve paying a launching fee. Some rivers may also be used by anglers who do not appreciate boats on the water.

All boats owned by or on long-term loan to a Member or unit of the Association should display in identification badge. All such boats operating the British Waterways Board controlled rivers must display this identification badge. Details of the availability of these badges and the waterways concerned are available from Headquarters.

Classification of Waters

For the purpose of all water activities undertaken as Scouting activities waters are classified as C, B1, B2, B3 and A, under arrangements made by the County Commissioner (who may make special arrangements for groups operating on their normal “training water”). Headquarters publishes a national directory of waters. These classifications are referred to in the limits of personal authorisation and boat inspections (sea/tidal, inland/non-tidal and white water may be referred to within each class).

The classifications are for normal conditions and may be upgraded in bad weather, spate or different times of year.

A guide to the type of water expected to be found in these classifications is below:

C Public boating ponds etc. and other ‘safe’ inland waters.
B1 Sheltered inland waters and other sheltered water where currents and tides create no real danger.
B2 The sea up to one mile from the shore, but excluding more dangerous waters close inshore; more sheltered parts of estuaries; large inland lakes and lochs; inland waters British Canoe Union Grade 2.
B3 The sea up to three miles from the shore, but excluding more dangerous waters close inshore; busy commercial ports; exposed parts of estuaries; inland waters British Canoe Union Grade 3.
A Open sea more than three miles from the shore, and other dangerous waters close inshore; inland waters British Canoe Union Grade 4 and above.

Where waters are not classified for any reason, or when carrying out water activities abroad, the Leader responsible for the activity should assess and classify the waters in accordance with the guidance above. Under this provision no waters other than shallow still water and public boating ponds may be classified as C and no tidal waters may be classified as B1 or C.

Charter Vessels, Hire Vessels and Public Transport

When vessels are hired or charted the Activity Rules of the Association apply. Where the vessel is charted under the command of professional staff the Rules relating to authorisation do not apply (although leaders should still check that appropriate qualifications and insurance are held).

Before entering into a hire agreement which includes an indemnity clause (i.e. where it is assumed that the hirer will be responsible for damage, injury or loss) the agreement must be referred to Headquarters.

When taking members of the movement as passengers on hired sailing or powered craft the leader responsible must:

  • have reasonable grounds to believe the person in charge of the craft, who must be either the owner or authorised by the owner, had the necessary knowledge, skill and experience
  • ensure that the party understands the discipline necessary for safety including any local regulations or bye laws which may apply.